Note: This review is for a two-hour rough cut of CLOSED FOR THE SEASON. The version that was released to DVD in August 2011 is shorter, and more polished than what I initially watched. If I ever get around to revisiting the final cut of the film, I’ll be sure to update this review.
Between March 12 – 14th of 2010, I attended my first ever Horror convention: Monster-Mania Con XIV! It was a weekend that I will never forget! I got to see some cool 80s horror flicks with crowds of fellow horror fans, and I witnessed a woman repeatedly flash her fantastic breasts at the audience during Charles Band’s infamous “Full Moon Road Show.” (Something I personally thanked Band for when I met him hours later!)
I also met many cool actors, like Tom Atkins (NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, MANIAC COP), Kane Hodder (FRIDAY THE 13TH 7 – 10, THE HATCHET series), Jake Busey (STARSHIP TROOPERS, THE FRIGHTENERS), Bruce Abbott (RE-ANIMATOR, BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR), and caught the world premiere of CLOSED FOR THE SEASON, a film by director Jay Woelfel (TRANCERS 6, GHOST LAKE).
The first screening of Mr. Woelfel’s movie did not go as planned. Due to technical issues with the screening was delayed, which is why a good chunk of the crowd left before the film finally began. Luckily, things went much smoother the following day. The screening room remained filled, and the movie looked fantastic, as this time they showed it in high-def, and even managed to do a little extra touch-up work on it.
CLOSED FOR THE SEASON is a totally surreal viewing experience and doesn’t follow a traditional movie narrative. As it opens, we see a young boy in a rundown amusement park, being offered one final ride on the dilapidated roller coaster by “The Carny” (Joe Unger). The boy is locked into the front seat, while an older man takes a seat in the last car. Through the magic of (not entirely convincing) CGI, the boy and the other mysterious passenger go for a ride on the rickety coaster.
As the coaster climbs another hill, the older man pushes up the security bar and gets out of his seat. He then makes his way to the front, grabs the kid by the arm, and tosses the youth to the ground below. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the youngster is impaled on a small pine tree! This scene was a real crowd pleaser, and totally set the tone for how crazy the rest of the film was going to be.
After a little more strangeness, we are finally introduced to one of our main characters. A girl named Kristy (Aimee Brooks) awakens late at night in the rusted remains of car, within the remnants of the (actual) Chippewa Lake amusement park. Within moments of stumbling around in confusion she is attacked by a “lake monster,” witnesses the Seville Giant hanging a skeleton in a tree, and gets chased by a demonically possessed car.
She continues to have one strange encounter after another, until she stumbles across the home of James (Damian Maffei) whose parents own and (supposedly) maintain Chippewa Lake Park. He calms the hysterical girl down and then takes her on a tour of the park in order to show her that her imagination was probably getting the best of her.
Soon, even James begins to realize that things are not as they seem, as both he and Kristy begin experiencing all sorts of strange phenomena. And then they meet “The Carny,” (played with zeal by veteran actor Joe Unger) the entity that haunts (and taunts) the two bewildered protagonists for the remainder of the film.
The spectral Carny is at times, sort of sympathetic, as he waxes nostalgic about the glory days of the long-abandoned amusement park. But he can also be downright cruel and nasty, and plays a variety of mind games with Kristy and James. If I had to describe the Carny, I’d have to say that he is sort of a cross between Captain Spaulding and Ernest P. Worrell, and we never quite figure out his true origins or purpose.
Is he the vengeful spirit of the Carny that once worked at the park? Is he a figment of Kristy and James’ imaginations? Is he some sort of spiritual manifestation of the park itself? We are never told. All we really know is that he’s bi-polar as all hell, and can go from being a friendly gent, to a vicious, dirty old man in a heartbeat.
So you may be wondering what the rest of the film’s plot holds. Well, I find myself hard-pressed to even attempt to describe all of the unusual goings-on. So many strange and unexplained things occur, that it almost becomes dizzying. Characters die horrifically, but seconds later are perfectly fine. Monsters and evil doppelgangers attack Kristy and James, then suddenly vanish as if nothing happened.
And if that isn’t enough to drive you mad, writer/director Jay Woelfel hits viewers with a series of fake endings, where we are meant to think that the two main characters are in the clear and ready to ride off into the sunset together, but suddenly find themselves sucked back into the nightmarish confines of the haunted amusement park!
Eventually, after multiple failed escape attempts and the (alleged) death of the maniacal Carny, fate finally intervenes in the form of a lost driver (Joe Unger again) that just happens to be hauling a Ferris Wheel to a nearby county fair. Kristy and James pay the man to set it up in the center of the abandoned park and go for a ride, which leads to several realizations (i.e. plot twists) that I won’t ruin for you.
CLOSED FOR THE SEASON is a movie that belies its small budget because Jay Woelfel managed to snag such a great shooting location and cast. The movie was shot on location at the hundred-acre resting place of the real Chippewa Lake amusement park, which is still slowly rotting away. The park on its own is extremely creepy, and Jay uses it to great effect, especially during the nighttime sequences.
The cast of the film is pretty good, with decent performances by both Aimee Brooks and Damian Maffei, but admittedly, it is Joe Unger who steals the show as “The Carny.” Every time Joe was on the screen he had my full attention, especially when he was in full clown attire and spouting obscenities at the other characters. He ends up becoming one of those rare movie villains that you silently cheer for, and I really wish the story was more centered around him.
But this isn’t supposed to be a killer clown flick, and it isn’t a conventional supernatural thriller either. CLOSED FOR THE SEASON is an entirely different beast altogether and is almost guaranteed to keep all those who watch it off balance. It’s an assault on the senses, and you almost feel like you are watching someone’s nightmare unfold.
Jay Woelfel’s quirky Horror offering is fascinating and original, but it definitely isn’t for everyone. Admittedly, it is a bit hard to get into at first, and you’ll be saying “What the f*ck?” a lot, but trust me, let the film play out: Give it a chance! Though it needs a little more work in its current state (this was a rough cut after all), I’m more than happy to award this bizzaro horror tale: