Somehow this is the first time I’m seeing Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse. Could be because I’m somewhat afraid of clowns…could be because I’ve seen Tobe Hooper's Night Terrors, and therefore am scared off of anything the director did other than The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Anyway, I’ve recently been in need of a new-to-me 80s slasher; you guys know how it is…when you’ve popped in Slumber Party Massacre 2 one too many times and find yourself looking for hidden political subtext in the dialogue (which, by the way, I’m sure I’ve discovered…and it’s brilliant). So, I figured it was time to give this one the old college try.
Anyway, The Funhouse concerns exactly what you think it does – a bunch of kids (smoking pot…having sex…) who spend the night in a traveling carnival and end up stalked by a mutant killer. Final girl Amy is played by Elizabeth Berridge, whose career would go from the Oscar-winning Amadeus to playing the cop in the post-“Night Court” John Larroquette sitcom. As you can she, she has quite a diverse resume.
Amy is a smart, plucky virgin who – like Jamie Lee before her – seems to have absolutely nothing in common with the friends she’d hanging out with. How do these girls end up in the “cool” groups, anyway? When I was in high school, girls like Laurie Strode and Amy usually spent lunch in the art room because nobody would sit with them in the cafeteria. I know this because I, too, spent lunch in the art rooms. Anyhoo, the quartet twits finally end up in the actual funhouse, which looks disturbingly like Disney World’s “It’s A Small World” ride…although I’d say the puppets like the one below are actually less creepy than the real thing in Orlando:
Inside the funhouse, the kids spy a Frankenstein-masked carnival worker getting a handjob from an old fortuneteller, then killing her. Amazingly, this scene is actually a little classier than it sounds. The fortuneteller, by the way, is played by Sylvia Miles…who’s kind of cornered the market on crazy old broad roles. Anyway, the kids make a half-assed attempt to escape the funhouse, only to realize they’re locked in by steel doors. Umm…guys…here’s the thing: this is a traveling carnival. Chances are you could just punch your arms through the walls and knock them down.
Unfortunately, the kids make the colossal mistake of trying to steal some money on the way out – which tips off the carnival owner that someone else is in the funhouse. And so…let the killings begin! The owner, you see, is the Frankenstein-masked killer’s father. And let me tell you, this guy is pretty nutty…which becomes totally understandable once we learn that under the mask, his son looks like this:
(This, by the way, also explains why our father – Ralph Merrye – is a nutcase, considering my brother JM looks a lot like that picture, too.)
So…for the next twenty minutes the father & son stalk the kids, resulting in some decent death scenes that are fun, though perhaps not quite worthy of the man who brought us women dangling from meathooks (and bouncing penises on horseback). The final showdown between Amy and the mutant kid is a great sequence, though, fully utilizing the creepiness of the funhouse puppets and the rusty mechanics of the ride…until Amy inadvertently electrocutes the mutant killer, resulting in an image a little too reminiscent of Christopher Lloyd in Back To The Future, and thus strangely heartwarming:
Anyway, I’m glad I finally saw The Funhouse, though I’m also not sorry I waited all these years to do so. Tobe Hooper has had some wild career swings over the years, and clearly this is one of his better efforts quality-wise. Like Scream after it, this movie references virtually every horror movie ever made, with homages to Halloween, Psycho, and all the Universal Monsters. It’s a surefire way to win over real critics, who immediately claim the movie is “smart” and “witty.” Of course, here at Tower Farm, we fake critics much prefer “dumb” and “witless.” So that’s my issue with the movie. Tobe’s next one after this was Poltergeist, and both are a little too slick for my tastes. I much prefer the the dirt cheap, gutter charm of Chain Saw...and even, dare I say, the man who brought us Robert Englund seemingly covering cold sores with cakey makeup. Now that's scary.