The Funhouse, 1981
directed by Tobe Hooper
starring Elizabeth Berridge, Cooper Huckabee, Herb Robins
Similar to its eponymous carnival attraction, The Funhouse is not particularly scary or inventive, but it’s certainly campy entertainment worth the ride. The Funhouse takes advantage of its setting, both in the interior of a generic spookhouse and the sleazy and grungy carnival hosting it. Although the film does slowly crawl to the heart of the story, once the film starts really moving the pacing is just right. The first thirty minutes introduce four teenagers, who head out to a local carnival thinly veiled (by a few small lines of dialogue) with a troubling background. Feeling both adventurous and likely the effects of several joints, they decide to hop off the cart in the haunted house and try to spend the night. Of course, teenage misbehavior (sex gets you little heathens killed), creepy carnies, and a psuedo-scary attraction are the base ingredients for a horror movie.
Another little plot piece in The Funhouse is the younger brother of one of the characters, who is featured in the first scene of the film in what is almost a remake of the first scene from Halloween, with just a tiny twist. The constant inclusion of the younger brother is also a weird one, because despite a fair amount of screen time, the story really never amounts to anything and is abruptly cut off. He follows the group to the carnival, seemingly to offer viewers the possibility of him helping out or playing some sort of role in the events unfolding, but it ends with an odd whimper. It’s not too big of a deal, though, the main plot of The Funhouse is really where the action is. And for the most part, it’s entertaining enough. The opening scene featuring a Halloween ripoff gives way to fairly decent frights, nothing too particularly original but also nothing annoyingly derivative of other movies.
The two main villains of the film, who go unnamed, are notably similar to the villains of Tobe Hooper’s earlier work in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The villain in The Funhouse is a disfigured, mumbling, unintelligent character that seems capable of extreme violence but never really thoughtful or aware of his actions. He is loosely monitored by his father, who berates his behavior but seems helpless at stopping him recognizing he is beyond reason. Leatherface, however, in comparison to the monster featured in The Funhouse, is a much more timeless one. In both terms of the quality of film he is featured in, but appearance-wise. Although the monster is effective enough, the makeup effects certainly have aged quite a bit and could now easily and understandably be similar to seeing monsters from a 50’s horror or sci-fi flick. Some of this can absolutely be attributed to the film being a low-budget production and often the monster is smartly shot in shadows, or even wearing a mask early on the film before his face is revealed.
But, aging and campiness aside, The Funhouse is an enjoyable enough movie for the right mindset. Get through the third of the film and it’s an entertaining ride. The setting is an ideal one, and while the film may have a simple foundation, everything works well enough to make a good mix of a monster movie and a slasher. The four main teenage characters are aren’t anything special, but thankfully not extremely irritating or illogical. It has some nice camera work as well, and a very good score featuring in the background. Definitely not Tobe Hooper’s best nor his worst, but shows his ability to make a solid, satisfying horror movie.