[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 21 – The Funhouse (1981)

Director: Tobe Hooper
Cast: Elizabeth Berridge, Cooper Huckabee, William Finley, Kevin Conway
Screenplay: Lawrence J. Block
96 mins. Rated R.

I really enjoy the inversion of simple American life in horror films. There’s something truly unnerving about the simple elements of our culture being flipped on their heads. Tonight, we’ll discuss a simple enough piece of our culture doing just that in The Funhouse, from director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Poltergeist). I’ve been critical of Hooper as a director, so let’s see how this early work from the filmmaker looks after almost 40 years.

Amy Harper (Elizabeth Berridge, Amadeus, Hidalgo) is a rebellious teen just looking to have some fun at the traveling carnival coming through town. She promised her parents that she wouldn’t go, but he goes against her word, heading to the carnival with a date, Buzz (Cooper Huckabee, Django Unchained, Space Cowboys) and two other friends. The night is full of fun and laughs until they decide to hide out in “The Funhouse” and stay the night there. Once the carnival lights go low, the horrors switch on, and it’s now on Amy and friends to escape the carnival and make it through the night.

The Funhouse is essentially a film of two halves. The first half is a lengthy drag of weirdness and goofiness, and the second half is a successful horror story. Where the final 45 minutes works is that it really ratchets up the shock value of the reveals and plot development, but that first 45 minutes is a lot of fluff that doesn’t really matter much in the grand narrative. The subplot involving Amy’s younger brother is strange and, ultimately, meaningless (but really, we need to ask what kind of brother plays a prank like that on his sister…in the shower?). I’m under the assumption that we are intended to get all of our character development in that first chunk of movie, but the characters aren’t defined enough in that time to make it worth it.

When Hooper finally decides to hit us with the real horror and thrills of the story, he is very successful. Once our characters are trapped, the film is classic Hooper, utilizing his best skills as a director of the macabre and unusual tales he has become known for. There are definitely some backwoods vibes similar to Hooper’s previous fare Eaten Alive, but he is more successful this time around. Not everything works in the finale, but most of it does, creating a disturbing and , at times, nauseating horror story that stayed with me.

The Funhouse is flawed in several pieces of its execution, but overall, it was a nice and short horror film that ends on a high note. It’s a bit of a slow start, but if you can get through that, this horror tale packs a punch worth seeing. It’s a little non-PC and a whole lotta Hooper, and I enjoyed myself quite a bit.

-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, click here.
  • For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive, click here.
  • For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Salem’s Lot, click here.
  • For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist, click here.
  • For my review of Tobe Hooper and John Carpenter’s Body Bags, click here.
  • For my review of Tobe Hooper’s The Mangler, click here.

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