In 1974, Tobe Hooper made an eruption of horror wit with his second feature film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a gritty and grainy horror classic that would turn out to be one of the most influential films in horror history. A brilliantly brutal, utterly disturbing, and strangely real-before slasher slasher that favored hellish atmosphere over blood but still feels like ultimate cinematic violence, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre expressed that Hooper was already a developing master of depicting horror on screen. .
As many of you know, he went on to make some classics of the genre and cult hits, including Elf, Life force, Y Salem Lot. Hooper is responsible for at least 2 of the greatest horror movies of all time, as well as a sprinkle of minor hits, but there are more gems between the cracks than some want to acknowledge.
Two years later The massacre in Texas initially made his impact, Hooper directed Eaten alive, a bizarre and sordid exploitation movie about an insane southern motel owner feeding his victims his crocodile, which had low box office grossing and hasn’t sparked enough internet chatter to this day to be considered a classic of worship. Though you might have to imagine some sleazeballs, movie sufferers and Hooper fans are enjoying themselves.
Only a few years after that failure, and this very week 40 years ago, the golden piece of Tobe Hooper’s most unknown horror film was released. The Funhouse (1981) is Hooper’s best work that is not recognized as horror greatness. It’s one of the best movies ever to be mentioned in the “horror classic” discussion. It is a scary little treasure if there ever was a scary little treasure; if not scary, then drenched in some terrifying goodness at least, and a damn near-perfect spooky game from the early 80’s. Given the big anniversary and this movie turning 40, there’s no better time to watch and praise the deliciously creepy of Tobe Hooper. The funhouse.
A group of teenagers and a nosy younger brother spend the night at a scuzzy carnival from hell. An incredible setting and a perfectly seedy setting – a familiar and fun place, but unpleasant and strange, always lingering with the sense of rude activity behind the scenes. . Hooper takes us to an especially dirty fair where sleazy figures run the show, monsters lurk, and a group of curious teenagers go from a night out to simply wanting to get home alive. The result is an atmospheric and visually remarkable haunting journey with great blood, disgustingly cool makeup, and an arsenal of spectacular settings. The Funhouse combines multiple elements of horror; thus it may not fit into a sub-genre as a little monster movie is set, a bit slasher and possibly paranormal, with an onslaught of spooky events and a feeling too strange to be called standard creature features cheese or carnage. . . This well-crafted striking light delivers images and sensations that are delightfully gory, appropriately sordid, genuinely haunting, and hilarious in every way. Despite a premise that begs to be approached with camp and comedy, The Funhouse is a dark and haunting journey into a house of horrors with a palpable spirit.
The Funhouse begins with a shocking disorientation and fright, as Joey Harper (Shawn Carson), the annoying little brother of our protagonist Amy Harper (Elizabeth Berridge), scares her while drying off after a shower. Already the blood is pumping, and we are shown that Amy is fed up with the nonsense of Joey’s younger brother.
Mr. and Mrs. Harper (Jack McDermott and Jeanne Austin) are a typical group of parents with teenage children: stern and concerned, but too distant or not concerned enough to investigate what is really going on. Carnival is in town, but Amy is forbidden from setting foot there with her friend Liz (Largo Woodruff) and her dates Richie (Miles Chapin) and Geek (David Carson).
Amy, being a good egg, lists her parents and suggests a movie to her friends, but they don’t want any of that. They go to the carnival. Unbeknownst to Amy and her parents, young Joey runs away and follows Amy and the crew in search of spy action and carnival fun.
What’s in store for our teens and Joey at this seedy carnival? The usual shit like freak shows and rides. Also peepshows, a strange fortune teller doing some sex work aside, a series of haunting thieves, and mysterious wandering old ladies who warn that God is watching. Oh, and a killer funhouse, full of creepy animatronics, creepy puppets, and potentially an additional killer creature.
While the concept screams cheese slasher or monster shlock, The Funhouse cares about annoying, unsettling, and leaving viewers in mystery rather than shock. From the moment the movie begins, Hooper introduces us to what appears to be the generic beginning of a hack ’em up teen movie. A heavy-breathing killer in hiding, about to slice this young girl naked? Look. Then the rug is pulled down from under us, perhaps ruling out the possibility of standard slasher territory; prompting the question “What is this journey we undertake?”
