The Funhouse follows a group of teenagers on a double date at a traveling carnival. The group visits the fortuneteller, checks out some of the oddities on display, and has a fine time. Not wanting the fun to end, the teens decide to stay overnight in the carnival’s funhouse. Nothing good ever comes of decisions like that and this is no exception. After the young lovers are locked in the attraction with no means of escape, they bear witness to a brutal homicide. The teens are then hunted down and killed off by the fellow they witnessed committing murder.
The Funhouse is a title that I go back and forth on. Sometimes I like it and sometimes I am indifferent about it. I appreciate that the film attempts to provide a certain level of social commentary on the way our society treats people that are different and delves into what people will do to be loved. However, it drags at times and falls victim to the limitations of its budget.
Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) directed The Funhouse and Lawrence Block (Captain America 1990) penned the script for The Funhouse. The screenplay calls for a few too many jump scares at the beginning and is a bit light on legitimate moments of fright for the first two acts.
The screenplay does succeed at creating interesting characters. The characters in The Funhouse are more fleshed out than the cast of most slasher films. This is crucial because the audience spends a lot of time with these four teens and if they were all two-dimensional and obnoxious it would make for a very frustrating viewing experience. Another strong suit of the screenplay is the uniqueness of the monster the teens are up against. He is unusual and is much more reluctant to kill than the typical slasher film maniac. The killer in this film kills primarily because he is looking for love and approval from his father (who is the real monster here).
Tobe Hooper’s presence as the director of The Funhouse is noticeable almost immediately. He uses many of the same techniques to create tension that he did in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There are some very intense chase scenes toward the end of the film. Also similar to TCM, this film uses very little blood. It relies more on atmosphere. Unfortunately, Hooper doesn’t succeed at building the same level of tension he did with Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There are moments of greatness in The Funhouse but they are not sustained throughout the entirety of the picture. There are some sufficiently terrifying moments towards the end of the feature but there is so much setup leading to the third act that the film begins to feel tedious before the climax is reached.
The Funhouse sets itself up for a very low body count. With only four protagonists and the likelihood that one of them will be the final girl, that leaves the film with precious few characters to kill off. As such, the picture relies heavily on atmosphere. At times, it succeeds but there are some long spells with no kills and limited action to fill the void.
Of the kills that do occur onscreen, they range from tame to middle-of-the-road. There isn’t a lot of stage blood spilled which coupled with a low body count makes the The Funhouse feel tedious at times.
Tobe Hooper’s films are typically really good or really bad. The Funhouse is the exception to that rule. It is not particularly good nor is it all that bad. It is merely average. The Funhouse has moments of greatness but for every great scene, there is a missed opportunity to counterbalance it.
Eli Roth has expressed interest in remaking this film. If Roth can show a level of restraint, I would be open to seeing what he can do. News of the project seems to have dried up and the redux is not likely to happen but The Funhouse leaves enough room for improvement that Roth or another filmmaker could potentially put together a worthy reboot.
If you have not taken the time to see The Funhouse, it is a film that every horror fan should watch at least once. Even though it isn’t exceptional, it is still a bit of a classic. It’s not Hooper’s best work but it does offer a unique killer, some creepy chase scenes, and makes a reasonable attempt at providing a bit of social commentary. Scream Factory recently put out a collector’s edition Blu-ray of The Funhouse with loads of special features and a very cool rendering of the cover art.
Director(s): Tobe Hooper
Writer(s): Lawrence Block
Stars: Elizabeth Berridge, Cooper Huckabee, Largo Woodruff
Studio/ Production Co: Universal Pictures
Length: 96 Minutes