The Funhouse (1981) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

This horror film was directed by the legendary Tobe Hooper, who began as a wild independent filmmaker with Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and later directed the mainstream horror success, "Poltergeist".

"The Funhouse" has plenty of excellent elements. 

The atmosphere is outstanding - constantly creepy and foreboding, and appropriately sleazy. In order to create this film about a group of teens who decide to spend the night in the funhouse after a traveling carnival closes for the night, Hooper found a carnival in Ohio that just the look he wanted, and plenty of old-style rides from the 40's and 50's. He had the entire show shipped and re-assembled in North Miami for filming. It provided a marvelous ambiance for the film, combining stunning colors and graphics with the constant suggestion of danger and disturbed behavior.  The film was shot in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, mostly at night, and it has a great look.

When it came to recreating the carny folks, the casting was inspired. This is about the looniest, most decrepit looking cast ever assembled outside a Todd Browning film. 


Elizabeth Berridge is seen topless in the opening shower scene.

She is seen topless again, when her boyfriend removes her bra as they make out in the Funhouse.

Two strippers are seen wearing nothing but tassels and thongs. A third is seen from the rear in her own thong.

No male nudity. 

The first seven minutes, essentially the opening credits, are an inspired bit of horror film lunacy. We see a masked killer stalk a beautiful young girl as she heads into the shower. We look through the eye-holes in his evil clown mask as he seems to be searching through a house filled with bizarre masks and macabre props and posters. He finally draws the shower curtain back dramatically, and we see the blade descend again and again, while we hear the Psycho shower music. Then we see a close up of the knife collapsing against her skin, and he hear her shout something like "Joey, I'm going to kill you".

As it turns out, it was just a kid brother playing an especially dramatic prank on his older sister.

The next 35 minutes of the film are the problem area. Essentially, nothing happens. This is the traditional horror movie period of foreshadowing, and I guess the tension is building or something, but all we see is four teenagers attending a carnival and having fun. Every so often, we see something that looks sort of suspicious. A creepy carnival barker holds his gaze on one of the girls too long, or something like that. Mainly just four kids having fun and getting stoned. As I noted earlier, the carnival is a particularly garish one, but there's just the usual bag ladies and fortune tellers and booth managers and two-headed cows that you would find in a real carnival. Great atmosphere, great photography, no action.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen letterboxed, 2.35:1

  • no meaningful features

Then, on a dare, they decide to spend the night in the funhouse. Even this produces no excitement for a while, as they make out for a bit. They interrupt their lust to investigate some noises, and end up viewing a murder. We are actually about 45 minutes into the movie before anything affects them personally, but then they start to be killed off one-by-one by a carnival barker and his mutant son, and things speed up a bit.

It moves too slowly for my taste, and needs more scares earlier, but some genuine positives make it worth seeing if you like the genre, especially on the DVD, with its theatrical aspect ratio.

There are so many positive elements, that it's too bad they didn't spend a bit more time on the script.

The Critics Vote

  • Maltin 2.5/4.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 5.1
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C.

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