The Funhouse, 1981.
Directed by Tobe Hooper.
Starring Elizabeth Berridge, Shawn Carson, Cooper Huckabee, Largo Woodruff, Miles Chapin, Wayne Doba, William Finley and Sylvia Miles.
After an evening at a travelling fun fair, two teenage couples decide to spend the night stowed away inside ‘The Funhouse’, only to find themselves stalked by a grotesque carnival freak.
Having made his name with the classic shocker The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, director Tobe Hooper sought to capitalise on the box office success of slashers such as Halloween and Friday the 13th with his first studio feature, The Funhouse, a fairly obscure horror from 1981 that now receives a shiny high-definition upgrade courtesy of Arrow Video.
Opening with a homage to John Carpenter’s Halloween, the film begins with teenager Amy (Elizabeth Berridge) being tormented in the shower by her younger brother Joey (Shawn Carson), before setting off on a double-date with her new boyfriend Buzz (Cooper Huckabee), best friend Liz (Largo Woodruff) and her immature partner Richie (Miles Chapin). Soon the couples arrive at a travelling fun fair where they engage in the usual boisterous teen behaviour, heckling the fortune teller Madame Zena (Sylvia Miles) and generally making a nuisance of themselves before Richie dares the group to spend the night the carnival’s ghost train, ‘The Funhouse’.
Sneaking into ‘The Funhouse’ after dark, the four teens get down to a bit of hanky panky only to watch as Gunther (Wayne Doba) – the disfigured son of the carnival barker (Kevin Conway) – pays to sample the delights of Madame Zena in a room beneath the ride. Of course, being so hideous that he needs to hide behind a Frankenstein mask, it’s not long before he crosses Madame Zena’s palm with something other than silver, causing the monster to fly into a rage and kill the fortune teller as the teens watch on in horror. Sure enough, Gunther and his pa soon discover their unwelcome guests and from here things progress pretty much as expected, with the hapless teens hunted one-by-one as they attempt to escape the confines of the ghost train.
Having started slowly, Hooper does a good job of building and sustaining the suspense once the bloodshed begins, although the death scenes themselves are surprisingly lacking in gore (especially considering it was briefly classified as a ‘video nasty’ upon release here in the UK) and not all that memorable in the scheme of things. Nevertheless, they should manage to satisfy the majority of horror fans, while Doba also delivers a suitably menacing performance as the freakishly deformed Gunther, despite his character being a far cry from iconic killers such as Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger.
Although by no means a classic, The Funhouse is one of Hooper’s better efforts and while it fails to reach the heights of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Poltergiest or Salem’s Lot, it is certainly far more accomplished than his recent output. The weird, atmospheric carnival setting helps to make the film stand out from the swarm of generic early-80s slasher cash-ins, and if 80s horrors are your thing then I’d recommend giving it a go. As for Hooper fans, the crisp HD transfer makes this a must-have release.