Director – Tobe Hooper
Cast – Elizabeth Berridge, Shawn Carson, Jeanne Austin, Jack McDermott, Cooper Huckabee, Largo Woodruff, Miles Chapin, David Carson, Kevin Conway, Wayne Doba, Herb Robins
Release Year – 1981
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Often overlooked due to the great films that surrounded it, Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse is a film I myself had overlooked, and now I regret it. Why? Well simply put, this film is awesome. Debuting after his awesome TV film Salem’s Lot and one year before Poltergeist, this film comes sandwiched by two well-known flicks, so it is obvious what happened to The Funhouse’s hype. We don’t get these types of films anymore, and coming from a director still in his prime this is a watch you don’t want to miss, especially if carnies creep you out.
In this flick we follow two young couples who go on a double date to a carnival that has come to town. Intrigued by the stories that some people went missing the last time the carnival came, they decide to pull a prank and lock themselves in the park overnight by riding the last ride of the evening, and stay in the Funhouse. While goofing around the young teens witness a heinous murder committed by a heavily deformed man working the carnival, and that is when the real trouble starts. The man’s father takes notice that they are not alone in the Funhouse, and sends his son to kill the teens.
The Funhouse gives me elements of horror that I truly love. We rarely get films focusing on carnivals, which comes as a surprise to me given most carnivals at night can be pretty damn creepy when all the rides and attractions have been turned off, setting up some good atmosphere for some good horror. Well, thankfully Tobe Hooper and writer Lawrence Block took notice to this and gave us a sweet watch.
Hooper made the most out of his sets and surroundings by giving us excellent lighting(and the lack thereof) to set up his spooky and moody atmosphere that adorned the majority of the film(the entire film takes place at night). His sets were awesome, and if I did not know better I would say that he actually did film this watch in an actual carnival funhouse thanks to how well executed those scenes were. The majority of the films creep-factor comes from these scenes in which the animatronic dolls and monsters were not only creepy as hell but would come snap into action during the film’s numerous high intensity scenes. These were then complimented by the usage of our main antagonist, the Monster, who donned a Frankenstein mask for most of the film until his awesome unveiling of his hideous face about 70% into the film. While we do not get much gore in the film the live-action effects on well done, especially the look of the Monster, who I found awesome. His antics and mannerisms were sweet, and we get some true diabolical mayhem from him very similar to Hooper’s Leatherface from his debut film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Story-wise I dug this film mainly because it took place at such an awesome location. As I mentioned earlier, carnivals can be truly creepy atmospheres given you execute things right, and thankfully this awesome idea came off just the right way. We get the usual cheezy antics of a low-budget 80s film, and they make for a fun no-brainer watch that focuses more on what is visually scary. I did however love the usage and character conflict we get from the Monster, who came off very troubled and threw in some psychological turmoil as well. I really did not care too much for the Monster’s father and how he was used in the film though. He provided some conflict by having the Monster seek out and kill those who witnessed the murder in the Funhouse, but aside from one cool death scene involving a large spike I really did not find much joy in his character. The rest of the characters were OK, and while none of them were really likeable they were not the focus of the film, so that was not the case. So what is the focus of the film? Simply put, the horror…The Funhouse.
Overall, this is a cool and freaky watch that I recommend to all fans of the genre, especially fans of Tobe Hooper. We get a truly spooky atmosphere thanks to the film taking place in a carnival after-hours, and Hooper plays on that by executing some top notch horror and good scares. A film we can all relate to, this is a must watch.