The Funhouse

01/27/2021 09:23

Film: The Funhouse

Year: 1981

Director: Tobe Hooper

Writer: Lawrence J. Block

Starring: Elizabeth Berridge, Shawn Carson and Jeanne Austin



Now this is a movie that I remember seeing the VHS case in the movie store growing up. It really freaked me out and I never actually took it home. I also never put together until much later that Tobe Hooper directed this, which is funny that I watched The Texas Chain Saw Massacrewhich has a much worse reputation. This one had been a blind spot of his films and I added to a list of ones to check out from podcasts. I finally got around to it for October Movie Challenges. They synopsis here is four teenage friends spend the night in a carnival funhouse and are stalked by a deformed man in a Frankenstein mask. 

We start this movie off going into the room of someone that is really into horror and the macabre. This is from the posters, masks and different items in the room. We are also getting a point of view shot from whoever is in the room. They grab a knife and a clown mask ala Halloween. It then shifts over to Amy Harper (Elizabeth Berridge). She takes off her robe to get into the shower. The person then comes in, much like the scene from Psycho to stab her. It turns out to be a joke done by her brother, Joey (Shawn Carson). He then flees into his room where she eventually finds him, telling him that she’ll get him back so bad he’ll never forget it. 

She gets ready and joins her parents while they watch Bride of Frankenstein on television. Mrs. Harper (Jeanne Austin) doesn’t approve of the guy she’s going on a date with while her father doesn’t want her going to the carnival. The rumors are that this is the carnival where two little girls were killed over in Fairfield County. Amy promises, but when her date, Buzz Dawson (Cooper Huckabee) shows up, he tells her that they’re going with the original plan still. They then go pick up Liz Duncan (Largo Woodruff) and Richie Atterbury (Miles Chapin).  

They then go to the carnival. Before going in, they smoke weed in Buzz’s car. They ride rides, they go into the different attractions and they play some of the carnival games. Inside of the freak show, the main attraction is a malformed baby in a glass jar. They don’t think it is real though. As the night goes on, they upset a gypsy fortune teller of Madame Zena (Sylvia Miles). They keep laughing and she freaks out on them. 

The night takes a turn when Richie comes up with the idea to stay the night in the funhouse. He claims that his friend did this and it can be done. Buzz agrees and the girls seem to go along with it as well. To complicate matters, Joey snuck out of his room and walked all the way to the carnival as well. He’s been having his own fun and he sees his sister with her friends go into the funhouse. He doesn’t see them come out. The boy gets spooked and flees, but when he comes back to help, he gets so scared he faints. His parents are then called. 

Inside of the funhouse though, everything seems to be going good and without an issue. That is until the person in the Frankenstein’s monster mask, Wayne Doba, invites Madame Zena back, things don’t go as planned and she ends up dead. The teens witness what happens from above, through a crack in the floor. They no longer want to stay the night so they try to find an exit, but they all seem to be locked. Frankenstein brings back the carnival barker, Kevin Conway, to see what happened. He then realizes the money is gone and that they’re not alone inside the funhouse. Under the mask, Doba is a monster and he’s killed before. 

That’s where I want to leave the recap as that gets you up to speed. I’ve already said my piece about the VHS case scaring me and something I learned about this movie before seeing it was that it is misleading. You’d think coming in that this is about killer clowns, which would be an interesting movie. That really isn’t the case with this at all. That’s not to say I hated what we got here, but I still want that set in a carnival. 

Which is where I want to really go first, I love the setting here. The opening credits are showing us the different animatronics clowns and what not. Then it takes you to Joey’s door where he has an old timey poster as well. Carnivals are interesting as they tend to hire less savory characters, so if you put them in clown make-up or just even having them hunting people down, you got a cool setting. I definitely give credit to locking these 4 in the funhouse. 

What is really interesting is that this is a slasher movie. We really only get a few deaths and they don’t start happening until after the 45-minute mark. The movie does give us that opening scare and then some creepy parts. There is a moment where Joey when he’s walking to the carnival is approached by a man in a truck, Ralph Morino, for a ride. That’s scary in itself. Some of the things in the freak show are both sad and creepy as well. But it really doesn’t go into full horror until that mark. It is funny though, since this plays as a slow-burn until then. 

Since I’ve said that there are killer clowns here, we do get a great looking ‘monster’ from Rick Baker. It really isn’t fair to say since it is just someone who is deformed from birth. The thing in the jar we saw earlier is a smaller version and we learn the history involving it, but it is pretty easy to piece together in my opinion. It is also interesting that Conway is the father. He just isn’t necessarily proud. It looked very similar to something from Phenomena. I mean here I could tell it is a mask, but I’ll take it. 

I’ll go deeper into the effects and say the deaths that we do get are fine. We are limited on the characters so the problem is we don’t get a lot of them and they’re done off screen as well. That does hurt the movie for me since this is coming out right in the boom of the slasher heyday with Friday the 13th and the series there kicking off and I mean Halloween and Black Christmas have already been out. I think the cinematography is good in the movie, but just lacking in the effects. 

Next would be the acting here. Berridge I don’t really love as the final girl. She has an odd look about her, but we do see her topless a couple of times. In all fairness though, I think she is mousey to start and the growth she shows works in the end. Carson is a little jerk. I don’t blame Amy for being as mad as she is. This kid is ballsy though and his performance is fine as the annoying brother. Huckabee looked too old to be the character he is playing. He does give off the cool guy vibes he’s going for. Woodruff was fine. Chapin was quite interesting to me. He’s not a great student and does some really shady things. I wouldn’t expect that from his character as he looks like a nerd so that is interesting. David Carson, Sonia Zomina, Conway, William Finley, Susie Malnik and Miles are all good as carnies. A prop as well to Doba who I guess was a former mime that does a good job at not speaking, but playing this monster well. 

So now with that said I’m glad that I finally saw this movie and ticked off another from the list of Hooper films I hadn’t seen. The setting for this movie is really good, but it is disappointing that they didn’t lean more into what the case is giving us. I’m not going to hold that against the movie though. I think the look of the monster works and the carnies feel real. The acting is solid across the board. The effects are lacking a bit though aside from that, but the cinematography was good. The soundtrack feels like we were there. It didn’t stand out much aside from that. What I really have to say is that this movie is a bit boring and it takes too long to really get into it. I’d rate this as just over average for me, but it is a shame with the potential this idea had. 


My Rating: 6 out of 10