The Funhouse – Arrow Video
Director: Tobe Hooper
Cast: Elizabeth Berridge, Shawn Carson, Jeanne Austin
Review by Brian M. Sammons
’80s slasher flicks, Lord how I love them. I grew up with them, they shaped and molded my developing brain, and they honestly made me into the man I am today. At least, that’s what I plan to say when the authorities finally come for me. But until that time, I will continue to fill my personal film library with ’80s slashes of all sorts, be they the good, the bad, the ugly or the rare. So thank goodness for the people across the pond at Arrow Video, who seem to be absolutely driven to bring out as many great horror movies in glorious High-Def as is humanely possible. Their latest blast from the past is 1981s creepy carnival classic from the man who gave us plenty of nightmares with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Yep I’m talking about The Funhouse.
The 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, including 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. But fear not, my red-blooded brothers, the first pair of naked boobies pop up right after the opening credits. Thanks, Mr. Hooper!
Anyway, 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. 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 in his own way. 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. Sure the little brother character is a bit too driven and 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?
Now because this Blu-ray comes from Arrow Video, a few things are a given. First and more importantly, the disc is region free (something all BD and DVD makers should do, damn it) so it can be enjoyed anywhere. Second, the usual Arrow extras included with the Blu-ray are all here, like the double-sided art for the disc case, the double-sided wall poster, and the 15 page collector’s booklet. I think I say this every time I review something from Arrow Video, but it’s the extra touches that horror fans like myself really go gaga over. As for the on-disc extras, there’s an impressive three audio commentary tracks for you to choose from. The usually reclusive Tobe Hooper actually does an interview about Funhouse, and a separate Q&A session recorded in San Francisco. There’s a featurette with makeup artists Craig Reardon who worked with Tobe on Eaten Alive, Poltergeist, and Funhouse. Mick Garris, he of the Masters of Horror, reflects on the long career of his buddy, Tobe. Some trailers and stills round out the impressive collection of extra content for a largely forgotten fright film.
Final word: it’s Tobe Hooper, ’80s horror, The Funhouse, and Arrow Video’s usual bang-up job of presenting a great looking transfer of the movie and tossing in so many extra goodies as to boggle the mind. The phrase “no-brainer” is the perfect answer to the question, should you pick up this Blu-ray. Consider it highly recommended.