FUNHOUSE, THE (director: Tobe Hooper; screenwriter: Larry Block; cinematographer: Andrew Laszlo; editor: Jack Hofstra; music: John Beal; cast: Elizabeth Berridge (Amy Harper), Cooper Huckabee (Buzz), Largo Woodruff (Liz), Miles Chapin (Richie), Kevin Conway (Carnival Barker), Wayne Doba (Barker’s Son), Shawn Carson (Joey Harper), Sylvia Miles (Madame Zena), William Finley, (Marco the Magician); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Derek Power/Steven Bernhardt; Universal; 1981)
“Bad date chiller.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Tobe Hooper (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”/”Salem’s Lot”/”Poltergeist”) has fun directing this bad date chiller that’s stylishly set at a sleazy traveling carnival and follows the setup on the Old Dark House films, but with more black humor and more gruesome sequences.It’s cleverly written by Larry Block.
The Funhouse has two teen couples, hunky filling station attendant Buzz (Cooper Huckabee) and the vulnerable virgin Amy Harper (Elizabeth Berridge), and obnoxious geek Richie (Miles Chapin) and Amy’s best friend Liz (Largo Woodruff), go to the Fairfield County fair to see the traveling carnival. Liz goes there despite warned by her stern parents not to go there, as the last time the carnival visited there was a nasty incident. Joey (Shawn Carson), Liz’s bratty practical joker younger brother, sneaks out the window to also attend the fair. The teens smoke pot, and as a goof plan to stay out all night in The Funhouse. After witnessing the Barker’s (Kevin Conway) freakish son, wearing a Frankenstein mask, murder the nasty fortune teller (Sylvia Miles) who insulted him when he paid $100 for her services and after premature-ejaculation his money was not refunded which brought on an uncontrollable rage. The teens witness the murder and hear the monster’s evil dad planning to once again cover up a murder by his monster son, but the frightened teens can’t escape the locked Funhouse and begin to get picked off one at a time by the sicko father-son team. The film’s highlights show how the monster dispatches the eyewitnesses in inventively gruesome ways.
Hooper is at his best exploring the seedy traveling carnival atmosphere (from a freak show to the homeless patrons talking nutso to a raunchy magical act by an alcohol-swilling magician), using the grotesque figurines inside the Funhouse for cheap scares one would get at the carnival and offering the promise of forbidden thrills that go further than the carnival scares. The derivative film is filled with homages to other slasher/horror pics, from Hitchcock’s Psycho to Carpenter’s Halloween. The makeup for the Frankenstein monster, when he takes off his mask and it’s revealed he has a hideous face with a cleft forehead, albino skin and bulging red eyes, was created by Rick Baker and executed by Craig Reardon.
Because Hooper didn’t fully develop any of the characters, the audience only roots for the most likable one, Amy, to survive, as her final confrontation with the raging and unsympathetic monster is tautly carried out as the two play a deadly cat-and-mouse scenario around The Funhouse’s chain of grinding gears.
REVIEWED ON 7/22/2010 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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