The Funhouse (1981)
By: David Michael Brown on December 6, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Umbrella Entertainment (Australia). All Regions, PAL. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhnaced). English DD 2.0. 92 minutes
The Movie
Director: Tobe Hooper
Starring: Elizabeth Berridge, Cooper Huckabee, William Finley, Sylvia Miles Music: John Beal Writer: Larry Block
Tagline: "Pay to get in, prey to get out"
Country: USA
Tobe Hooper's career has taken so many unpredictable turns its often almost unbelievable that he is the man who gave us one of the most harrowing and relentless horror of all time and arguably the film that started the uprising of the horror genre in the Seventies. For every Texas Chainsaw Massacre we've had a Spontaneous Combustion, a Mortuary or a Mangler to remind us how far the mighty can fall. It's not all bad of course, lets not forget his period as a puppet for Steven Spielberg which thankfully gave us the wonderful Poltergeist and his journey into television with Salem's Lot. He also directed a personal favourite, the madcap horror sci-fi mess that is Lifeforce.

In between all of these Hooper found time to produce a few interesting little low budget terrors. Post Texas Chainsaw Massacre there was a lot of pressure on Hooper. Along with George Romero he was seen as one of the messiahs of the horror genre, his every move watched in the hope he would produce another classic. After Eaten Alive appeared as an interesting crocodile infused clone he made Salem's Lot to much acclaim and in 1981 he tempted audiences to enter The Funhouse. Watching the film now it's hard to see what the fuss was about, but The Funhouse joined Hooper's two earlier cinematic efforts in the infamous 1984 Video Recording Act Video Nasty list. The fact that it's now been released rated 15 in the UK shows exactly how ridiculous the banning of the film was. To be honest it looks like the censors were so angry that his debut feature was so offensive that they banned everything else made just in case. 

Plot wise this is pretty obvious stuff but Hooper takes a couple of left field turns that make it obvious that the film is a step above your standard slasher movie. We do, however, get the usual gang of unlikeable kids who decide they want to spend the night in The Funhouse when a travelling carnival makes a stop in their town. While exploring the darkened confines of the funhouse after the customers have all departed, they witness some strange goings on between the weird owners of this touring extravaganza.

The reveal of the creature is fabulous. The moment his Frankenstein mask is ripped off and Rick Baker's exemplary make up job is revealed the film takes a terrifying turn. The creature is yet another iconic image created by the man who won the first make-up Oscar for An American Werewolf in London. The teens who are killed off are a faceless bunch but there are some nice turns by the denizens of the carnival. William Finley, fresh from De Palma's Sisters and The Phantom of the Paradise plays a rather sinister Marco the Magnificent, the host of a magic show resembling some of the finer moments from Hershell Gordon Lewis' The Wizard of Gore, and Kevin Conway portrays three different barkers at various shows at the carnival. The design of The Funhouse; in particular behind the scenes, lends the film an ominous air. Vintage clockwork creations and monsters lurk in every corner and the garish combination of candy coloured lighting and constant strobe lights are expertly used to create an unsettling atmosphere. The Funhouse itself is really the star of Hooper's film and is the reason for its success.
The 16:9 enhanced 2.35:1 transfer is bright and colourful. The darks are stable and the shadowy world of The Funhouse is shown to its fullest. As with all films from this era image is a bit hazy at times but the image is generally sharp and clear and easy on the eye.
The Funhouse comes with a Dolby stereo 2.0 only, but the dynamic range works particularly well during the shock scenes, the quiet moments shattered with the blaring soundtrack.
Extra Features
The most important extra is a video interview with Tobe Hooper. He discusses the making of the film, its position in his career and how to avoid child employment law in California by shooting your film on the East Coast. He makes engaging company for 20 minutes. The theatrical trailer along with a selection of Umbrellas trailers are also included.
The Verdict
Let's face it; Tobe Hooper will never make another film like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, his most recent work has proved that. What we can do, however, is to enjoy many of his films for what they are, well made, gorily executed thrillers. They may be clichéd and lack the ferocity that the young director once showed, but in this case, the film gives you the cheap thrills of a ghost train ride, what more could you want from a trip to The Funhouse.
Movie Score
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