It is not a splash vehicle through which hordes of silly teenagers are senselessly eliminated. It is also not particularly heavy on blood or rudeness. The spooky path that The Funhouse takes us is filled with spooky toys, unforgettably spooky characters, and a hellish monster.
Rick Baker did a phenomenal job of makeup effects and created a grotesque creature for the horror record books. The Funhouse monster is a disgusting delight: cheesy enough to be a creature from the 80s, but mostly creepy and stomach-churning. An objectively unpleasant sight, and not a picture that viewers will soon shake.
In addition to great gory effects and superb creature work, The Funhouse also features some great funhouse games straight out of a nightmare. Vibrantly colored horror tents filled with authentic and haunting settings. In an interview titled “Tobe Hooper On The funhouseHooper said the accessories were collected from an old woman who ran a small antique store; some were used for the World’s Fair in 1906. Funhouse’s toy army certainly appears to be official, bizarre trinkets from a previous century. Wretched puppets. Ungodly wind-up toys. Then there is the cavalcade of spooky animatronics. A giggly, egg-shaped, giggling animatronic woman screams high above the funhouse, while worse scares await inside. The layers of horror are painted to perfection.
The evil puppets and figurines can’t get all the credit, though, because The Funhouse characters are a huge part of the terrifying fun, and as fascinating as they are heartbreaking. Veteran actor Kevin Conway plays the 3 carnival town criers in an alarming way. He veers between the seemingly soulless thief of the funhouse, the thief of seedy strip shows, and the deranged barker of the freak show. Each one fits perfectly, driving a strange atmosphere, creating a sense of doom, and lending the lair to it all. All thieves are daunting weirdos, to be sure, and the fact that they are all the same man dressed differently makes for a strange thrill.
Sylvia Miles plays Madame Zena, the divining sex worker, with brilliant horror. She is seductive and fascinating, but unswervingly creepy. Madame Zena is the textbook fortune teller you fear might take your soul. Miles embodies every part of what you think Eldritch’s personality should exude.
Although it may be only a minor part, Sonia Zomina is fantastic as the maid of honor. She creeps in simply to make our teenage heroes feel like godless sinners, and you must love the richness of the horror. The “elder warning of bad entree” is a nice complement to typical slasher tropes. Zomina plays a scary and senile religious fanatic as effectively as anyone can.
The main performances and the depth of their characters do not leave much to talk about, but that is excusable since they are mere pawns in the game of the house of horrors. Elizabeth Berridge is a strong and prominent teenager with her head on her shoulders, and Shawn Carson is quite good as a mischievous younger brother who knows his sister’s antics and realizes the terror that can ensue. A smart kid in a story is never a bad thing. The chemistry between the main teens is pretty good, and the lines they convey tend to be funny most of the time. While they may not be the most astonishingly complex group of teenage protagonists, they are easy to care for for cookie-cutter characters that are sharper than we are typically presented with in early ’80s horror fare.
With a thick, spooky atmosphere and full of heartwarming personalities, The Funhouse offers spooky special surprises for any horror fan and a few shocking moments. One scene that sticks with me forever is a basement fiasco in which the carnival owner’s son, a mute man dressed as Frankenstein, strangles Madame Zena after a prostitution deal went awry. It’s as depraved and terrifying as it sounds, and a select example of just how murky these colorful carnival waters can get.
The score is fantastic too, it sounds exactly like a state fair soundtrack from beyond the gates of hell. Any item from The Funhouse could be the icing on the ’80s horror cake, but we’ll give the score credit. .
All that remains is to ask, “What is there not to love and praise about this Tobe Hooper treasure?” A gory monster movie, a teenage affair, and a spooky atmospheric ride wrapped in a thrilling early 80s package. It has something for all horror fans, be it a twisted creature, cunning murders, sordid aura, or just a plain sensation. general of darkness and rarity. What could be pure fun is fun and scary. What could be cheesy is drenched in atmosphere. Hooper took a fantastic horror scenario, ran with its inherent weirdness, and made it even more horrifying. If you think carnivals are spooky, The Funhouse will prove you right. If you love horror, particularly pre-2000s horror, you’re going to love this one. You may just have one new movie to add to your all-time favorites list.
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