Dir. Tobe Hooper (1981)
Teens go to a Funhouse and it’s not as fun as expected, nor as fun as it should’ve been.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
The Funhouse, directed by Tobe Hooper and the film that paved the way for his assignment of Poltergeist, is a fun early 80’s monster movie with some excellent performances from its young cast. The film opens with either an homage or a blatant ripoff of Halloween, depending on your point of view, as a young boy, Joey, wears a mask and sneaks in to stab his sister in the shower. In this case, the knife is fake, and there’s no actual blood shed. The sister is incredibly unhappy, however, and threatens the boy that she will eventually get back at him in a huge way. Amy, the sister, is a teenage girl who is going to the carnival, which her father ominously warns against with a story about how this same carnival, in its last stop, left in its wake two dead young girls. She’s going on her first date with a boy and won’t be denied, despite the fact that the date is with a local loser. You know the type: drives a fast car, smokes a lot of weed, dates girls who are probably too young for him. He’s basically Matthew McConaughey from Dazed and Confused. He tries his best to come across like a good dude but its totally clear that he really wants to get in Amy’s pants. Not that I blame him, per se. Meanwhile, Joey sneaks out of the house well past his bedtime to follow his sister and her friends to the carnival.
Way too young to be out this late, young man
The carnival barkers are delightfully creepy, and the one for the Funhouse itself in particular reminded me so much of the tapes of Jim Jones in Jonestown. Its standard harbinger fare for a horror movie, but its used in a great way to set the mood. As Joey heads to ride the carnival rides, Amy and friends smoke a little weed and head into the Funhouse, but not before stopping by a fortune teller that is eerily reminiscent of Mama Fratelli in The Goonies. It is shortly thereafter that they get the brilliant idea to spend the night in the carnival, staying after closing time, as a Typical Teenage Terrible Idea (TTTI). Meanwhile, Joey is sort of tracking a weird dude in a Frankenstein mask through the carnival before getting lost as the fair starts to close down. Eventually, they all migrate to the Funhouse, where they decide to camp out for the night. TTTI #2, for those keeping track at home. It’s full on carny fun from here on out, folks. When the teens witness the murder of the aforementioned psychic, during which an electrical surge causes the Funhouse to come back to life, they decide to enter the room and see if she’s really dead (TTTI #3). Things do not get better from here, as one of the teens decides to steal a pile of cash from the circus freak (TTTI’s are really piling up now…) Naturally, this results in very bad consequences for the teens.
The original Cary Grant headshots did not turn out well
This movie has everything, folks: teenagers in distress, carnies killing carnies, and huge, heaping helping of monstrous freaks (or, really, just one). Many people call this a slasher movie, but it’s definitely more of a Frankenstein-esque monster movie, the last vestiges of old Universal horror with a few more tits. It’s really not a bad movie, this is my first watch, and I can’t believe I avoided it for so long. I remember the VHS box from my childhood, and I’d be lying if I said the clown on the front didn’t scare the absolute shit out of me. Funnily enough, there was nary a clown to find during the movie, which I would call false advertising if the actual creature effects on the villain weren’t so damn good. The “monster,” who is really just a deformed man-child, is pretty cool looking, as you can see from his professional headshot above. At the end of the day, though, this is just a standard horror movie with 80’s style production and effects. Outside of the nifty monster, the film falls relatively flat on scares. This was Frankenstein with carnies, and like a certain giant ape movie that came before, twas beauty that killed the beast.
Who this movie is for: 80’s horror fans, Good old-fashioned monster movie fans, People who want to watch the first five minutes of a movie and then take a nap, waking only for the last 20 minutes to say they’ve seen it (looking at you, The Morrigan)
Bottom line: The rare horror movie that was appreciated by critics, it’s certainly not a bad movie, but it’s not a great one, either. It’s worth a watch because it’s a “classic,” and let’s be honest, it’s rare that I say a horror movie isn’t worth a watch. It’s fairly meh, but it’s also one of those cultural movies that’s important to watch to get the references. I’ve seen this movie listed so many times in documentaries that I would’ve felt like I was missing out without watching it. And besides, it’s worth the watch for the ending alone. What I can say, however, is that this movie could be badass with a remake. Even if it was shot-for-shot with a hard R rating that didn’t shy away from making the kills more gruesome, this one could be stellar. Rob Zombie would fucking kill this movie and make it as scary as it could’ve been, as there’s no discernable reason the blonde’s head shouldn’t have gone through that fan…