Monday, July 2, 2012

Golden Title: The Funhouse (1981)

The Funhouse (1981) (AKA Carnival of Terror)
Rating: *****
Starring: Elizabeth Berridge, Shawn Carson and Jeanne Austin

Opening the film with a room adorned by horror posters and monster toys, a figure picks up a mask and begins to talk a girl in the showers. Unknowing of the danger that watches her, she finds herself soon stabbed to death by the masked assailant. Or so she thought.

Meet Amy, who not only is pranked by her younger brother with a fake knife and a mask, but is also planning to spend a night out of town and into a traveling fun fair with her friends and boyfriend, much against her father's wishes. Once they reach the fair, the rebellious youngsters check out one carnival attraction at a time, namely a 21-and-over strip show, Madame Zena the fortune teller, an freak exhibit, and a magic show. But all's easy fun and games until one of them decided to spend the night in one of the fair's bigger attractions, a dark ride known as The Funhouse after closing hours. 

Packed with so much weed to smoke and their spirits in high hopes, the group reluctantly settles inside the ride and witness the frenzied attack of Gunther, a silent, Frankenstein Monster-disguised ride assistant against the prostituting Madame Zena after sexually insulting him. 

Out of fear, the two couples try to leave, but find themselves locked inside the ride and are now in a dire situation once the ride barker and the assailant's father, Conrad Straker, becomes aware of their presence. Now out to hunt them down to silence them completely from telling anybody of the murder, Conrad sic his son at the teens, revealed to be a deformed freak with a sharp maw and piercing red eyes. Stuck in a labyrinth full of ghoulish figures, traps and two murderous figures out in the shadows, can these youngsters survive the night and make it to daylight?

Thus settles everything you need to know and love about Tobe Hooper's next masterpiece after his infamous Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). Though underrated and often regarded as another slasher in the 80s, The Funhouse is exactly that, with a few good tricks of its own.

The general build of the movie is one thing that makes The Funhouse a unique slasher; the mood and pacing early on the movie give us the time to know and enjoy our pecking order and while they are as thin in character as a walking stick, they're, nonetheless, reminiscent of the usual Hooper style of character direction, which are usually a colorful bunch that dons their own respective good and bad traits. Of course, the rest of the casts, usually adult figures and carnies, are more thinner than the main cast, which made the four more relatable by comparison, though one almost can't say the same about the two main bad guys here, the Straker family.

A few months ahead before Friday the 13th Part 2 debuts adult Jason, Hooper already fueled his own man-monster mongoloid that is Gunther and his body language spells a creature in turmoil; though his stepfather beats him up in for his mistakes and wrong doings, he also yearns for acceptance and even go as far as siding with the same man who abuses him out of longing. In return, his father accepts him and in his own twisted way, tries to protect him from any danger that would expose Gunther's true nature, which just so happens to be the four unwilling teens who are a dumb enough to be at the wrong place, at the wrong time.

The build-up to Gunther's reveal and killing spree lasts for almost an hour, which maybe a turn off for many impatient viewers but it may all be worth it as the last act have the stalk and kill gag going and done with ravishingly great effect.

Another of Hooper's creative innovation for the movie is the premise itself; the dark ride features a random number of automatons and mannequins, colored lightings that would make Dario and Bava proud, and eerie music that taunts and shackles the hapless victims into falling prey to the two killers. Hooper actually made a menace out of a seemingly ordinary, and what would have been a safe and fun location, perfectly captured in a stylish cinematography, can now be treated as a  threat taking full advantage against its lost victims. All of this is put to a full example during the film's ever tense finale, where the final girl wanders cautiously around the gears and pumps, experiencing one lunging mannequin to another, flashing lights intensifying the situation and mechanical laughters mocking her damaged persona and weary anticipation of an awaiting danger ala Grand Guingol.

Though some of the kills aren't as powerful as those found from other slashers of its time, the scripting in need of more work and some viewers might find the film lacking the same rawness as that of Hooper's true chainsaw-related masterpiece, The Funhouse still delivers what slasher films deliver the best: good kills, good scares, good build-up and a terrifying villain. Dishearteningly scary? Not much. Fun to watch? Heck yes.

1 female strangled to death against a live fuse box
1 male strangled with rope, later gets an axe buried into his head
1 female clawed to death
1 male pushed to a sword, impaled
1 male shot
1 male crushed to death between gears
Total: 6

1 comment:

  1. gteat review for an uber-amazing movie. You know, I'm totally in love with The Funhouse, and IMO it's Hooper's second-best movie he ever made.