The Funhouse (1981)

JUNE 20, 2007


I don’t know if I have ever mentioned it, but I really fucking hate Dark Ride. There are many reasons why, and I am sure by the time I completely run out of movies to watch I will have divulged them all. But one reason in particular is that it was a pale imitation of Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse, which itself was not very good to begin with. If you’re going to rip off a movie, make it better!

But my opinion was based on a TV version I had seen when I was like 13. So I decided I owed it to myself, and… well, just myself I guess, to watch it again. But 13 year old me was right: it’s really not that good. After a mildly clever opening that homages Halloween and Psycho, there is absolutely NOTHING going on in this movie for about an hour. And not in the ‘build suspense’ type of way – there is not even a hint of danger. In Halloween (which this movie apes in more ways than two), Michael was constantly around, taunting his victims, freaking Laurie out… here, if you cut the last 30 minutes or so out of the movie, you wouldn’t even know what the fuck genre it was. For the bulk of the running time, it’s just scene after scene of four painfully generic kids hanging out in a carnival. Well, technically three kids and one guy (the stupidly named Cooper Huckabee, playing a character with the even stupider name of Buzz Klemmet) who’s at least 30. “Let’s go see the magician!” they say, and go there. Nothing happens. Then they go to a strip show. Nothing happens. And so on. Finally, as almost sort of an afterthought, a deformed freak kills a couple of them.

And this clown never really appears.

I place the blame entirely on Larry Block. In fact, I tend to blame him for a lot of things, but here at least it makes sense: he wrote it (and his only other screenwriting credit is the 1990 Captain America movie. You know, the one with the Italian Red Skull). Hooper’s direction is inspired (there’s a great crane shot from the funhouse going up to the whole carnival, and some nice use of the 2.35:1 frame throughout) and the actors aren’t all that bad. And Gunther is certainly a memorable entry in the deformed slasher canon due to the horrifying makeup (and unlike Cropsy or Ben Willis 2.0, we actually SEE his makeup for most of his scenes). But the script just plain sucks. You know something’s up when the writer of the novelization (a guy by the name of Owen West, who you might know by his pseudonym of Dean Koontz) had to add a ton of backstory and flesh out everything just to make it worth his while. Some folks believe the movie is actually based on his book, since the movie appears to be a stripped down version of it. It also makes more sense that a movie would be based on a Dean Koontz novel than it does that Dean Koontz wrote a novelization for a shitty Tobe Hooper movie.

The editing also leaves much to be desired. A character gets impaled through the belly, but he’s framed in such a way that we can’t see that. Nor have we seen the sword. And they just hold on him going “ughhhhhhhhhhh” for about 20 seconds before they finally cut in a shot of the sword protruding from his gut. Other scenes are almost all master shots, and several other scares are totally botched because they don’t cut to reactions or anything, instead they just hold forever on the same shot for like 30 seconds or so. It makes Unbreakable look like a Michael Bay film.

It’s not a total loss. Along with the aforementioned highlights, there is a 5-10 minute chunk where this movie is everything it should be. One of the guys, a clone of Halloween’s Bob, gets killed (finally) and the other three go running off. Then they stop, and suddenly one of the funhouse cars starts rolling toward them with someone inside. It’s creepy as hell. Then Buzz swings an ax at the figure in the car, and it turns out it’s the Bob clone! It would have been better if he wasn’t actually dead yet, but oh well. Then there’s a nice little chase that leaves the Lynda clone dead. But after that it’s back to fairly stupid nonsense, like when Final Girl refuses to back the fuck away from the not-really-dead killer, giving him a wide open window for his usual final attack.

And the funhouse is WAY too extravagant for a traveling carnival. Two floors, multiple rooms, an office… how the fuck are they going to pack this thing back up when it’s time to move on to Shelbyville? Granted, one of the REAL traveling carnival funhouses would be impossible to film in, since they are the size of a trailer and feature nothing of interest. There’s a fantastic Simpsons gag where Lisa and Bart ride on one and at one point a skeleton drops down and makes a mooing sound. It’s the most accurate funhouse of its kind ever depicted on-screen.

However I must give Block SOME credit: there are some nice deviations from standard slasher rules, especially for ones of the period (1981). Final Girl (Elizabeth Berridge, who resembles the lovechild of Jessica Harper and Allyson Hannigan), while still displaying some of the usual ‘bad feelings’ and some mousiness, still manages to find time to smoke pot AND show her breasts. Then again Laurie Strode smoked pot too, and maybe Hooper just told Berridge to take her top off (they’re just making out anyway) so maybe Block doesn’t deserve credit after all.

In fact, no, I know he doesn’t, because he still wrote a movie with a fucking Italian Red Skull.

What say you?


  1. I'm still trying to sell my Late Night With Cropsy talk show idea.

  2. I love this movie.

    That's all I wanted to say. :)

  3. This movie is very fun to watch. I can't believe you didn't give any kudos to the monster. With all the atmosphere, you really didn't need the gore too!

  4. By and large, this movie was a misfire. I think BC touched on all the right points that made it fail: it drags, stale dialogue, poor editing. There were some story elements which made little sense: 1. final Girl's threat to her brother didn't pay off in any way even though it was reprised in her brother's head for no apparent reason. 2. The size of the Funhouse made no practical sense whatsoever. The slow pan out shot at the end captured the size of the carnival but conspicuously omitted the funhouse itself, hmmm. 3. They made mention of two little girls being killed by the same carnival two years earlier. Even if there were no evidence, why would the city allow them to come back so soon? 4. The beefcake dude was huge! There is no way that Gunther's would've been able to put up the kind of fight that he did.

    I wasn't expecting Amadeus' wife to be in this and so I failed to recognize her during the opening sequence. She looked so young in the first few shots of her in the bathroom that I thought she was a little girl. Boy was I surprised when she suddenly removed her robe(!!!)

    Also, when Gunther attacks the other girl in the air tunnel with the fan at the end, I thought we were in for some slicing and dicing. Nope. Bummer!

    This has been on my list of films to see for a couple of decades now. What a letdown.


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