Tobe Hooper is obviously best known for directing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Which is definitely one of the greats in the horror genre. Only problem is that his output from there drops significantly. Eaten Alive was his next film and was a very bad knock off of Texas Chainsaw. I have yet to watch Salem’s Lot, but it’s on my list for this year. The rest of what I’ve watched of his consists of Texas Chainsaw 2 which was terrible by all accounts, yet oddly fun; his piece of Body Bags with John Carpenter; The Mangler, which I saw a very long time ago; and The Toolbox Murders. None of those would even be considered anything remotely good.
What I’m getting at is this: he’s not been terribly good at bringing something akin to Texas Chainsaw back to the table. It’s like he peaked immediately and then fell off the radar. So what does all this have to do with The Funhouse? Well, barring Salem’s Lot being really good, this is easily his second best movie. I’d have loved to see him stay consistent with his output and kept everything of this caliber. I would not say this reaches the highs that Texas Chainsaw does by any means, but this was very good.
Horror movies run the gamut from violence and gore to isolation, and all other manner of unpleasant subjects or ideas. What makes this movie unique is that it embraces the dirty and grimy carny life. Lewd comments are uttered from what appear to be homeless people wandering the carnival grounds. Carnies are often shown to be leering at the girls walking by. This particular carnival even has a strip show. If you were to ask me what I thought the life of a carny was, I would probably just say watch the first half of this. The atmosphere of the carnival itself was that of fun at the edge of seedy. You feel like there are unpleasant things happening in the darkness behind the lights and tents, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. There was something awkward that started this off, and we need to address it!
This movie starts off with the lead actress showing off her boobs as she goes into the shower. The problem here is that she’s like nineteen or so in real life, but looks a bit younger. Like you shouldn’t be seeing this underage girl naked. So right off the bat this movie starts hitting you with that uneasy, peeping Tom feel. Her younger brother dons a clown mask and knife while he makes his way into the bathroom. There’s a bit of a Psycho moment when he pulls back the curtain and commences to stab her naked body with a rubber knife. The scene just makes you feel completely dirty for watching it and really sets the tone for what is to come.
As the movie moves forward, we meet the rest of the kids. Our bathing beauty is going out on a double date with some friends. On her way out, her father mentions that there were bodies found in some other city that the carnival went to and that she should not go to it, but would this be a horror movie if kids actually listened to their parents? The kids were decent. They smoke pot and want sex like any good slasher movie, but these kids had some personality and weren’t arrogant or annoying, so it kind of sucked to see them get offed one by one. In fact, there is a healthy amount of character building that happens as they go around the carnival. Once things go bad, I don’t really fault any of their decisions. It’s like this was a good horror movie or something.
The story progresses along rather nicely in my opinion. Things develop naturally and as I mentioned, the people don’t seem to make too many stupid decisions. They just end up in a situation they weren’t prepared for and have to deal with it. Organic would be a good word to describe this. The carnival atmosphere and funhouse in particular were all well done too.
Sounds like a great film right? It was really good, but I would not call this great. The bad guy was a bit over the top in the costume department, although he was very cool looking. The little brother simply sneaks out of the house and wanders over to the carnival only to get caught after hours and sent back home. His part at the beginning with the clown mask and knife was completely forgotten by the end. I really expected him to take up the mantle of death dealing somehow but that thread was just cut off. There were some other little nagging things out there that held this back. Really good horror movie though. Honestly I’d put this one on a yearly list. It’s a fun horror movie that leaves you feeling dirty for having watched it and sometimes that bad taste in your mouth is exactly what a horror movie should be delivering. I give this one 3.5 of 5 stars.