The Funhouse, being director Tobe Hooper’s ode to the classic Universal monsters and to late-night carnivals everywhere, is an odd slice of americana horror. It, when slashers were all the rage, decided to turn its back on the popular movement and reintroduced audiences to the idea of a monster picture. It has a twisted sense to its happenings and, to this day, remains an exploitative look at violence and sexuality as four teenagers decide to stay the night inside a carnival that is home to some seriously demented and sexually depraved freaks and geeks.
Having cut his teeth on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Salem’s Lot, Hooper didn’t leave the horror world behind when he signed on to make his first film for a major Hollywood studio. Operating as an homage to a bygone era while revisiting the macabre family-oriented themes of his first film, The Funhouse twists its tale even further by focusing on a sexually frustrated circus freak so hideous that he has to disguise his face with a Frankenstein mask.
Written by Larry Block, The Funhouse is what happens when four horney teenagers (Elizabeth Berridge, Cooper Huckabee, Largo Woodruff and Miles Chapin) decide to spend the night in the funhouse ride of a sleazy travelling carnival. When they discover that the Frankenstein-costume wearing operator of the ride (Wayne Doba) is a deformed monster whose father, the sinister carnival barker (Kevin Conway), allows him to murder the people he manages to lure back into his room, the gang – including a young Shawn Carson as Joey Harper – just want to get the hell out. It’s much harder than it looks.
The teens aren’t killed off in typical 1980’s slasher craze. They don’t booze it up. They don’t smoke themselves into a green haze of stupidity either. Sure, they have sex – or attempt to – but there’s no partying. There’s no forewarning and no stalker with a long, steely knife either. Things just suddenly get axe-to-the-head weird after they witness Frankenstein killing a member of the carnival family. For maybe thirty minutes, nothing happens. It’s a slow build to the suspense that allows the sudience to get to know the teenagers and the unsettling freakshow atmosphere of the carnival.
Hooper ramps up the gothic love for old school monster pictures throughout his ride in The Funhouse. Some scenes are ripped straight from those classic films. Other scenes have his characters vamping the posture os those famous villains. His mash-up of terror even includes a glimpse of the mighty King Kong. The old Universal movies are playing on the television sets of his characters; their rooms are adorned with Universal horror posters and their images – from The Mummy to Frankenstein – are everywhere.
While the fun opening owes as much to Halloween as it does to Psycho, Hooper recovers nicely with a level-headed approach to horror and produces an original work that houses some of Rick Baker’s best monster effects. The Funhouse is pretty unforgettable and, unique for 1981, manages to breathe a bit of new life into an already cliched genre with intelligence and sly homage.
Do not miss this thrilling old school ride!
MPAA Rating: R.
Runtime: 96 mins.
Director: Tobe Hooper
Writer: Lawrence Block
Cast: Elizabeth Berridge; Shawn Carson; Jack McDermott; Cooper Huckabee; Largo Woodruff
Genre: Horror | Comedy
Tagline: Something is alive in the funhouse...something that, tonight, will turn the funhouse into a carnival of terror!
Memorable Movie Quote: "Hit yerself, you ugly thing!"
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Release Date: March 13, 1981
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: October 16, 2012
Synopsis: Four teenage friends spend the night in a carnival funhouse and are stalked by a deformed man in a Frankenstein mask.
English SDH, French, Spanish (less)
English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German SDH (less)
Available on Blu-ray - October 16, 2012
Screen Formats: 2.35:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Region Encoding: A
Scream! Factory presents The Funhouse in a wonderfully vibrant 1080p high definition transfer. While it hasn’t received a pure restoration, the transfer is crisp in its filmic quality offering a pleasing layer of film grain that brings out a load of impressive detail. Unfortunately, there are some blurry images and scratches that are noticable due to the high definition upgrade. Better handled are the bright carnival colors. They absolutely glow with irredescent energy and suffer no loss in their presentation. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless sound mix is surprisingly immersive. Hard-hitting, the soundscape is filled with sonic delights as Scream! Factory rolls out on of the first surround sound horror films from the 1980s.
- Huzzah! The brand new commentary from director Tobe Hooper is interesting and informative for Horror Hounds. Moderated by filmmaker Tim Sullivan, the commentary spins its wheels and covers a lot of ground. From how Hooper landed the film to the legacy of the film, Hooper and Sullivan produce a very memorable listening experience.
Housed in a sleek slipcover that includes all-new art, the release includes the DVD copy of the film and reversable art work. Essentially, the special features are limited to interviews only. Actor Kevin Conway, Executive Producer Mark L. Lester, Composer John Beal, and Actor William Finley all provide stories and insight as they recall their memories of the film and its shoot. There are also deleted scenes from the movie that were added to the television version for cable and editing purposes.
- The Barker Speaks! An Interview with Actor Kevin Conway (11 min)
- Something Wicked This Way Comes: An All-New Interview with Executive Producer Mark L. Lester (9 min)
- Carnival Music: An Interview with Composer John Beal (10 min)
- Audio Interview with Actor William Finley (3 min)
- Deleted Scenes (5 min)
- Trailer, TV and Radio Spots