Saturday, October 2, 2010

31 Days of Suspense!

Carnivale of Tears...

The Funhouse  (Universal, 1981)

Before the Camera:

Cooper Huckabee  (TV's True Blood)
Elizabeth Berridge  (Amadeus)
Miles Chapin  (Get Crazy)
Largo Woodruff  (Stardust Memories)
Sylvia Miles  (Midnight Cowboy)
Wayne Doba  (Scarface)
William Finley  (Phantom of the Paradise)
Shawn Carson  (Something Wicked This Way Comes)
Kevin Conway  (The Quick and the Dead)
The Barker (x3)

Behind the Camera:

Directed by Tobe Hooper

Produced by Derek Power, Steven Bernhardt, Mace Neufeld and Mark Lester

Written by Lawrence Block

Part of the 2010 Halloween Film Festival!

    After a rather strange opening where the director of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre '74 shows us what his versions of Psycho and Halloween might have looked like, the story kicks in as young Amy (Berridge) defies her parents and heads out on a first date with Buzz (Huckabee), a ne'er-do-well gas station attendant with a strange resemblance to actor/director Tom McLoughlin. That's probably why the parents were so against him. I mean, who wants their daughter dating someone who looks just like a known mime?
    But I digress.
    The couple picks up another young dating duo, Richie (Chapin) and Liz (Woodruff) and right off to the carnival they go, the same carnival Amy's father warned "went through Fairfield last year when they found the bodies of those two little girls in Parson's Creek." Man, what must this guy think of Barnum and Bailey's, which has played New York City, where they discover a dead body roughly every 87 seconds? But it's after nine, and no one wants to go to the movies (let's see - what was playing when this was released in 1981? All Night Long - Gene Hackman and Barbra Streisand "comedy"; On the Right Track - Gary Coleman "comedy"; Back Roads - Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field "comedy") -  yeah, I might have picked the Funhouse of Doom too!
    So it's off to the carnival!
    Once there, the quartet quickly take in all the attractions, and none of them notice that one actor (Conway) plays three of the carnival barkers. They see some real "Oddity of Nature" animals (two headed cow, cow with cleft palate); ride a few rides; see a kinda cool magic show starring Marco the Magnificent (Finley); make fun of fortune teller Madame Zena (Miles); and peek at a pretty tired stripper show through a hole in the back of the tent. At this point Richie proposes they go into the Funhouse, then sneak off into the depths of the place to spend the night. Well, there was no internet, and in 1981, cable may not have made it to this small town either. I guess. And it does finally provide a plot which does not get in the way of the story, as Joe Bob would say.
    With surprising ease the couples split up and manage to not be noticed in their lack of leaving the joint. After a little foreplay, the fun is interrupted by a weird encounter between Madam Zena and the Funhouse ride's assistant (Doba), a strange fellow seen thus far only in a Frankenstein Monster getup. Money changes hands, and hands are put to other uses. True satisfaction is not achieved due to the duration of the event, there is much embarrassment and humiliation, money is not refunded, and hands are put to still more uses, in this case strangulation and flinging into electrical boxes. Guess Madame Zena really was a lousy fortune teller, because she didn't see THAT coming!

No one was happy with the selections at the snack bar.

    As our foursome reels at witnessing a murder, we reel a bit realizing we are exactly halfway through a horror movie, and that the first body just hit the ground. We then see the Funhouse barker (Conway, settling now for the one role) pop up and berate the killer (who is also his son) not so much for murdering someone, as murdering someone from the carnival. That's when the kids realize they're now locked in a funhouse with a multiple murderer and a guy who doesn't care that his son is a multiple murderer. Then sonny boy whips off the monster mask, and it turns out what's underneath is worse, and that not all of the "Oddities of Nature" in the carnival are on four legs over in that other tent. The rest of the movie is a cat and mouse game between our gang as they try to escape, and the devilish duo, who want them to hang around a while longer. Literally. They paid to get in. Now they're praying to get out of... The Funhouse!

