It seemed to be a carnival funhouse just like any other: mysterious, eerie, scary, but all in good fun. Yet it wasn’t just any funhouse. In this one there was murder. And the horror became real.
The story concerns four teenagers who visit a local carnival for a night of innocent amusement. they soon discover, however, that there is nothing innocent or amusing there at all. Instead, they find absolute terror when the four are trapped inside the maze of the funhouse. One by one, each victim is taken by a monster who tauntingly stalks them.
The Funhouse 6.5
eyelights: the extended visit of the carnival. the slow build-up.
eyesores: the horrible prosthetics on Gunther. the ridiculous ending.
“Who will dare to face the challenge of the Funhouse? Who is mad enough to enter that world of darkness? How about you, sir…?”
I’m not a fan of Tobe Hooper. While he gave us the cultural icon of ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, I found most of his other output severely lacking, if not outright lackluster. I know that he has his fans, but when I consider the quality of ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’ or ‘The Mangler‘, I cringe.
And even his ‘Poltergeist‘, which is largely influenced by Steven Spielberg’s hand. could have been so much more than it turned out to be.
So I wasn’t exactly in any rush to watch ‘The Funhouse’. In fact, if not for having read a few positive reviews, I likely would never have bothered to see it (it’s called ‘The Funhouse’, for goodness’ sake!). But I was going for lighter, kookier fare this Hallowe’en and I so happened to have it in a four-pack DVD set, so I gave it a go.
It turns out that ‘The Funhouse’ wasn’t half bad. And by this, I mean that the first half was actually pretty decent, and the second half was pretty bad. Of course, the second half is supposed to be the scary, more intense, part of the picture, but it’s not nearly as well-conceived as the first part was. So it’s not that scary.
I was surprised by how decent the first 45 minutes (or so) were. It was relatively effortless because it set up the characters and then merely followed these teenagers around at a carnival, seeing the shows and exhibits. I really enjoyed the slow pace and the carnival itself, which had a bunch of freak shows and hair-raising rides.
I started the film hating it, though: it began with such a clear-cut rip-off of ‘Halloween‘ and ‘Psycho‘ that I immediately dismissed it. it’s only when I realized that it was done for laughs, more as a spoof, that I relaxed. This also altered my expectations of the picture – which actually helped, whether intentional or not.
Thankfully, the rest of ‘The Funhouse’ was its own thing, whatever that is. I mean, I don’t really know what to make of a movie that starts of casual, if not quaint, and then turns into a cheesy horror film, like pseudo-Spielberg, tacked on to a run-of-the-mill ’80s psycho killer/monster feature.
The thing is that everything seems fine until the teenagers decide that they’re going to spend the night in the funhouse, going in for the ride but never coming back out. From the moment that no one notices that they never came out (even though their chairs are empty), it took one small dip in credibility after another.
The set-up up was weak: the kids are supposed to be in the funhouse itself, but they end up in an upper level, which somehow is above some office space. They entered on the ground level and there was no indication of offices anywhere, so it left me a little incredulous about where they were and how they got there.
It seemed convenient, given that they were meant to overhear some suspicious goings on in the office, then becoming witnesses to a murder, but there’s really no way that they should have been in the rafters above and that the floorboards would be separated enough for them to see and hear everything.
One might say that this was because the carnival is ambulant, thus it isn’t a solid construction. Perhaps. But then why would there even be an office area? Who needs a mobile office space whilst on the road? I’m sure the manager would have his own office somewhere, but it sure wouldn’t be in the funhouse itself.
To make matter worse, there is the matter of the mutant boy, Gunther.
Gunther was the worst thing that could have happened to this film. The moment that he is revealed, the movie loses all hope of being taken seriously: his rubbery prosthetics are so cheap-looking that he looks goofy, not real. I understand that he’s supposed to be a monster, but he looked fake as heck.
Had he been kept in the shadows, it might have worked to some degree (although his rubbery hands wouldn’t look real no matter what!), but Gunther then became the highlight of the picture. From that point on, Hooper kept him well-lit most of the time – a major mistake, given that the mask wasn’t scary at all.
They tried to make Gunther scary by having him wail like a rabid ape and move briskly and violently, but every time I saw that big one-piece mask I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. I could probably buy a better one at the dollar store, for goodness’ sake! And this is the centerpiece? Give me a break!
I blame Hooper for the poor choices here – based on his other output, of course. He’s set a precedent.
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
The ending was utterly moronic, for example, with one of the girls fighting off Gunther, who predictably kept popping up, breaking flimsy doors, wailing, and shaking his cheapo mask. Real scary. As I watched her and the other teenagers run around, unable to find their way out somehow, I knew Gunther would pop up – it was merely a question of when.
Gunther’s death itself was so convoluted it made me laugh out loud, mockingly. Somehow, the creature ended up getting his arms caught on a rotating set chains with hooks on them that had no logical reason for being there. He/it then ends up getting crushed in some mechanism – with chains magically hooked into his back, propping him up.
I don’t know who came up with this sequence, but it’s risible at best – it just wouldn’t happen, for starters, but it serves to make Gunther’s defeat a joke. While I didn’t like the character, the film would have benefited from something less clumsy, more logical and realistic. Only then would it have been satisfying. Somewhat.
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
A couple of (largely irrelevant) elements took me by surprise:
- Elizabeth Berridge was supposed to portray an older teen, but I initially thought she was a little girl. When she was about to do a shower scene, I felt really ill-at-ease because I thought we were about to watch a 10-year old girl get naked. Even after it was abundantly clear that she was… um… mature did I feel uncomfortable. Weird moment.
- John Beal’s score was extremely loud compared to the rest of the picture. Whereas the dialogues were at normal level, the music was crashing through the speakers. This may simply be a DVD mastering issue (or whatever), though. At least the score was interesting, and set the tone quite well.
Say what you will about ‘The Funhouse’, but it would be hard to defend it as a masterpiece. Conversely, it would be hard to thrash entirely too. It’s a pretty decent, if simplistic, concept that wasn’t developed properly – but could have, and certainly had potential.
I’m not sure who the audience for this is, but ‘The Funhouse’ has room for two types: those who love atmosphere, and those who like frenetic thrills. It’s just too bad that the film divides both equally, likely leaving both groups dissatisfied with at least half of the movie.
Date of viewing: September 23, 2013