Funhouse, The (1981)

Author: Tyler B.
Submitted by: Tyler B.   Date : 2008-11-20 13:12

Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Larry Block
Starring: Elizabeth Berridge, Cooper Huckabee, Kevin Conway

Reviewed by: Tyler B.

"...Who will dare to face the challenge of the Funhouse? Who is mad enough to enter that world of darkness? How about you, sir...? "

It's that time of year when the sun is sweltering and the smell of cotton candy, grease, and sweat fills the air. For the price of admission you are entered into an outdoor world filled with flashing lights, colourful tents, weird curiosities, and filthy carnies. The carnival has come to town! It seems likes it's all fun and games, but we've all felt afraid and unsafe while riding the rides and walking around in the dead of night with the lights and sounds a-buzzing and the carnies a-barking. What freaks are hidden in the Freak Show? What dangers lurk in the Haunted House? Which clowns are running around the grounds? There is always some air of fear and danger that lingers along with the carnival, but that is what draws us to it. That curiosity to look. That curiosity to ride those scary rides. That curiosity to visit The Funhouse! But we all know to stay away from those creepy carnies!

Amy (Elizabeth Berridge) has a double-date planned with Buzz (Cooper Huckabee), a boy from school, and her best friend Liz (Largo Woodruff) and her boyfriend Richie (Miles Chapin). And what better place to celebrate a first date then at the carnival on a hot summer night. The teens smoke some pot, visit the freakshow, and then decide to check out the fortune teller (Sylvia Miles). After pissing off the fortune teller, it's time to visit the Funhouse run by a carny wearing a Frankenstein costume. Before long the night has come to an end and the carnival is closing up for the night. The teens decide to rebel against their parents wishes and they sneak back into the Funhouse and proceed to get it on. Here they witness the Monster (Wayne Doba) murder the fortune teller and now they must try to get out of the Funhouse alive before the Monster or the Barker (Kevin Conway) get them first!

The Funhouse isn't very fun at all. It's a weak attempt at a slasher film and not a lot happens in the movie's hour and a half run time. It takes over an hour for the film to even get into it's stalk-and-slash aspect, and by that time I was trying to keep myself from turning off the movie. Considering this was directed by none-other than Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist) I had fairly high expectations. You'd think that making a movie that takes place at a carnival should surely take the already sleazy and frightening atmosphere the setting provides and amp it up a notch. Unfortunately, that is definitely not the case. Seriously, the entire movie up to the point where the kids witness the murder consists of nothing but the teens smoking pot and talking about random things at the carnival. And when the terror actually begins it's over just as soon as it started. The movie misses the mark on every occasion. It's not scary, it's not bloody, it's not funny or even entertaining. Just like wasting your money at the carnival trying to win that big stuffed elephant, The Funhouse ends up being a giant waste of time and even if you do win that prize in the end you feel cheated. Except there is no prize with The Funhouse.

Written by Larry Block, whose only other writing credit was as a story contributor to the dismal 1990's Captain America film adaptation, The Funhouse script is very weak. All the characters are undeveloped and it seems he just hammered this out for some quick cash. Tobe Hooper also seems like he didn't have a grasp on this production as the direction is not very good. I've heard rumours of production troubles during filming, so this may be a contributor to Tobe Hooper's lack of vision on this film and it being a total mess. But that still doesn't justify how boring this movie is. Even when it comes to the death scenes, The Funhouse promises one thing but delivers the cheapest method. They aren't very creative or bloody for that matter. A teen gets hung, a girl gets strangled, these are only a few of the demises witnessed, but the death count itself is in the low single digits. The only good thing I can even say about the movie is the score by John Beal, it's a great horror film score, but it could have probably been used for a much better movie.

If you want to visit The Funhouse, Universal officially released it on DVD a couple of years ago and it's pretty easy to find. It's pretty much bare bones as the only supplemental is the theatrical trailer which makes the movie out to look like a far more sinister and scary film then it actually is. It even goes as far as to bend the actual story line. The DVD itself is also only a single-layer disc. The movie is presented in anamorphic widescreen in it's original aspect ration of 2.35:1 and the transfer looks pretty good but there is quite a bit of grain. With all the recent remakes of horror films, and since the remake trend is in noway near dying out, I would not be upset if The Funhouse got remade. Maybe they could actually make the film that the trailer set it up to be, or maybe they can even base it off the Dean Koontz novelization, which was written under the pseudonym Owen West and based on the screenplay of the movie. The novelization was released even before the film came out due to post-production delays and from what I hear it adds a lot more backstory and is far scarier that the movie ever is.

The Funhouse is a huge disappointment and Tobe Hooper should be embarrassed for having directed it. I'm a big fan of his other work, but this one had me on the verge of using the DVD as a coaster. It's slow paced, poorly acted, and the ending just happens and leaves you unsatisfied. The premise had so much potential, but when you don't have the vision to pull it off it comes out not scary, bloody, or smart as it should have been. The carnival can be a fun and mysterious place but at the end of the day some of those new rides and thrills that promised to scare your pants off end up being a giant letdown. You should have just stuck with the classics, at least the Zipper has never disappointed. Avoid this Funhouse, it's nothing more than a broken down kiddie ride disguised as a spook house hell ride. Trash it!

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