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Friday, June 16, 2017

The Funhouse (1981)




I’ve been in the mood to revisit some slasher movies. I’ve only reviewed one, Slumber Party Massacre II, for the blog so far and that wasn’t a great experience. In an effort to cleanse my “slasher” pallet I figured it was about time I go back and watch some old favorites. After scanning the shelves, I chose Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse as what I hope to be the first of my own marathon of ‘80s fun.

The movie opens with an obvious nod to both Halloween and Psycho as a young boy sneaks up on his sister and pretends to stab her in the shower. Amy, the sister, angrily tells her brother she will get even with him and then heads off to the carnival with her date and another couple.  After walking around, the four of them decide to sneak into the Funhouse and stay overnight.  What they don’t know is that a hideously disfigured and violent carnie lives in the Funhouse.  When the kids see him kill another woman the murderer and his father know the kids have to die.

When I reviewed Slumber Party Massacre I set down my rules for a good slasher movie. The formula basically boils down to gore/kills and nudity. After putting more thought into it I think that is an oversimplification. There are many different ways to entertain in this kind of movie and The Funhouse is an excellent example of that. While it does have some nudity, it lacks the gore and kills that are a hallmark of the genre. Most of the kills are off-screen and other than an axe to the head seen after the fact there isn’t much blood. Normally this is the point where I’d be disappointed but The Funhouse makes up for it in other ways.

Creepy Brother sneaking up on his sister in the shower!
First up is the design of the killer/mutant carnie. It has a nightmarish side show look that is perfect for the carnival setting of the Funhouse. The face is articulated and the constant drool running off of the twisted mouth is disturbing and gross. Pretty much everything you would want from a killer in a horror movie. I hadn’t realized that it was Rick Baker who created the makeup for the Funhouse, but given the quality of the work it isn’t surprising.

The movie is also populated with strange and disturbing characters, as most Hooper directed projects are. You have the bathroom bag lady preaching about God watching the promiscuous girls. A random nut job in a pickup truck that scares the crap out of the little brother and the overly friendly owner of the carnival show that finds and returns the brother to his parents. Seriously what the hell is he up to? Hooper lingers on these characters and scenes enough to make it uncomfortable for the audience and I loved it. Another thing that the director does well is set up jump scares. Many movies think that throwing as many jump scares as possible makes for a good horror movie and overuse it. Here they are spread out and happen only after the audience is lulled into relaxing. I’ve seen this movie at least a dozen times and it still gets me every time!

This is one scary looking dude!
I also love the younger brother’s storyline. He sneaks out and is also at the carnival, avoiding his sister and her friends. Towards the end of the movie as his parents are picking him up after he is grabbed by the owner (setting up the creepy scene I mentioned earlier) something interesting happens. By this point he knows that his sister went into the Funhouse and never came out. He also knows something is in there with her but doesn’t say anything! Sure, it could be because his is traumatized, but right before he is put into the car we get a close-up of his face and the audio from his sister yelling at him earlier is played. Is Hooper trying to tell the audience something about the kid?

I like this movie a little bit more each time I watch it. If you haven’t seen it or haven’t seen it in a long time I’d recommend checking it out. I think there is a decent Blu-Ray out but if you are cheap I know it was on at least one budget DVD set with Phantasm II and a couple others.

Next up in my Slasher marathon is The Prowler.

© Copyright 2017 John Shatzer


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