The Funhouse (1981) – 31 Days of Horror: Oct 12

by Jovial Jay

It’s a carnival of horror and The Funhouse is the featured attraction on today’s installment of 31 Days of Horror!

Trailers are designed to make you want to come see the film, without giving too much away. The Funhouse trailer seems to do that!

Before Viewing

Things learned from this trailer: Tobe Hooper is behind the film. He directed The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It does, in fact, take place at a fun house in a carnival. The carnival barker has a son, who is deformed, and lives in the funhouse. This “monster” scares teenagers who hop off the ride because they think it will be fun.

All in all, it looks like a slasher type of film, with a mutated creature that is either a) misunderstood, b) abused by a parent, or c) all of the above. It doesn’t appear to have any major names, but one actor does look like a young Bill Paxton. I don’t think he’s in this film however. So, step right up! Get your tickets to the show, and come on inside!

Presented below is the Trailer for the film.

Spoiler Warning - Halloween

After Viewing

The Funhouse is better than the trailer would have you believe. Teenager Amy (Elizabeth Berridge) heads out for a first date with Buzz (Cooper Huckabee), an older boy. Her parents ask her not to go to the carnival, since this is the same one that was in Fairfield County last year where they “had trouble.” She promises they’re going to the movies instead. Buzz and Amy pick up her friends Liz and Ritchie (Largo Woodruff & Miles Chapin) and head to the carnival (this is a horror film about a Funhouse after all)!

They check out a number of the rides and exhibits including riding the ferris wheel, sneaking a glimpse into the “21-and-over” ladies show, visit the fortune teller Madame Zena, see the freaks-of-nature exhibit, and take in the magic show. They then come to the reason for the film: The Funhouse. They decide it would be fun to hop off the ride inside the Funhouse, and stay in the park overnight. While this is going on, Amy’s young brother Joey (Shawn Carson) sneaks out of the house and walks to the carnival looking for his sister.

The kids enjoy goofing around inside the ride, and discover a room above the office. There they witness the ride assistant, a large male (Wayne Doba) who wears a Frankenstein* mask, giving money to Madame Zena who provides him an intimate moment. Things progress too quickly and when she won’t refund his money, he kills her! The ride barker (Kevin Conway) discovers the body and shames the man, who turns out to be his deformed, and mutated son. They plan to blame the murder on locals, and skip town tomorrow.

At this moment Ritchie’s lighter falls through a crack in the ceiling and both the Monster and the Barker know there’s someone else around. The two begin searching for the intruders. The teens try to escape but realize they are locked in. They begin by getting picked off one by one.

Outside the funhouse, Joey is stopped by a carnival worker. His parents are called and they pick him up. Amy sees them from a ventilation window, but they cannot hear her over the noise of the fan. The monster traps Amy in a room below the funhouse, where the gears of the mechanisms turn menacingly. She manages to trap the Monster in the gears, supposedly killing it. She wanders out of the funhouse, alone, the next morning and heads home.

You will scream with terror. You will beg for release. But there will be no escape. For there is no release…from the Fun House.” – Carnival Barker

Based on the trailer I was really expecting a much “cheaper” film. But Tobe Hooper pulls off a film that has its scares, while not falling into a lot of pitfalls that slasher-type films often do. I’ll also say up front that Bill Paxton is not in the film, but a scene in the low-rez trailer makes Cooper Huckabee look like him.

The opening, might seem familiar. The audience is put in the point of view of a character wandering around inside Amy’s house. The gloved hands inspect weapons on the wall before grabbing a knife, and heading to where she is showering. The scene switches to Amy in the shower, as a shadowy figure approaches, pulling back the curtain and “stabbing” her. It’s really Joey, with a rubber knife, but the shock in her eyes is real. This sequence apes both John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) and Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). If you’re going to rip off another horror film, steal from the best!

An expectation may be for a more graphic film from Hooper, like his earlier films Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Eaten Alive, but he seems to have toned this film down. Taking out the brief nudity in the film, this could pass muster for a modern day PG-13 teen-horror film. The production finds some innovative ways to kill off the kids in the film. At this point in time, the over-the-top killings of Nightmare on Elm Street and the Friday the 13th sequels hadn’t happened. The best one might be Ritchie, who is the first to die. He walks into a noose and is hoisted by his neck into the rafters. A short while later, a funhouse car heads towards the kids with a body in it, which they assume is the Monster. Buzz strikes the head of the shadowed rider, using an axe. To everyone’s shock, it’s Ritchie, who may have not been quite dead. Let’s put aside the fact that the axe (as well as both a dagger and a sword seen later) come from props in the funhouse and would not be sharp or real.

The biggest hurdle in the film is setting up likable characters. From the start of the film, Joey, Amy, their parents and Buzz are all complete jerks. Amy screams at Joey with a real raw rage (not like a sibling that’s just been pranked) when she chases him into his room. Joey, of course is pranking his nude sister in the shower. Their parents don’t really care enough about Amy to check out her date (Buzz honks from outside to get her attention – at 9 pm too!) or to provide her with more than a half-hearted warning not to go to the Carnival. The mom yells at Joey, again super-angrily, when he’s caught eavesdropping on the stairs (no wonder he runs off to carnival!). And then finally Buzz is an older guy pressuring Amy to do things against her will (and her parents – she did try to convince him to go to the movies). A typical jock move!

While not a perfect film, the shocks and starts make for an amusing horror film. Kevin Conway’s scenes are really good, and make for a menacing character. I wish there was more of him in the film. This film should be on anyone’s list to see at least once!

Assorted Musings

  • *I know that Frankenstein is the creator and the creature is Frankenstein’s Monster, but that’s super-tedious to write, so please, put away the pitchforks!
  • Many sites on the internet refer to the monster as Gunther, even though he is not named in the film or credits (he’s listed as “Monster”). This name comes from the Dean Koontz novel adapting the film, which appears to be poorly regarded by fans of the film.
  • Elizabeth Berridge may be better recognized as Mozart’s wife Constanze from Amadeus (1984) or as Officer Eve Eggers from The John Larroquette Show.
  • Shawn Carson was also in the film Something Wicked This Way Comes as Jim Nightshade.
  • Kevin Conway plays all three barkers in the film.
  • It appears that the two freaks of nature cows are real animals; one having two heads, and the other with a cleft palate.

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