The Funhouse is another slice of Tobe Hooper’s unique brand of dark and dirty horror. For those not instantly familiar with Mr. Hooper, he was the director of the seminal horror film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. So yeah, the man’s got the horror goods, even if nothing he made after TCM would ever equal the raw power of his debut effort. But that’s not to say he didn’t have his hits. He did the more family friendly fare of Poltergeist (or Steven Spielberg did, depending upon who you ask) and the sexy space vampire flick Lifeforce (which I do love, thank you very much), not to mention the very decent TV miniseries Salem’s Lot, and then this movie, The Funhouse. Yeah it’s no Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but then what is? And yes, that includes all the Chainsaw remakes … even the new 3D one. Oh boy, I feel a rant coming on, so I had better quickly get into this new Blu-ray released by my new best friends over at Scream Factory.
This movie takes place in Heartland USA as a group of teens go for a night of semi-naughty fun at the traveling carnival that has just come to town. They wander about the place, meeting weirdo after weirdo, until they decide to spend the night in the funhouse on a dare. That’s when one of them takes something they shouldn’t, and the group sees something else that they really, really shouldn’t. That causes a hulking brute in a Frankenstein mask to do the old stalk and slash as the desperate teens discover that they are trapped in the funhouse with no way to escape.
While that plot synopsis sounds like the typical ’80s slasher fare, The Funhouse really doesn’t fit into that mold at all. In fact gore hounds and body counters may be in for a surprise when watching this flick. While there is blood, death, and carnage to be found here, not to mention one very memorable maniac, Tobe focuses much more on the creepy, icky, and just plain dirty side of small traveling carnivals. In fact the first murder doesn’t even occur until past the halfway mark of this movie at 48 minutes in. All this makes for a much more honest to goodness horror film than many of the mad-man-with-a-knife-and-a-mask movies that were coming out around the same time (1981). Tobe Hooper allows you to wallow in the carnival’s disturbing atmosphere for a good long time, letting you get to know both the soon to be knife-fodder and the one that’s going to be doing the killing, before the first body hits the floor. Only a moviemaker of Tobe Hooper’s one time caliber could have pulled this off without boring the audience to tears. I say “one time” because have you seen any of the man’s newest flicks? Yikes!
Another thing that sets this movie aside from the rest of the slasher pack is the inclusion of a child to the main cast. Sure, the kid is strange, creepy, and off putting. He’s obsessed with both horror movies and his older sister to a perhaps unhealthy degree, going so far as to peek in on her while she’s in the shower (eewww) but just having him in the picture makes everything feel all the more icky. Yes the little brother character is a bit too capable for a child his age, but then some of the actors are a bit too old to be playing teens, so what are you going to do?
As for the new Blu-ray, Scream Factory has once again done a bang up job with not only a good looking transfer but a number of cool bonus features on it worthy of a carnival barker shouting himself hoarse about them. First and foremost is a brand new audio commentary with director Tobe Hooper and fellow horror movie director, Tim Sullivan. While I’m not 100% sure, I am pretty sure that this is the first commentary track Tobe has done for this movie. In addition to that there are four interviews. There’s an eleven minute one with Kevin Conway who played three different carny barkers in the movie, including the real bad dad of the murderous monster. There is an eight minute interview with executive producer Mark L. Lester. There’s a ten minute talk with composer John Beal. Lastly there’s a very short audio only interview with actor William Finley that overplays his memorable cameo as the creepy magician in the movie. A collection of deleted scenes and TV and radio spots are also included on the disc. And like all of the new BDs from Scream factory, it comes with reversible art for the disc case. One side with the new art done just for this release and the other with the original theatrical poster.
The Funhouse is a great bit of dirty, icky horror, the kind of which they just don’t make anymore. It is also the kind of movie that I wish they made more of. That it is now out on a good looking Blu-ray with some nice special features thrown is just more of a reason to crow about it. Once more Scream Factory knocks one out of the park with this must have release. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up when it comes out October 16.