Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Final Girl Film Club: The Funhouse (1981)

Much like Stacie Ponder over at Final Girl, I had an inkling to watch The Funhouse a while ago myself. Some gracious individual had uploaded it on YouTube (not sure if it's still available). So if you have that same deep-down urge and wish to participate in the Final Girl's Film Club pick, you might try checking there first because it's not available for instant streaming on NetFlix (BOO!).

First of all, WOW. Look at that poster. I mean... ew? This little Tobe Hooper gem was actually a favorite of mine and my sister's when we were younger gals and loved these campy little horror movies together.

Wanna talk plot?: Four teens on a double date at the town carnival decide to do the dumbest thing ever and spend the night in the funhouse. They witness a mutant killing the skeazy fortune teller lady, steal the carnies' money, and are then stalked through the funhouse as mutant's daddy goes after them to cover up Junior's crime.

The title sequence sets up the film great, with gleefully ominous music playing over images of the strange animatronic figures that live in the funhouse. Tone is going to be a bit creepy and but obviously a helluva good time.

Is she scarier than the mutant? Magic 8 ball says it is possible.
The movie starts off with a pretty ballsy Halloween/Psycho rip-off when a pretty, young girl is showering and a boy in a mask (with true Halloween POV vision through the eyeholes) stalks her and then stabs her in the shower. But haha! Mask Boy is actually Shower Girl's younger brother and the knife is fake. When Shower Girl goes to the carnival with her friends and a date named Buzz (??), a semi-double storyline starts when Mask Boy sneaks out of the house to go to the carnival. I thought maybe they would up the suspense by having the boy trapped in the funhouse, too, with his sister having to save him and blah, blah, blah. But nope, they missed that boat. Instead, his part in the film fizzles out halfway through and you wonder why he was even there at all.

Whatever town these kids live in is apparently filled with random crazies, and I'm not just talking about the carnies. There's a dirty homeless guy wandering about the carnival; a guy who sees Mask Boy walking by the side of the road first offers him a ride and then pulls a gun on him (Whuh the hell?); and another seemingly homeless bag lady torments the two girls in the bathroom while they are talking about sex, annoyingly repeating "God is watching you!" at them. The message: crazy people giving you warnings ALWAYS means that something bad is going to happen soon.

Yup, I believed it.
Anyway, the scenes at the carnival are almost kinda better than when all the horror stuff starts. For some reason, I've always loved the magic trick scene. It's a short little tidbit, but the guy playing the magician is pretty good and I like the scare moment as he performs 'The Impaler' trick, giving a little history of Vlad the Impaler beforehand. I actually believed it for a moment that he really impaled her. Silly me.

The dancing girls and mutated animals make me wonder if I wish they still had stuff like this at county carnivals.

Um, no. Not really.

Anywho, one big question I have is: Just how freaking elaborate is this darn funhouse? Maybe I'm wrong, but I thought these things were made to be all mobile and stuff, and yet it has the main area where the ride is, a level underneath (the room where Madame Zena was killed), and yet another area underneath that with all the hydraulics and stuff. And still there's not a single way out that our heros and heroines can find. That is until the end, when Shower Girl just freaking walks out of the FRONT ENTRANCE. Shenanigans, I say, more shenanigans!

Another question: Why are there real weapons used in the funhouse attraction? Seriously, the kids grab axes and shit off of the dummies to fight the carnies, and I was thinking, "You morons, those aren't real!" Oh, wait. They are. Buzz hits the dork on the head with an axe (chill out, he was already dead) and the mutant's father gets impaled on what really should have been a fake sword. Sorry, another minor flaw in the movie but I couldn't help pointing it out.

The Funhouse is the ultimate "carnies are freaks" movie, and since the carnies of the world don't seem to be lining up to defend themselves, I have to believe that the stereotype is true. Otherwise, life just isn't fun anymore. The fortune teller-killer mutant is indeed quite hideous. Pretty nice makeup effects, although he seems to be almost all mutant without any hint of true human features. Makes it hard to see him as anything more than an animal, even when carnie daddy is calling him a freak and saying that he can't stand the sound of his voice. But don't worry - as daddy says, he's harmless... once he's been fed.

The film's climax is actually kind of anti-climactic. Shower Girl squares off with Mutant in the funhouse's hydraulics room. She doesn't actually fight him or anything, just stands there and shakes and screams, while Mutant manages to electrocute HIMSELF, get caught up in the overhead chains, and get himself squished between a pair of interlocking gears. During his overlong death scene, about a billion blindess-inducing blue sparks are exploding behind him. Only mildly distracting.

All in all, The Funhouse has a unique story and setting (that would both be completely ripped off by the movie Dark Ride) and some amazing character actors - Madame Zena and Mutant's Father are the BEST - giving memorable performances. The gore is minimal, if not non-existent, and the death scenes are really quite boring, but it's more the freakiness of the carnie family and their mindset that is the scary part.

Honestly, was anyone else freaked out by the fat lady statue on top of the funhouse? She laughs and turns her head and is just royally creepy. She even mocks Shower Girl at the end when she's escaped the funhouse. What a meanie!

Edit: Okay, I just read through what I wrote and it sounds like I'm criticizing the movie a lot. I really do like it and think it's a fantastic little piece of 80s goodness (with a slight 70s feel, maybe?). This is just the first time I've looked at it with a more critical eye. While it's fun and creepy, there's a few minor places where it falters.


  1. I like this movie so much I've bought it twice on DVD (including the old crappy Goodtimes release). Also, the thing about crazy people warnings is that, in the rare case that the bad stuff they are yelling about doesn't happen, you are still in the vicinity of a crazy person(s) who runs around creepily yelling stuff, and that alone is bad enough. Basically, it's a lose lose situation.

  2. I think it has great atmosphere and nice touches, but it definitely sags otherwise. The film had production problems and it shows. Still, it's hard to create that air of creepiness that Hooper can.

  3. Very fair review. Found some bits of this movie genuinly creepy, some parts are laughable though, but all in all, quite damn good

  4. I don't know about this one. I guess instead of turning my cheek to it and saying no, I'll give it a try. Great review!

  5. I think this movie's a total beaut. Great lighting, fun monster reveals, and a fantastically seedy atmosphere. An underrated Hooper gem.

  6. undoubtedly one of the best 80s slashers and one of the few masterpieces from Hooper