    When you lay out on paper a horror movie about a deformed psychopath chasing kids through a funhouse against the backdrop of a creepy carnival, and list Tobe Hooper as your director, you've got what would appear to be the blueprint for a terrific thriller. Why then is this not a gem? Well, that weird opening, with someone in a clown mask (with the audience seeing through the eyeholes) attacking Amy in the shower sets the film off on a weird note, as no one could miss the allusions to Halloween and Psycho, but why? And the movie never seems to quite recover from this initial misstep. Another bit which is off kilter is that Amy's little brother (Carson) figures in a lengthy subplot where he sneaks out to the same carnival, experiencing his own night of fear, but it ends up doing nothing for the movie in my opinion but padding the running time. He's an obnoxious little squit too. As a matter of fact, no one in the film is particularly likable, to be honest. And we wait far too long (roughly 48 minutes) for the first scary thing to happen. I'm all for a movie taking its time and building up interesting characters, but this film doesn't do that. I know almost nothing about any of the lead quartet for all that extra time not running and screaming. Instead, Hooper takes us through a lengthy tour of the carnival, maybe to justify the cost of renting it? I know a lot of people really like this movie, touting its character development and symbolic touches, but I don't think there is any of the former, and the latter is too prone to after-the-fact Monday morning quarterbacking for me to buy it. These fans say Hooper builds the suspense throughout the first half of the movie. When? The opening scene is a red herring, and we don't even encounter the killer except as an extra in a few shots until the scene where he kills the fortune teller. Where is this suspense that is supposed to have been built? The only time prior to this anything is mentioned about there being possible harm rising out of attending the carnival is Dad's on-the-nose warning in the first ten minutes. One line of dialogue does not count as building suspense. The movie does have some good points, but quite simply it should be better than it is considering the talent involved. On that plus side, the older actors (Conway, Miles, Finley) all turn in good work, and just past the halfway point in the picture, when the barker starts taunting the kids once he realizes they're hiding in the funhouse the movie does kick into a higher gear which it mostly maintains through the climax, but in the end, that's not enough to make this rate a recommendation. Skip it, unless you're an 80's horror completist.

Let's Get Out of Here ?
At around 49:00, when something scary finally happens, ol' Cooper Huckabee throws out The Line to indicate he's seen more than he cares to. Party pooper.

Eye Candy ?

Sadly, neither Elizabeth Berridge or Largo Woodruff qualify, thanks to a couple of rather boring wardrobe choices and despite Berridge's early-in-the-flick topless shower scene. Sorry ladies!

Buddha Man's Capsule Review

Buddha Man says: "We have every right to expect more from the
director of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre than we get from The Funhouse."

Ouch. Buddha Man's first full dismissal of a picture. Ah well. Til next time, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!


  1. My primary memory of this movie is the issue of Fangoria with the big picture of the monster-killer-guy on the cover. I was eating a large sandwich while reading that issue, which was a mistake. Super-grotty Fango (those pics from My Bloody Valentine were NARSTY) + cold cuts = bad news all around...

    1. I look back at those Fangorias - especially the covers - and I'm amazed at what they were able to get away with!

  2. aww, really? I'm such a huge fan of this film! I like the build-up and the creepiness of the funhouse itself. plus it has a great looking killer!

    I guess I can understand now why it's so underrated. 8.

    1. Sorry, man - you and Maynard can watch this one at our big film festival - I'll go out for a burger or something. And not that kind of burger, Harry!

  3. oh Craig, you disappoint me. No love for this uber-amazing slasher? Makes me sad :-(

    1. Sorry man - we can't agree on everything! And we seem to be proceeding from 180 degree opposite positions on this one - I thought my review layed out solid reasoning why I don't think it's a good film - and those are the PRECISE things you love about it! I wonder if being from different parts of the world is a factor?