Written by: Ben Begley, Renee Dorian
Directed by: Andy Palmer
Starring: Robert Englund, Clint Howard, and Candice de Visser
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Murder is all part of the show.
The Funhouse Massacre is the sort of title that obviously wants to conjure up memories from a distant, bygone era where a killer cover art and memorable hook might be enough to separate a film from the hordes of slashers resting on a video store shelf. While the competition in this sub-genre is currently much less stiff and the mode of delivery much different, the aim still seems more or less similar: here’s another splatter movie looking to attract eyeballs by promising mounds of rubber and latex gore, plus an assortment of familiar faces to complete the nostalgia trip. This is a film that has no pretenses beyond delivering a sort of rose-tinted, farcical take on a genre that’s probably already had enough homages. Even though the tributes are unlikely to ever outnumber the titles from the genre’s golden period, it’s starting to feel that way, and The Funhouse Massacre is a somewhat exhausting effort in this already tired trend.
To its credit, it’s trying its damnedest to impress—hell, at certain points, I was convinced it was made exactly for me. It features Robert Englund as a warden at a shady, backchannel mental institute that houses the worst of the worst, including a quintet of notorious serial killers. One is a deranged taxidermist played by Clint Howard, while another is a psychopathic former professional wrestler who was committed after he “accidentally” snapping too many necks in the ring. Eventually, another psychopath masquerading as a journalist (Candice De Visser) breaks her fellow maniacs out of the asylum on Halloween night before letting them loose on a local funhouse attraction, where the typical assortment of gruesome sights and sounds will be all too real.
Seriously, if I were inclined to ever make a slasher movie, I imagine my brain would spill forth at least a few of the components at play here. I am a documented sucker for anything that takes place around Halloween, especially films that take place at the rural, local haunts that dot the landscape around that time of the year. The Funhouse Massacre pushes a lot of my buttons, so much so that it almost can’t miss. For a while, it looked as if that would be the case because it unfolds with a gory, reckless abandon, going so far as to dispatch Englund within the first ten minutes. Sure, it’d be nice if he stuck around for the entire runtime, but knocking him off early on at least signals a certain amount of ballsy irreverence—if one of the genre’s most revered actors can’t make it past the first reel, who else could possibly survive?
Of course, the more pertinent question will be whether you’ll care who survives. Considering this genre, it’s not surprising that the audience is eventually saddled with a cliché set of characters, including “nice guy” Morgan (Matt Angel), who pines over his sweet co-worker Laurie (Renee Dorian). They’re joined by a perpetually horny couple whose fates are determined the second they’re introduced fucking off-screen, while their cook friend Gerardo (Erick Chavarria) provides comic relief (not to mention a ride to the grisly house of horrors). This isn’t the worst, most obnoxious bunch to ever be assembled for a slasher movie, but they’re no less disposable, particularly when the film takes on an increasingly glib tone. (It doesn’t help that an early scene at the diner finds them spitting into a customer’s food, which is honestly a grosser implication than any of the more outlandish grue on display.)
To be fair, Ben Begley, Renee Dorian, and director Andy Palmer have some awareness of the dynamics at play: in 2016 especially, few people are watching something titled The Funhouse Massacre to watch drama unfold between characters that will most certainly be victims. Perhaps this is why they’ve crafted some larger-than-life personalities in the antagonists: in addition to the aforementioned psycho-wrestler and unhinged taxidermist, the rogue gallery features a murderous dentist, a portly cannibal, an evangelical lunatic, and a Harley Quinn wannabe who stitches together her victims’ mouths. It’s a colorful assortment of serial killers, and their various implements of torture and mutilation set the stage for an outrageous splatter show.
The Funhouse Massacre doesn’t disappoint in this respect—it lives up to its name and then some, as legendary effects guru Robert Kurtzman conjures up yet another impressive carnage reel. Most of it is gloriously practical, including the blood that sprays by the bucketful. The splatter is a relentless collection of mashed skulls, flayed skin, decapitated heads, and more: at a certain point, I lost count of the body count once bodies started dropping left and right. For a while, it’s amusing enough, particularly when the film preys on the dramatic irony involved when unwitting funhouse patrons gawk at just how realistic the gags are. Actual homicide aside, the Macon County Funhouse would be a hell of an attraction, and the film takes advantage of this terrific bit of production design by allowing the audience to wind and wend through its various sets and chambers, delighting them with outrageous gore at every turn.
Eventually, however, The Funhouse Massacre proves to be just as thin and one-note as many of the film it’s echoing. This is not necessarily an altogether terrible thing (lord knows I was weaned on this sort of junk food cinema), but the extra layer of self-aware glibness becomes a bit too much. Criticizing what is ostensibly a horror-comedy for being a little too silly sounds a little unfair, admittedly; however, so little of the intended humor lands, especially the numerous comic relief characters, such as a goofball deputy and a couple of obnoxious morning shock jocks. The deployment of this humor almost begins to feel like a defense mechanism against the relentless bloodshed, existing to underscore just how ridiculous it all is, as if its audience isn’t already patently aware of the inherent silliness at this point. It almost has the effect of a comedian laughing at his or her own jokes.
Once its climax finally rolls around, The Funhouse Massacre feels like a carnival attraction that’s gone on for a little too long, making it a little too silly for its own good. Again, this is probably a strange accusation to lob at a horror-comedy, and I’ll admit that some of the characters did win me over, but it’s an exhausting trip whose sheer, excessive lunacy never quite finds the right gear. Something about it is just off, reducing the film to something of a farce—it’s tapping into the latent, half-remembered camp from a certain strand of 80s slashers, and bringing it to the forefront only exposes the worst impulses of this genre.
By no means is it an authentic throwback, though I’m not sure that’s exactly the point—instead, it’s more of a doting update that’s fun enough to briefly and faintly recapture that old era that coasted on boobs and blood. Sometimes, you want a cheap carnival ride, and The Funhouse Massacre provides the appropriately cheap thrills associated with watching a giant wrestling clown smash in a dude’s face with an oversized hammer. Maybe one day I'll fail to see the appeal in that, but today is not that day.
The Funhouse Massacre arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Scream Factory, who has outfitted the disc with an audio commentary,a video "watch-along" commentary, a behind-the-scenes featurette, production diaries, and a theatrical trailer.
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