Monday, October 17, 2011

The Funhouse (1981)

The Funhouse is a fun little slasher flick from the [early] eighties, directed by Tobe Hooper, who you might know as the man who brought us The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It's not as impressive, terrifying, or as influential as that earlier film, but it manages to be effectively entertaining. I would say that it's in the wave of slasher films that comes after the genre-defining originals (of which TCM was the shining beacon, preceding even John Carpenter's Halloween), whose purpose is more entertainment than innovation, yet before the later wave in which the slasher formula became tired and cliche. Indeed, The Funhouse is not free of slasher cliches, but it manages to make them genuinely interesting, in its freshness (for its time).

The film opens with a truly inspired scene, that the rest of the movie hardly even manages to live up to. Critics will be quick to point out that it's an homage to the opening scene in Halloween, as well as the infamous shower scene from Psycho, but despite being derivative, I found it to be an interesting and highly effective twist on both those themes, while being enormously entertaining. After that scene, I was immediately hooked on the movie.

The rest of it changes gears slightly, as a group of four teenagers on a double date visit the local carnival, and make the very ill-informed decision (considering the carnival's prior newsworthy reputation) to sneak into the funhouse ride and stay over for a night of illicit lovemaking. But they end up unintentionally spying on a terrible accident involving one of the (horribly mutated) carnival freaks and his call girl. If anything, carnies stick by their own kind, and when they find out some kids could get in the way of their cover-up story, the murderous rampage begins.

The flashing lights, spooky sounds, and creepy decorations inside the funhouse ride contribute to a chaotic and distracting atmosphere as the teens try desperately to find a way out of the ride before the carny and his freak get to them (and you can guess how that will turn out). I wouldn't be surprised one bit if the movie Dark Ride (from After Dark's first year of Horrorfest) was a spiritual successor to this film. The chase may drag on a bit towards the end, and the mutant freak, while highly disturbing at first sight, loses its creepiness factor the more you look at him. But apart from that, The Funhouse is a quality classic slasher flick, that I would recommend to those looking beyond the first tier pinnacle of slasher titles.

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