Welcome to Scared in Segments, a monthly column devoted to horror anthologies big and small. If you don’t know what an anthology is, it’s a film that includes a collection of short stories or segments (self-contained or connected). As for anthology television, series can be episodic or seasonal, but the former will take precedence here. Now, in each edition of this column, you’ll get background info as well as insight on the monthly pick. If you’re ready for some short-form horror, pull up a seat as I’ve got a story for you…
They say serial killer activity has significantly dropped in the last few decades. Due in part to better forensics, it’s not surprising that murder is on the decline. However, just because their numbers have dwindled, doesn’t mean serial killers don’t exist anymore. As we see in the 2008 horror movie Amusement, sometimes they hide in plain sight.
Three women, former childhood friends who are now living their own lives as adults, become the target of a deranged man. One by one, the three are hunted down and then held against their will. The victims have no idea why they were specifically chosen by their captor, or what he has in store for them. If they do survive, though, they will never forget that sinister, haunting laugh…
The Framing Story — “Prologue / The Briar Hills Collection“
Amusement is not your average anthology. Although it’s told in three clearly defined segments, there is an overarching story gluing everything together. The film’s format is comparable to that of the 1974 proto-slasher movie The Centerfold Girls. The opening credits hint at the taut string that binds these four characters, but viewers will have to wait until later to learn the whole undiluted truth.
For now, we understand the killer is someone from the three victims’ past. His name is unknown; he is simply called The Laugh (Keir O’Donnell). With each passing account of terror, viewers will realize his motives.
Story 1 — “Shelby“
Driving home from a disappointing weekend, Shelby (Laura Breckenridge) and her boyfriend Rob (Tad Hilgenbrink) argue over the boyfriend’s speeding. He assures her the traffic convoy he’s found himself in is actually helpful and not at all dangerous. Convinced yet wary, Shelby tries to relax until she spots an imperiled woman in the back of a truck. As the couple tries to help the stranger, they realize things are not at all what they seem.
The most spacious entry in the collection is both fast-paced and deceptive. While this one can go a few different ways, it takes the road less traveled and sets up the antagonist’s propensity for devilry. Being the opener, “Shelby” has the honor of having the biggest reveal of the whole bunch. It’s an energetic, mood-setting start chock full of spooky scenery.
Story 2 — “Tabitha“
Tabitha (Katheryn Winnick) shows up at her aunt and uncle’s new house just in time to find her nephews’ babysitter has left early without any kind of notice. Until the kids’ parents come home, Tabitha fills in and crashes in the guest room—which is full of numerous clown dolls. As uneasy as the toys make her feel, it’s the big one sitting in a rocking chair that truly unnerves her. There’s just something not right about that life-sized doll…
The highlight of Amusement is “Tabitha,” a delightful spin on a popular urban legend. The namesake’s logic runs low, but, forgiving that, she paves the way for a fun twist everyone will admittedly see coming. Being in the know doesn’t hurt the effect, though. All in all, the second offering has an elaborate setup with a satisfying payoff.
Story 3 — “Lisa“
Lisa (Jessica Lucas) plans to spend the night in with her roommate, who doesn’t come home that night. Worried that something happened to her friend, Lisa urges her boyfriend Dan (Reid Scott) to help find her. They end up at an isolated house called Pere’s Pension, which was where the roommate’s latest romantic interest was said to be staying at. Lisa sneaks into the place, but what she finds inside makes her wish she had stayed outside.
At the core of “Lisa” sits a creepy house that is just as much a character as the people. It’s a stunning location whose kooky décor is painstakingly arranged, so as to invoke as much discomfort as it does morbid fascination. All of this makes up for the fact “Lisa” has most insubstantial story of the three segments.
“What this anthology lacks in substance, it makes up for in style and visuals.”
Ahead of its theatrical release in January of 2008, John Simpson’s second feature Amusement was suddenly pulled from the schedule. And, after some time, it was obvious New Line Cinema wasn’t going to let this movie see the big screen. It was finally sent straight to video in most regions, several months later. Not a good sign, right?
In polite society, they say to never judge a book by its cover. Unfortunately, that’s all one can judge when it comes to Amusement. It’s not a thought-provoking movie; the story is thin, at best. What gives this discarded slasher so much rewatch value is its surprising production values. Unmistakably, a lot of attention went into designing the varied sets in addition to choreographing the action sequences. Yes, the film is essentially a series of kitchen-sink set pieces, albeit good ones. What this anthology lacks in substance, it makes up for in style and visuals. No one will argue Amusement falls short on plot, but looking at only the surface value, the movie lives up to its title.