Reviewed by Patrick Cooper
Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse was released when slashers were booming. Rather than falling into the tropes of the age, The Funhouse is more of a throwback, atmospheric monster movie. The slasher genre is even poked fun of during the Halloween/Psycho homage in the beginning, when the little brother stabs Amy with a rubber knife. Whether it’s intentional or not, this acts as a humorous snub to the flood of slasher films in the ‘80s. The Funhouse is a slow burn that walks the fine line between suspense-building and just plain boring. Once the film starts moving at full speed though it whirlwinds into a nightmare ride of carnival thrills and kills, albeit a formulaic one.
Amy (Elizabeth Berridge) and her new main squeeze Buzz (Cooper Huckabee) head out to the traveling carnival with two friends for a night of dope smoking and freakshow peeping. Amy’s folks (an alcoholic mother and disinterested father) plead with her not to go – two corpses were found near the same carnival last year – but Buzz’s crooked smile coaxes her to the big top. They arrive at the carnival, stoned and glowing with adolescent hormones, and this is the part where people whine that it gets “boring.”
After they arrive at the carnival nothing happens for something like 45 minutes. But the devil’s in the details, you know? A lot of subtle, unnerving shit happens and all of it seems to be “marking” or summoning Amy in a way. Right when they arrive, Amy bumps into some hobo looking guy whose face is smeared in blood and filth. When her and Liz (Largo Woodruff) are arguing about Amy’s virginity in the bathroom, she playfully throws a paper towel at Liz. A second later, that bag lady with the jack-o-lantern teeth materializes out of nowhere and snatches up the towel. Why did she pick that one out of all the towels on the ground?! Every time they pass The Barker (Kevin Conway) he seems to single Amy out of the crowd. When the fortuneteller’s ball drops, it rolls right up to Amy then rolls quickly away. Maybe I’m reading too much into this but I think the carnival wants Amy’s ass!
The teens decide to have a slumber party in the funhouse and end up witnessing a bunch of horrible things, including a freak in a Frankenstein’s monster mask get a handjob. Once the action kicks in The Funhouse starts to follow a more traditional slasher/survival formula (murder death kill). The kills aren’t very creative. The best bit of violence involves axing a fellow who’s already dead (how much better would it have been if he was still alive when Buzz drops the axe?!).
What the movie lacks in blood splatter it makes up for in macabre detail and atmosphere. The production design drips authenticity. Hooper and cinematographer Andrew Laszlo (The Warriors) deliver some really inspired direction and photography. The HUGE crane shot following Amy’s little brother when the carnival is closing is incredible. Amy’s journey through the nightmarish funhouse labyrinth is terrifying. Slizabeth Berridge isn’t even the stand out performance! Kevin Conway is by a mile. He doesn’t get a ton of screen time, but he chews every second of it. You can practically smell his sweaty brow.
Besides the fact that it takes Gunther forever to die at the end, I really have nothing bad to say about The Funhouse. Fans are going to be thrilled with Scream! Factory’s Blu-ray. And if you’re not a fan of the film, I suggest giving it another shot.
The Funhouse is presented in 2.35:1 1080p with 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. It looks freaking fantastic. Details are sharp and the contrast is great. There is so much incredible detail in and around the carnival and the transfer picks everything up real nice. It sounds terrific too. John Beal’s booming opening carnival score sets the stage, immersing the audience.
Audio Commentary with Tobe Hooper, moderated by Tim Sullivan: Hooper talks about what drew him to the film, his love of classic movie monsters, and covers a lot of the standard commentary ground like casting and whatnot. Sullivan does a great job of keeping the conversation going. There’s rarely a moment where they’re sitting there in silence or simply narrating what’s happing in the film.
“The Barker Speaks!” An Interview With Actor Kevin Conway (11:15): He explains how it was his suggestion that he plays all three barkers. He talks about working with Tobe and his coke (a-cola) habit, looking back fondly on the production.
“Something Wicked This Way Comes” An Interview With Executive Producer Mark L. Lester (8:44): He discusses how the film transitioned from a low-budget film to a $3 million picture with Universal. He talks about setting up the carnival and constructing the funhouse.
“Carnival Music” An Interview With Composer John Beal (10:01): He talks about his background as a musician and how he got into composing. Explains how prevalent synthesizers were in film scoring at the time, but they chose to use an orchestra so the film wouldn’t feel dated down the road. Wise choice!
Audio Interview With Actor William Finley (3:25): This is a snippet from an audio interview with the great Finley conducted in 2005. He discusses working with Hooper and how much fun the shoot was. RIP, Mr. Finley.
Deleted Scenes (5:26): These scenes were added to the film’s network television run to meet the minimum required running time and to compensate for all the sex and violence cut out. There’s a bit of Buzz meeting Amy’s parents and more of them in the car together. There’s a great scene with Amy’s little brother reading about a witch, which foreshadows the bag lady at the carnival.
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