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The Funhouse (1981)

I saw a lot of promise in the carnival. I always wanted my own carnival.

Tobe Hooper

Soon after its release in March of 1981, I wrote about The Funhouse for my movie review column in The Quill, the Enid High School newspaper. After rewatching the film for the first time in over (gulp) 40 years, I located my original review and remembered that I didn’t like it much then. Some things never change; I don’t like it much now, either.


Notable for being director Tobe Hooper’s first studio film following The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in 1974 and Eaten Alive in 1976, The Funhouse has the same dirty, grimy look, but with a glossy Hollywood sheen to it. I didn’t feel like I needed to take a shower after watching it, while I did with the other two.


It’s a good, old fashioned monster movie about a foursome of horny teenagers trying to survive the night when they’re locked into the funhouse at a visiting carnival. There’s virtually nothing else to the plot. Therefore, the action must compensate in order to carry the film for 90+ minutes. It doesn't, and there’s surprisingly little gore to assist.


That doesn’t mean it’s not distasteful. I can handle man-made monsters and monsters from outer space, but I have a hard time stomaching monsters that are simply deformed human beings. Likewise, I’m not comfortable seeing real two-headed cows and cows with cleft palates. These are mistakes of nature that are unsettling to see being exploited.


The best thing about The Funhouse is the score by John Beal. The film opens with bold, beautiful orchestral music that promises great things, then ends up having nothing to accompany. It also opens with a double-homage to both Psycho and Halloween that’s simultaneously clever and misleading about the nature of the movie.


I wanted to like The Funhouse more than I did. As many horror films as I have seen in my adult life, I thought I might be more appreciative of it. Knowing now what I didn’t know then, I’d say that it’s neither grungy enough to be a Tobe Hooper cult classic, nor substantial enough to be a Hollywood hit. It’s a sort of transition between the two and one step closer to Poltergeist.


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