What does it mean to be famous? Is it the movie star you see walking down the street and instantly recognize? Is it a killer like Jack The Ripper, who’s alias is synonymous with serial killing and mystery, yet no one knows who The Ripper really was? Fame is a fluid thing, it has many levels from those famous within their own small circle to those who known throughout the world. Many people seek out fame in any form they can find and thanks to the internet the idea that everyone has 15 seconds of fame has changed. You now get 5 seconds and a meme if you’re lucky. But what would you be willing to do for that brief flash in the pan of notoriety? That’s the question being asked by Mr. Sunshine the clown on his mysterious website where he asks people to message him for a chance at fame and fortune by being a contestant on "The Funtime Show".
Thousands of people responded to the call for submissions from this seemingly innocuous internet sensation. Only a few were chosen. One of them was Cheryl and her husband. Of course they didn’t know they were chosen, until two masked men snuck into their home while they were sleeping and gassed them.
Now Cheryl awakens to find herself on the set of "The Funtime Show". She is surprisingly calm and excited to be there, considering her hands and feet are restrained to the chair, but hey, this is her chance at the big time. This is Cheryl’s chance to become famous.
Mr. Sunshine introduces himself and explains the rules to the show. He’s going to ask Cheryl, the contestant, questions and she’s going to answer them. She plays a long and is excited to be part of the fun as Mr. Sunshine does some typical “clown” antics to get things started. But the questions aren’t general knowledge, no, they have a bit more of a sinister twist to them. Mr. Sunshine shows the contestant a video and after each video he asks her his question. The spotlight on her turns an ominous red color and the viewers wait to see if she will get the question right or if she will get it wrong. Each correct answer brings her one step closer to fame, but what does a wrong answer bring?
The videos she’s asked to watch should be a clue to the contestant about the true nature of "The Funtime Show". The first is a horror short called “The Last Walk Home” and features a man walking home through the park. He stops to help a woman in apparent distress only to find horror awaiting him. The video is dark and horrific, yet she watches it eagerly expecting it to all be a fun part of the game that we lead her to the fame she desires.
Another video is a tale of dark magic called “The Effigy”. This time it is the story of a doll that supposedly contains the trapped spirit of a demon. The contestant watches the video and sees the dark ritual that binds the demon’s spirit to the doll. She sees the results when a young man later buys the doll from a curio shop as a gift for his girlfriend. The results are horrific and surprising, yet the contestant doesn’t think anything is strange about the macabre spectacle Mr. Sunshine is forcing her to watch or the ominous nature that seeps into his show as it moves towards its conclusion.
"The Effigy" and "The Last Walk Home" are joined by one more short, "Stranger". This short skillfully avoids showing the faces of a couple as they meet for a blind date. The blind date shows the true meaning of 'stranger danger' and nicely rounds out the horrors that Mr. Sunshine exposes Cheryl, the contestant, to.
Pointedly, Cheryl also hasn’t once asked about her husband. Where is he? Is he on the show? Is he at home? Did he play and win? As the contestant, Cheryl seems to have forgotten everything except for her focus on winning the strange spectacle that is "The Funtime Show". She doesn’t know it, but her husband’s fate and her own are bound together as Mr. Sunshine brings his Fun Time show to a gruesome end.
Independent filmmakers Mark and Tracy Smith have been making short horror films for over a decade. Their work has covered the supernatural, zombies and the dark places the mind goes when it’s late at night and you hear that strange noise just outside your house. "The Funtime Show" is something a little different for Mark and Tracy as they're taking the talents they've built making short films and used them to craft their first feature. Tapping into one of mankind’s strangest, collective ideas; that clowns are creepy as hell, the filmmaking couple build a somewhat cautionary tale of the dangers of our modern fame obsession and how saying we’d do anything for fame and fortune may be a mistake.
The Smith's use three of their own short films along with footage they shot specifically for "The Funtime Show" to build a well-crafted anthology story. The videos within the film are obviously low budget, but at the same time they show that you don’t need lots of money to make a good story come to life on the screen, a fact that is sadly often overlooked by both the film establishment and audiences. Also of note is the way Mark and Tracy use Mr. Sunshine to communicate many messages, including a dig a the modern film industry and the narrow framework it wishes to shoehorn all works in for them to be successful.
