FUNHOUSE (pre-cert UK video cover).jpg
3 and a half stars   Cheese Rating: 25% Dairylea Lite!

Pay to get in.
Pray to get out!"

directed by: Tobe Hooper
starring: Cooper Huckabe, Miles Chapin, Largo Woodruff, Sylvia Miles

(back of video blurb):
       "It seemed to be a carnival funhouse just like any other: mysterious,eerie, scary, but all in good fun. Yet it wasn't just any funhouse. In this one there was murder. And the horror became real.

       The story concerns four teenagers who vist a local carnival for a night of innocent amusement. They soon discover, however, that there is nothing innocent or amusing there at all. Instead, they find absolute terror when the four are trapped inside the maze of the funhouse. One by one, each victim is taken by a monster who tauntingly stalks them."

choice dialogue:

"You will scream with terror!...
You will beg for release!...
But there will be no escape...
for there is no release- from the Funhouse."

slash with panache?

        Lon Chaney Sr. once said- "A clown is funny in the circus ring, but what would be the normal reaction to opening a door at midnight and finding the same clown standing there in the moonlight?". Whilst this film’s bogeyman is not a ‘clown’ as such, a mask is used to hide the reality below. And neither is the setting a circus, it is a travelling carnival. Hooper’s film uses the juxtaposition of carefree merriment and creeping terror with a fair degree of success in FUNHOUSE.

       The film, on the surface at least, appears to fit the mould of other ‘teenie-kill’ epics of the time. Four teenagers trapped in a funhouse (where they dare each other to spend the night), are stalked by a hulking figure in a Frankenstein mask and are dispatched in a variety of gruesome ways. What is essentially a run-of-the-mill storyline becomes, in Hoopers’ (then) capable and distinctive hands, an elaborate ‘trick’ of A nod to both HALLOWEEN and PSYCHO in FUNHOUSE.jpga movie. The opening scene semi-parodies not only PSYCHO (1960) but also HALLOWEEN (1978), (in a sly comment on the genre in the early 80’s ) ,before, in equal measures adhering to and breaking the ‘rules’ set out by those two films. ‘Rules’ which were slavishly followed by the films’ contemporaries and ‘rules’ which were, of course, recently parodied by Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven in SCREAM (1996). For example, Hooper sticks with the cliché of a ‘final girl’, but his final girl is a wimp; she cowers behind her hunky boyfriend, screams at the drop of a hat and fights back only when she absolutely has to- even then with a faint look of distaste on her face. Now whilst this may seem like the absolute cliché of the ‘horror femme’ it is in fact fairly alien to portrayals of heroines in slasher film’s of this time. Usually the genre film, post Jamie Lee Curtis in HALLOWEEN (1978), would end with some empowerment of the woman at least, if not a complete transformation and role reversal with the killer. Other character’s in the film also defy expectation and are deeply flawed to the point of characterture. Hooper also plays with the audiences’ expectations of exactly who are the villains. The carny folk and, on the outside at least, respectable middle America are portrayed in an equally bad light. So whilst there is definitely a ‘social’ split- the ‘freak’ and the voyeur- they are both intrinsically the same.

        Hooper exploits the ‘clown at midnight’ juxtaposition very well in the scenes where the teens gawp at the live, but essentially harmless, ‘freaks’ on show in one of the garish tents and the moment when they realise exactly what is stalking them through the funhouse. Of course, Sylvia Miles as the carnival's fortune teller.jpgalthough it almost always rings true, the whole flipside of the ‘clown/carny’ in the moonlight being sinister and macabre is an almighty cliché. Much in the same way as many trappings of childhood and fun; dolls and summer camps for example, have been shown repeatedly in sinister and twisted fashion ,in the genre, to such a point that they once again become non-threatening symbols in a limbo between horror and innocence. So, admittedly it does not take a great deal of effort to make the setting of the carnival frightening, but Hooper manages to inject elements alien to more mundane movies and this keeps the audience on its feet. And of course the central fear making conceit is a great one-( no matter how many times it is over-used): In a normal funhouse you can be scared , but safe in the knowledge that it is all harmless fun, much in the same way we can be when we watch this film, but in Hooper’s funhouse the ‘comical’ threat of something grabbing you from the darkness may become all too horrifically real!

        FUNHOUSE rarely, if ever, matches the ferocity of his earlier classic THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974). Although that film is ,in some ways, successfully evoked during the film’s climax. look who's stalking- in the funhouse.jpgThe final girl ,screaming continuously, as she awaits the final confrontation with the killer in the funhouse’s engine room is a cacophony of sound; gusts of steam, clanking metal, her screeches jarring horribly with laughing and leering mannequins- is reminiscent to the trials and tribulations Marilyn Burns suffered. Another film FUNHOUSE reminded me of was Dario Argento’s SUSPIRIA (1976), not only in the use of sound but also garish, theatrical colour and the (almost) identical closing sequence. Hooper further ‘expanded’ this look, not to mention started his descent into mediocrity that ended with ‘straight to video’ schlock-busters, with a supposed ‘career building’ collaboration with Steven Spielberg- the ‘family’ horror flick POLTERGEIST (1982).

       Happily, whilst it is no masterpiece, FUNHOUSE is an entertaining, slightly left-field horror movie which is occasionally very scary ( including a couple of great out of your seat jump scares) and peculiarly sleazy.

       (Note: FUNHOUSE was, for a while, banned in the UK on video. It is believed that this was due to a mix up by some ‘brain of Britain’ at the DPP who got it mixed up with Victor Janos’ LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET which apparently circulated as bootlegs with the same title as Hooper’s film.)

BODYCOUNT 6  bodycount!   female:2 / male:4

       1) Female strangled
       2) Male teen hung and then gets an axe through his head
       3) Female teen strangled and bludgeoned to death
       4) Male teen impaled on sword
       5) Male teen shot dead
       6) Male crushed to death in the funhouse's mechanism

Click here:       to see US one-sheet