DVD Review: Carnival of Fear

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Review: Carnival of Fear / Director: Jay Woelfel / Screenplay: Jay Woelfel / Starring: Aimee Brooks, Damian Maffei, Joe Unger / Release Date: Out Now

Carnivals have provided the setting for some great horror films: Freaks (1932), Carnival of Souls (1962) and The Funhouse (1981) to name but a few. Alas, Carnival of Fear (AKA Closed for the Season) is not one of them.

Set in the (real life) abandoned Chippewa Lake Amusement Park in Ohio, Carnival of Fear tells the story of Kristy (Aimee Brooks), a lost tourist who wakes up in the dilapidated carnival with no memory of how she got there. Searching for a way out, she encounters James (Damian Maffei), whose parents are the caretakers of the park. Together they try to escape the mysterious Carney (Joe Unger) who appears to have the power to raise the phantoms of the carnival’s past to stalk and terrorise them. Trapped in a netherworld between the past and present, Kristy and James realise they have no choice except to relive the legends of the carnival and to ride the rides one last time. But is the Carney guiding them towards salvation or eternal damnation?

Despite a promising scenario, Carnival of Fear quickly descends into a morass of inept storytelling, clumsy direction and even weaker CGI. In the opening scene a young boy rides a rollercoaster for what turns out to be the last time. He is tossed out by a strange drifter who appears as if by magic, and tumbles to the ground to be impaled on a tree stump through his middle. Despite this he seems unhurt. “That’s the damnedest thing I ever saw”, marvels the Carney. Confused? You will be.

Carnival of Fear continues in this vein throughout, attempting to weave a line between the real and the imagined, between hallucination and apparition, past and present, but fails badly: it is unconvincing and - at times - downright confusing.

Aimee Brooks and Damian Maffei are game as the befuddled tourists attempting (like the viewer) to distinguish reality and fantasy, but the lame script gives them little to work with. Joe Unger, a familiar face from TV and film (Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3, 1990) brings some weight to the Carney role, although fails to deliver the kind of chills that, say, Tim Curry provided as Pennywise the Clown in IT (1991).

With minimal characterisation, little suspense and a lot of repetition, Carnival of Fear runs out of steam by the half-way mark.  Director Jay Woelfel might at least have managed to create some atmosphere from the real-life abandoned amusement park in which Carnival of Fear is set – but no. Although Woelfel is a veteran of straight-to-video horror movies (Like Evil, 2009, Trancers 6, 2002) Carnival of Fear rarely rises above the level of a student short.

This ride is not worth the price of admission. Avoid.

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