Ultimately "The Funtime Show" is a work of passion and Mark and Tracy have that in spades. The overarching story of Cheryl, the contestant, on "The Funtime Show" is a bit less compelling than the shorts that are a part of it. However, the cautionary message about fame and the quest for it is clear and overall the finished product works well, if it is a bit short, coming in at just under an hour. So if you like the mix of horror genres an anthology film can offer, check out Mark and Tracy Smith’s "The Funtime Show", but pay attention because Mr. Sunshine will be watching and if you can’t answer his questions you may find fame on the internet, but not in any way you’d enjoy.
The Funtime ShowReview By Darrell Buxton
THE FUNTIME SHOW...
With evil clowns seemingly all the rage at the moment, it's good to see a new production putting a spin on the concept. The talented team at Optic Nerve Productions, makers of the award-winning short TORMENTED, have lived up to the promise of their previous work and now present us with a long-form piece called THE FUNTIME SHOW.
Coming in at under ten minutes, TORMENTED nevertheless indicated that Mark & Tracy Smith would be more than capable of handling the rigours and demands of a feature movie. The Funtime Show isn't quite that, but it's a clever take on familiar themes and imagery, and a promising stepping stone on the path to greater achievement.
THE FUNTIME SHOW posits that internet thrill-seekers and self-promoters are provided with an avenue to fame, fortune, and above all, attention. How right Andy Warhol was. Permitted to apply online to participate in a quiz broadcast, the selected participants materialize in the studio with no knowledge of how they were transported there (though we are given a few sinister insights in a creepy green-hued night-vision sequence), to be confronted by their monstrously full-on bewigged and red-nosed host. Mr Sunshine gets very picky about who asks the questions and who answers, and becomes tellingly upset when a contestant constantly fails to refer to the film clips by their correct titles! The makers even contrive to include an interactive 'photo identification' aspect at one point, so you can join in from the discomfort of your sofa - it's not quite A CLOCKWORK ORANGE or THE PARALLAX VIEW, but then again few are. We are also shown scenes from Optic Nerve's 'zombies in the woods' gutchomper THE LAST WALK HOME, social media pick-up item STRANGER (starring Mark and Tracy but making a point of not revealing their faces, instead offering an unusual series of visuals and close-ups) and THE EFFIGY, the most professional of the shorts in standalone form, featuring a deadly woollen idol purchased from a trinket emporium and equipped with the warning never to remove its facial hood...
The film makes inventive use of earlier Optic Nerve shorts - and indeed, a nerve seems to have been touched, judging by an on-screen rant towards the close that seems to use the central character as a mouthpiece for the frustrations of the production team! The logistics bring us a combination of new footage with mixed-in excerpts from older work, the entire enterprise running for an hour but feeling pretty seamless and substantial. There's a lot happening beneath the surface too - the major fright figure, 'Mr Sunshine', comes loaded with complexities and 'issues', and deceptively so too. At face value he's a masked, deranged Pierrot with a line in non-stop patter and a larger-than-life air - but as the story progresses, you may find yourself wondering with increasing anxiety about this menacing antagonist's background. Why has Mr Sunshine adopted such a guise? Why set up such an elaborate charade (not only the 'fake gameshow' heart of the piece, but presumably creating the film inserts, devising a costume and false identity, plus setting up an invitational site amid the murkier fringes of the internet to lure the unwary, thereby playing on a double meaning of the term 'web'). And all masterminded, evidently, as a means of exercising a deep-seated hatred of 21st century culture (or lack of). It's the unexplained, the unanswered, the obfuscated, that so impresses here - how long has Mr Sunshine harboured such a gnawing, nagging viewpoint concerning 'reality TV' and similar transient fare? What has driven him to these excesses? Why take revenge on randomly-selected strangers as opposed to more specific targets? The clown's outburst concerning personal failure in gaining attention for his short movies, and resultant inability to get a foot on the ladder of feature production, may well speak volumes about Mark and Tracy themselves - while the extraordinary 'silhouette' scene that starkly and bravely concludes proceedings, contrasting with the brash riot of colour we've hitherto been offered, answers one or two questions about Mr Sunshine's activities while in turn posing a dozen more.
The Funtime Show has an aura of originality about it - if it has antecedents, they are obscure or underappreciated ones (Herschell Gordon Lewis' gory gameshow swansong THE UH-OH SHOW, perhaps; while Mr Sunshine initially plays as though sharing kinship with the broad, raucous FUNNY MAN and his ilk, or possibly PSYCHOVILLE's bitter 'Mr. Jelly', at least prior to the closing revelations), and its clever lacing-in of existing footage to boost the running time exhibits skills in editing and assembly, as well as a keen awareness of the current movie marketplace and its rapacious appetite for feature product. As with TORMENTED, there's more than sufficient evidence here that the Smith partnership are ready to take that next step up.