The Funhouse (1981)
A group of teenagers visit a carnival and think it will be fun to hide inside the funhouse overnight. They soon come to regret their collective decision when they are privy to a brutal killing and are hunted down by the deformed murderer…..
Tobe Hooper’s opening sequence, of a masked young boy tormenting his older sister as she showers, is a well-done and stylistic homage to genre stalwarts “Halloween” (1978) and “Psycho” (1960). From here on in, “The Funhouse” (1981) becomes a notable genre entry in its own right.
The first half of the movie plays out as a kind of coming-of-age piece; that is, until a horrific murder is witnessed. The second snares our teenage protagonists inside the funhouse with a hideous monster hell-bent on silencing them forever.
It’s surely Hooper’s sleazy atmospherics and grim attention to detail that sets this movie apart. Whether it’s the putrid saliva oozing from our killer’s malformed mouth or the wretched collection of undesirables inhabiting the fairground arena, the gritty realism put in front of us is something to behold.
The production design is top-notch with the funhouse itself being a synthetic hive of mechanical monsters and pyrotechnic ghouls. Although the entire movie was shot in surround sound, the effect is used in the funhouse alone. What we are then left with is a heightened attack on the audience’s already-swollen senses whenever we enter the trappings that entomb our pithy teenage ensemble.
For Hooper fans, Kevin Conway’s multiple roles as facially-similar carnival workers adds a sense of incest along the ‘deranged family’ theme which runs through so much of the director’s work. William Finley’s boozy magician and Sylvia Miles’s ill-fated fortune teller add further colour; not that it is required. It’s painfully clear that the interesting cast members are those on the ‘carnival-side’ and although our heroine is both likeable and believable, her friends are nothing more than moving targets for Hooper’s slasher revolver.
My favourite scene involves our panicked lead-girl spying her parents outside of the funhouse; but unfortunately, the relentless sound of the air-conditioning fan prevents her pitiful screams from reaching their worried ears in the cool night air….
Overall, this is a well-executed horror film with an ethereal authenticity you can just about taste. It also has a fabulous title sequence. Highly recommended.
Hotdog rating: 8.5/10