Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Funhouse (1981)

Tobe Hooper will forever be known for "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Poltergeist", which is a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it continues to give him work. On the other hand, everyone will always compare his other work to those two particular movies, which has kind of handicapped his career. Whatever else he's done, people will always go "It's no "Texas Chainsaw" or "Poltergeist."" It's a real shame too, because he's done some good to great work outside of those movies (and some pretty bad ones), with "The Funhouse" probably being his best work outside of them.

I don't care if it's a bet-I'm not eating that!

The film actually has a fun opening that playfully riffs on both "Psycho" and "Halloween." Here, Amy Harper (Elizabeth Berridge, who went on to play Beethoven's wife in "Amadeus") is attacked in the shower by a killer in a clown mask-who has a rubber knife. It's her little brother (Shawn Carson) pulling a prank on her.

Anyways, Amy, her boyfriend Buzz (Cooper Huckabee"), and her pals Richie (Miles Chaplin) and Liz (Largo Woodruff) are off to the local carnival to see the sights and sounds. They decide it would be a fun idea to spend the night at the local funhouse, and then things turn south when they see a man in a Frankenstein mask (William Cober) kill a trashy fortune teller (Sylvia Miles from "Midnight Cowboy.") However, this isn't a man-it's a deformed mutant whose not going to let them out-not if his abusive dad (Kevin Conway, who also plays a Freak Show and Strip Show Barker) has anything to say about it.

A face not even a mother could love

Part of the appeal "The Funhouse" has for me is the fact that in the end of the day, it's not really a slasher movie. Sure, it's got a killer going after teens, but the killer isn't human this time around. If anything, this is more of an homage to Universal Horror films from the 30's, 40's and 50's. Everything from the set design to the people at the Carnival and the father/son plot could have come from these movies, and it's nice to see this kind of thing instead of the usual slice n' dice. Granted, it's all done from the mind of Hooper and writer Larry Block, which means that you still get the same kind of warped humor and sideshow style weirdness you'd expect, but that's always welcomed.

It also looks great. The funhouse set in particular is impressive, full of offbeat visuals and haunting ambiance that breathes personality. Same with the direction and cinematography, which manages to largely forgo splatter for a "Halloween Spookshow" vibe that perfectly fits the atmosphere of the film. Oh, and I can't go on without mentioning the all around awesome score by John Beal, which is one of the best of the 80's. It's a wonderful Orchestral score that thankfully uses synthesizer's sparingly (they are only used for the funhouse theme) and recalls the best horror music from the era the film pays tribute to.

 You know, this looks kinda like the obese lady from the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" remakes. Ironic, no?

"The Funhouse" is the most criminally overlooked of Hooper's filmography, and is a must for anyone who wants a slightly different take on the teen centric horror films of the 80's. It should be mentioned that the new collector's edition from Shout Factory is great, and has all kinds of fun extras.

Rating: 8.5/10

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