The midnight screening at Texas Frightmare last night was the often goofy, 80’s throwback Scream Park. While far from perfect (seemingly deliberatley so), the film is a bit of fun romp through the standard clichés’ of teenage slasher fare that left me chuckling and grinning as it ran its credits. Thankfully, the film is not a parody but is, instead, completely aware of its roots and shows them with pride. This to me was a great decision on the part of director Cary Hill because you as the viewer don’t have to labor under the weight of them trying to tell you jokes and throw you sight gag references with punch lines jammed in. The homage format feels much better and makes for a more fun time for the audience. I hate to speak for everyone, but my section of the crowd seemed to having a blast.
The story is pretty simple: Fright Land, a theme park on its last legs is beset upon by an (initially) unseen force which seems bent on killing off the staff one by one for initially unclear reasons, in classic slasher formatting. The cast of characters fit all the normal archetypes: the jock, the rebel, the nerdy/earnest guy, the square, the final girl etc etc etc. The women in the cast, in particular, are very homage heavy with the Barbara Crampton lookalike Alicia Marcucci, gothy wiseass Nicole Beattie, curvy Caroline Munro-type Kailey Marie Harris and final girl (from the first time you see her) Wendy Wygant. This was very amusing to me because so often the female characters in 80’s slashers are interchangeable within a single film but in Scream Park, they all represent a little something different from a range of films. Clever idea.
The memorable lines come fast and furious as everyone is given a chance at infamy with a wide-ranging display of goofy-com-silly observations about something creepy happening, bending the rules to have a party at the park, where a missing co-worker could be and in my favorite batch, the security guard grumbling about ‘damned kids’ when making his rounds. I sincerely hope (and do think) this was all intentional because the effect was great. It made it fun to wait for the goofy line and cheer and laugh right along with it with the knowledge that whomever wrote it had to know that is how the lines would be received. The campy, over-the-top quality to the writing was in some strange way endearing; I didn’t feel pandered to as much as celebrated for recognizing it. Again, this a fun movie, not a serious one.
Having said that, once our bunch catches on to the threat there are some seriously well composed shots and sequences that were impressive and chilling and not goofy at all. Not the standard walking into a dark area-type of shots or ‘is anybody there’ type stuff but more inventive ones that really struck me as solid, creative filmmaking. One in particular with a character being dispatched and discarded into a fountain was stand-up-and-cheer level awesome.
Once our baddies are revealed in earnest (one with a Dark Night Of The Scarecrow looking hood, the other with a mask that reminded me of Alec Baldwin’s attempt at scary in Beetlejuice), the rapid decent into the final act takes a brisk turn and we as the audience are able to piece together the motivations for the attack and the ‘grand plan’ a la Scooby Doo in pretty quick order. How it all plays out is relatively standard but is no less fun for its adherence to the rules.
All in all, Scream Park is a decidedly hokey, silly bit of homage that was fun and engaging not because it was dead serious about paying somber respect so much as it was serious about being a direct product of those late night VHS slasher marathons many of us did so very long ago. For that subtle distinction I give them a lot of credit and hope they have more chances to bring the camp to the screen in the future.