Tuesday, April 26, 2011

#263. The Funhouse (1981)

Directed By: Tobe Hooper

Starring: Elizabeth Berridge, Shawn Carson, Cooper Huckabee

Tag line: "Something is alive in the funhouse!"

Trivia:  Co-star Cooper Huckabee was a football star at Southern Mississippi University

If you're looking for a creepy, freaky setting for your horror film, you can't do much better than a roadside carnival. Like many Americans, I've visited a few over the years, and at each and every one, I found something to be afraid of (though, unlike the unfortunate characters in this film, my fears didn't extend much beyond that of contracting food poisoning at the snack stand). Based solely on its choice of locale, I had high hopes going into The Funhouse, and though there were a few hiccups along the way, I'd say it ultimately delivered the goods. 

Amy Harper (Elizabeth Berridge) is going out on her first date with Buzz (Cooper Huckabee), and against her parents wishes, the two set off for a carnival that's just rolled into town. Double-dating with friends Liz (Largo Woodruff) and Richie (Miles Chapin), the quartet visit a fortune teller (Sylvia Miles), ride the amusements, and eat lots and lots of cotton candy. As closing time approaches, Buzz suggests that, as a prank, they all sneak into the funhouse and spend the night there. Once inside, the four settle down for what they hope will be a romantic evening, but when they inadvertently witness a murder, the friends find themselves hunted by a couple of carnies, including a monstrously deformed young man (Wayne Doba) with a knack for sneaking up on you when you least expect it. 

As a fan of old-time horror, I really loved the opening scene director Tobe Hooper concocted for The Funhouse. While getting ready for her date with Buzz, Amy climbs into the shower, and shortly after she does so, our attention shifts away from her to what's happening in the hallway, where a shadowy figure grabs a clown mask from off the wall. Our perspective next switches to the point of view of the mysterious stalker, giving us an eyeful of what he sees as he looks through this mask. The figure opens the bathroom door and slowly creeps forward, poising to strike at the unsuspecting Amy. The entire scene is an homage to both Halloween and Psycho, and I was very impressed at how well it was executed. Throw in the fact that, a few moments later, another character is watching 1935's The Bride of Frankenstein on television, and you have an opening sequence any true horror fan would go gaga over. 

Once the action switches to the carnival, however, The Funhouse becomes a bit more hit and miss, even a little boring at times. I did like the first 20 minutes or so, when the four were experiencing all the carnival had to offer. It's when they decide to stay in the funhouse that the story falls off the rail, so to speak, and I felt far too much time was devoted to both the first murder (not a particularly memorable kill scene) and it's immediate aftermath. But once the film's “Monster” removes his mask, revealing the impressive make-up work of Rick Baker, The Funhouse kicks into high gear, and stays there for the remainder of its running time. 

In the final round-up, I definitely enjoyed The Funhouse, and feel the positives far outweigh its weaknesses. If you haven't done so, spend an evening exploring The Funhouse. It may not be the best horror movie you'll ever see, but it's miles away from being the worst.


Matt Dunn said...

The opening credits to this movie scared the crap out of me as a kid.

Also, it was just added today as a Watch Instantly selection through Netflix.

DVD Infatuation said...

@Matt: The opening credits are definitely on the creepy side (all those damn clowns and dolls).

And thanks for the heads-up on Netflix. It's appreciated.

PooBahSpiel said...

I couldn't get over how the Funhouse was just like the Tartus in Dr. Who - A lot bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside.

DVD Infatuation said...

@Mark: That's a great comparison! I would have never thought of that, but you're absolutely right.

Thanks for the comment.