Let me preface this review with a couple disclaimers about myself. Two of my favorite things in this world are freak shows (and by extension, carnivals) and THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. Combine the two of them and chances are that you’ll have me hook, line and sinker. 1981’s THE FUNHOUSE does just that. Directed by Tobe Hooper, it’s one of the most campy, kooky and over the top horror films I’ve ever seen and I was lucky enough to attend a very special screening at this year’s Screamfest in Hollywood, CA.
Now, I’ll say that I’ve seen this film before. I went into it thinking that I knew exactly what I was going to get, but I think the best part of it was that I got an entirely new experience unlike any other viewing I’d ever had at home. THE FUNHOUSE on the big screen is one of the more fun movie going experiences I’ve had in recent times. Seeing it in this format I was able to catch one-liners and various bits of dialogue that had been lost due to my sound system at home, and naturally the colorful visuals seem much more at home. You just don’t realize what a fun film this is until you watch it on the big screen.
For those that may not be familiar with the film, “Rebellious teen Amy (Elizabeth Berridge) defies her parents by going to a trashy carnival that has pulled into town. In tow are her boyfriend, Buzz (Cooper Huckabee), and their friends Liz (Largo Woodruff) and Richie (Miles Chapin). Thinking it would be fun to spend the night in the campy “Funhouse” horror ride, the teens witness a murder by a deformed worker wearing a mask. Locked in, Amy and her friends must evade the murderous carnival workers and escape before it leaves town the next day.”
Hooper directed this film following 1979’s Salem’s Lot and a year prior to Poltergeist, and I feel is often overlooked in favor of some of his more memorable contributions to the genre. If one were to watch the film now though, they would immediately take note of all the films that have since been made that are clearly influenced by the stylized visuals such as House of 1,000 Corpses, and the not-so-subtle 31. Zombie must fuckin’ love this movie.
The film was ultimately made in response to the huge success of film’s like John Carpenter’s Halloween, and the more timely Friday the 13th, and while that influence is very notable throughout the opening scenes of the film it doesn’t take long before Hooper takes the reigns and makes his presence known throughout the rest of the film. While he claims that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was filled with humor that was ultimately lost on its audience, he places the more humorous aspects of THE FUNHOUSE front and center so that it can’t possibly be glanced over. In a lot of ways, this film feels like a major precursor to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, and I love it.
Tobe Hooper was a major force in the genre that we love so and to this day I still feel the hole that was left behind when he passed on. He’s touched my life in more ways than one (my dog is named after one of his more mystical characters), and being able to be a part of this screening this Halloween season was a treat that will not soon be forgotten. If you happen to be in search of a film for Halloween night and have yet to settle into a viewing of his kooky classic, please put this one on the top of your list. For yourself, and for Tobe.