Peter’s Retro Rewind: The Funhouse (1981)

June 17, 2013

The Funhouse movie posterby Peter Nielsen

”Who will dare to face the challenge of the funhouse? Who is mad enough to enter that world of darkness? How about you, sir?”

There’s something special and almost mystical about a carnival, wouldn’t you agree? It arrives, rather quietly, in town one day. Where has it been before? Where does it come from originally? What’s the history of the carnival and its “inhabitants”? They are strangers who build the rides, the shooting galleries, and present an exhibition or two. And then, after a couple of days, the carnival is gone without leaving much of a trace behind.

And sometimes… just sometimes… it had a funhouse!

You know which ones I mean, right? The ones where you sat two-and-two in little carriages, and went round on a track, getting scared by an assortment of mechanical “ghosts and goblins”? Anyone remember the feeling of going round in one of these? Sure, you knew it was probably going to be fairly crappy, but you still had that sense of anticipation and dread when going through that first set of swinging doors to find yourself immersed in total darkness.

The movie I’ve chosen to present to you this week, conveys this very effectively. Not that I’ve ever been to a carnival as creepy as this one, though!

What the hell IS that thing?

What the hell IS that thing?

The Funhouse was directed by Tobe Hooper, a name I’m sure many of you will recognize. He’s done The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Lifeforce and Poltergeist to name a few. He’s certainly more than capable of making a good horror movie and that’s exactly what The Funhouse is! A good, classic, 80’s horror movie!

It starts out with young Joey scaring the crap out of his older sister, Amy, in a scene that is a little homage to both John Carpenter’s Halloween and Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. And, holy crap does she get mad! Joey is played by Shawn Carson (Something Wicked This Way Comes) and his sister is played by the beautiful Elizabeth Berridge (Amadeus).

Amy is getting ready for a double-date with her boyfriend Buzz and two friends, Richie and Liz. Apparently it’s her and Buzz’s first date, whereas Liz and Richie appear to have been going out for some time. Her father doesn’t want her to go to the carnival because he’s heard rumors about young people disappearing near it. So what does a “responsible” teen do? Well, this being an 80’s horror-flick, of course she  lies and tells her parents they’re going to the movies!

The creepy funhouse barker!

The creepy funhouse barker!

You might recognize the actor playing Buzz. His name is Cooper Huckabee and he was in Cohen and Tate and also the great TV-miniseries Gettysburg. Largo Woodruff, who plays Liz, has mostly done work in television. And the guy playing Richie is Miles Chapin (The People vs. Larry Flynt).

The four of them head for the carnival and are basically having a good time checking out the attractions while smoking pot and making out. You know, like most teens in 80’s horror-movies! They visit Madame Zena, the fortune-teller, but get thrown out for being too obnoxious and stupid.

They also attend the magic-show of Marko the Magnificent, a magician/drunkard. It’s only a brief scene and I actually only bring him up so I could mention the actor, William Finley, who also stars in one of my favorite 70’s movies, Phantom of the Paradise. One I definitely need to re-visit soon.

Getting ready for some freaky action!

Getting ready for some freaky action!

The teens decide to hide in the funhouse until the carnival closes and then spend the night there. Not a very good idea, considering what goes on at this particular carnival. Everything is working out fine up to the point when they witness a little sexual encounter that goes terribly wrong. One of the workers of the funhouse walks around dressed as Frankenstein’s monster and it’s him they see have a little tête-à-tête with Madame Zena. It ends with her getting killed and this is where things take a nasty turn. The four friends are discovered and are ultimately chased through the funhouse with no means of escaping… at least not alive!

Incidentally, when the monster is first revealed, after tearing of his mask, it’s actually damn scary, because you’re not prepared for what he looks like. It’s a pretty intense scene! He’s portrayed by Wayne Doba, who only has five credits to his name and they’re only minor roles.

Now, I have watched this before, but it’s been so long that the only memory I have of it is that I watched it. Nothing more! Well, I also remember the monster and also the scene where Madame Zena pleasures him, but that’s it. So I was pleasantly surprised watching it this time around.

A terrified Amy...

A terrified Amy…

The Funhouse is a great little horror-flick that does exactly what it sets out to do: scare you! It’s a little bit of a slow build-up, but in this case, it helps set up the mood.

The acting isn’t too bad either with two of the cast standing out more than the rest. One of them is Elizabeth Berridge as Amy and the other is Kevin Conway (Paradise Alley, Homeboy). Conway plays three different roles in The Funhouse. He plays a barker at the freak show, the strip show, and also at the funhouse, with the latter being the largest part. He really is a scene-stealer and you can’t help noticing him.

I love the carnival setting. It actually lends the movie a kind of Scooby Doo-vibe only a lot scarier. It’s a setting that’s both eerie and mesmerizing at the same time, which makes The Funhouse well worth a viewing or two. Oh, and by the way, the ending is a damn creepy one!

So, my friends… it’s now your turn to tell me what you think about this classic horror gem. If you’ve seen it, that is. If you haven’t, please do, and then come back and tell me your thoughts. The comment section is all yours!

Until next time…

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