Synopsis: Four teenage friends spend the night in a carnival funhouse and are stalked by a deformed man in a Frankenstein mask.
Stars: Elizabeth Berridge, Shawn Carson, Cooper Huckabee, Largo Woodruff, Sylvia Miles, Kevin Conway
Director: Tobe Hooper
Running Length: 96 minutes
TMMM Score: (2/10)
Review: Here’s another film (like Dr. Giggles) that popped into my head randomly when I was contemplating the films to include in my 31 Days to Scare. It had been quite a few years since it had crossed my path but I felt it was a justified choice considering the theme and director. Turns out I need to stop listening to the voices in my head making film recommendations because I got saddled with another bad apple horror film.
Considering that this was helmed by the director of 1974’s classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this should have been light years better than this second hand film is. Hooper was just coming off of directing the successful television mini-series Salem’s Lot and would move on from this to one of my all time favorite films, Poltergeist so I can see how some film buffs would let this one slide. Not me. Hooper had a decent (but admittedly not great) script to work with and a minefield of scares to be drilled home in the titular funhouse…but everything goes to waste in a really lackluster packaging.
The problem starts right as the credits end when the film makes nods to two horror classics, Psycho and Halloween. There’s something to be said about a movie paying homage to what came before it…but this opening sequence is such an outright copycat job…and a shoddy one at that. That it ends in a shot of gratuitous nudity only makes one appreciate the restraint the previous filmmakers showed in their pictures.
It doesn’t get much better from there as we follow dead-behind-the-eyes Berridge (who would acquit herself nicely replacing Meg Tilly in Amadeus) as she travels to a local carnival with her gruff boyfriend (Huckabee) and expendable friends. They spend the dull first 2/3 of the film wandering around the carnival and its attractions – making it clear to us how seedy the carnival is and how really dumb the four of them are when they decide to hop off the funhouse ride and spend the night.
Somehow or other they get trapped in the funhouse and are hunted by a deformed man with no real motivation or care. It’s such a non-threatening situation in well-lit areas that you wonder why they don’t all just move to the nearest exit and high tail it out of there. I’ve been to a lot of these funhouses over the years and none are as gigantic or misleading as this one is. I get it that it’s a movie set and all but I couldn’t get my head around the fact that any person would be unable to escape.
Hooper does throw in a few inventive touches along the way. Tapping Conway to play multiple roles within the circus is a clever move in that it confuses the audience in a good way as we strain to remember why one carny running the freak show looks like the guy manning the dancing girls show. There’s an incestual feel to this casting that lends itself well to the yuck-o factor of the carnival in general. Miles (She-Devil) shows up for an extended cameo as a grumpy psychic that plays a part in setting the events of the latter part of the picture in motion.
Heaving and wheezing all the way through its finale, The Funhouse spits the audience out in careless fashion – happy to have had our business but not providing any parting gifts for our time. Hooper famously turned down Steven Spielberg’s offer to direct E.T. in favor of this and while in the long run that was a good choice for cinematic history, it’s amazing that he felt more of a pull to do this garbage film instead. Save your tokens, tickets, and dollar bills and pass up The Funhouse in favor of something more rewarding.