Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Funhouse

A lot of dynamics will always factor into my choice of selecting a title of a movie that I’ve never seen before.  When I get the hankering to see something that’s been on my radar or to pursue something and give it a try, my first go-to reference is usually to visit the Netflix web site and opt to do a search.  With the help of choosing certain gauges, like specific genres and subgenres, I habitually select “horror” and “slashers,” taking pleasure in looking through the long list the site gives me.

Every time I go through that ritual, there’re always a few titles that I’ll notice, making a mental note to go back and study the synopsis the next time I see it.  One such title that I’d noticed many times but never decided on adding it to my queue was a film called The Funhouse.  The cover art that Netflix presented was a close-up face of an evil-looking clown, leering and looking anything but happy.  For some reason I’d always passed on it, never adding it to my list but always seeing it as one of the many films during my searches (coincidentally, that clown has nothing to do with the film…in fact, I don’t think a clown is even seen in it).

Finally, the day had arrived when I stopped and decided to read up on the details of the film, subsequently kicking myself when I saw how much the film fell into my sought-after requirements.  Right off the bat, the first thing that stuck out—besides the fact that the film was of the horror variety—was that it was released in 1981.  Next, I’d noticed that the film was a Universal Studios release and that furthered my excitement.  Added to that information, the film was directed by Tobe Hooper of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame and that sealed the deal.

At the time, the average star rating for the movie on the Netflix web site was just a shade under three and for a horror movie, that’s pretty good.  So, wanting to see if I found another lost or forgotten (by me) treasure, I clicked on the “add” button and moved The Funhouse to the top of my queue.  After sending back the present disc I had at my house, I waited a few days, received the newly added disc in the mail, and popped in the Blu-Ray player to give it a looksee.

The film is about a teenaged girl, Amy (Elizabeth Berridge), who goes out with her boyfriend, Buzz
(Cooper Huckabee), her friend, Liz (Largo Woodruff), and Liz’s boyfriend, Richie (Miles Chapin), to the local town’s carnival.  As the fair closes and the patrons are starting to leave, Richie comes up with the idea to stay the night inside the funhouse—a horror-themed ride—so they sneak inside to settle for the night.  While inside the ride, the kids witness a murder by a man in a Frankenstein’s Monster mask (Wayne Doba) and decide to leave.  However, they find themselves trapped inside the locked ride as the carnival’s barker, Conrad Straker (Kevin Conway), discovers that the kids are somewhere in the building.  Turns out, the masked man is the barker’s adopted son, Gunther, and he has good reason to wear the mask.  Knowing that the kids probably witnessed the murder and are responsible for money that happens to be missing from Straker’s cash box, he has no intention of letting them leave alive.

I had really liked this movie when I first saw it a few years back, and like even more now, wondering where it had been all these years and why I’d never heard the film discussed during horror movie conversations on web sites or podcasts.  You’d figure that Tobe Hooper, renowned for changing the face of horror way back in 1974, would have his whole catalog of films discoursed when his name would be brought up, but not The Funhouse.  Now I’m sure certain circles of the horror community do, in fact, bring this film to light when chatting up all things Hooper, I’m just saying it had never hit myeardrums.  Usually you hear long dissertations about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre—and I have to admit, I can listen to all those symposiums for hours on end—and the controversial examinations about who directed Poltergeist, but The Funhouse either went over my head or just wasn’t talked about.  All I’ve got to say about that is, what a shame.

Though the opening of the film is a blatant rip-off of 1978’s Halloween, at the same time it sort of parodies the shot by making it into a little “gotcha” to the audience, making us think it was something it wasn’t.  Whatever the case, the cinematography was wonderfully done and really had the same atmosphere as the aforementioned classic, making me wonder if Tobe Hooper had hired the same cinematographer who’d worked on John Carpenter’s film.  Whoever it was, they knew how to light and film a scene to give it that style that we’ve only seen in the 1980s.  Add to that, with Hooper’s direction, you have a great film to see during the Halloween season.

The acting is definitely subpar, seeming like the studio hired kids right off the street, but that’s the definition of an 80s horror movie.  The slashers from this time were not known for any type of Academy award winning performances, just some kids that say their lines as best as they can and a survivor girl who screams her head off.  That, right there, was entertainment for my generation.

The film definitely has a slow burn to the plot, but it’s the atmosphere of dread—especially when the kids are stuck in the rickety housing area of the ride—that you can feel when watching this.  Most of the film takes place in the dark and gets you going as you can imagine how creeped out you’d be if you were stuck inside an amusement park ride with mechanical characters staying eerily still in the shadows.  All the parts that feature those scenes make you think that one of those crazy-looking mannequins is going to suddenly come to life and jump out at you.  Overall, once this film gets going, it’s pretty scary and is quite enjoyable to watch.

So, my final “bit” on The Funhouse?

Let me tell you…I took one look at this movie and knew I had to own this on home media.  As with a lot of my Blu-Ray discs, I purchased one of the Scream! Factory editions and love it wholeheartedly.  The movie is a forgotten 80s classic that needs to be seen, if you haven’t already.  It’s perfectly ripe for this time of year so do yourself a favor and go out to find this gem.

That’s it for now…thanks for reading and have a Happy Halloween!

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