Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Funhouse (1981)

Reviewed By: Billy

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.



  1. I have to admit, I enjoyed this one. It has a trapped-in creepy feeling and they really portrayed that nasty feeling you get at carnivals when you're amongst people with secret lives who move from town to town and maybe have some creepy things hidden that you don't want to find, like that freaky guy who watches you as you enter the funhouse and scares you before you even get inside.

  2. I was on a high coming home tonight after another great practice with the band... then I find 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".

    You A-Hole.


  3. Reminds me the time one of my friend's in high school had his girlfriend run off with the 'carnival'.

    He tried to get a buncha us together and go after her; until we were all like: "dude, your girlfriend dumped you to hitch a ride with the carnival - do ya really think she's worth going after?"

    But the reason, as it turned out, was (along with 'stealing' his heart) she also fucked-off with a QP of our hash.

  4. I really enjoyed this one. I remember wanting to see it in the theater after the cover spreads in Famous Monsters of Filmland at the time.

  5. Autumn,
    I agree -- the atmosphere created here is really good. Tobe is definitely good at creating a feeling in his movies. I'll say this movie did nothing to help me get over my clown fear.

    Get over it. I speak the truth, and nothing less.

    I have absolutely no idea what to say. People actually "run off with the carnival"? I thought that only happened in books from the late 1800s. Wow.

    That's cool -- I'm sure this was a fun one to see in theatres. Not surprised it got play in "Monsters" since it references so many of the old Universal movies. Tobe Hooper is obviously a fan of those old monster movies...and much of this movie plays out like a new, twisted Frankenstein.


  6. Cool review for a largely overlooked Hooper film. This got into a lot of hot water in the UK in the early 1980's and was briefly banned as a Video Nasty!

    You might find something of interesting at my own site The Celluloid Highway

    Hope to see you there!

  7. I actually loved this flick, but then I love funhouses, the cheesier the better. It didn't scare me to the degree Texas Chainsaw did, but I did get caught up in it. It was a big improvement over "Eaten Alive," the other Hooper film I'd recently seen. BTW, "Funhouse" loses some of its impact on the small screen.

  8. I never enjoyed this film, still dont, I always felt it was a weak slasher with a terrible villain. I blame Hooper lol..

  9. Not a big fan of THE FUNHOUSE either. It's an okay film but doesn't do much for me personally. I will say it's Hooper's better efforts, but that's not really saying all that much when it comes to him. Funny review as usual.