Saturday, October 29, 2016

Horror Countdown 2016: The Funhouse (1981)

The Funhouse (1981) dir. Tobe Hooper, Universal Pictures/Mace Neufield Productions

Tobe Hooper, when compared to the other directors on this list, didn't fare quite as well. He did Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but his follow up works didn't quite capture the public's imagination. Would the 1980's be kinder?

Amy Harper (Elizabeth Berridge) is a fairly normal teenager. Her brother Joey (Shawn Carson) is a bit of a creep, with a habit of sneaking into her bathroom and reenacting the shower scene from Psycho. The rest of her family is pretty straight lace, even if they seem to make a big deal about forbidding her to attend a local carnival. Naturally this is the only place she wants to go with her boyfriend Buzz (Cooper Huckabee), best pal Liz (Largo Woodruff) and Liz's boyfriend Richie (Miles Chapin).

The carnival is a dump, with strip acts, a genuine freak show, and attractions that look like a group of meth heads threw them together in between tweaking. Richie, being the dumbass that he is, suggests they slip into the funhouse and spend the night. For some reason no one thinks this plan is insane and they agree. While no doubt getting high from the cheap paint and poorly constructed rides, the group witnesses a man in a Frankenstein mask walk into the one of the areas with the fortune teller Madame Zena (Sylvia Miles). The pair's lascivious liaison ends on a premature note. When the man demands his 100 dollar fee returned, Zena laughs at him, which turns out to be the last thing she'll ever do as the man murders her.

The kids, now deciding they want to leave, find themselves trapped inside the ride. Richie spies the hundred dollars the man dropped and figures he'll help himself and swipes it.

In walks the carnival's barker Conrad (Kevin Conway). He discovers what the man has done and it's hard to tell what angers him more, the death of Zena or the missing hundred dollars. From the beating the man doles out, we also learn the masked man is named Gunther (Wayne Doba), he's Conrad's son, and he wears that mask for a darn good reason.

About this time Richie drops his lighter, letting Conrad know that someone is watching them, no doubt witnessing the murder and is a thief to boot. Whipping Gunther into a homicidal frenzy, Conrad sits back and let's his boy hunt. Can Amy and her friends survive?

Another name for this could be Damn it Richie! Seriously, all the kids troubles are his fault. He seems intent on causing as much trouble as he can for everyone around him. Why is anyone friends with this idiot?

The novelization, written by Dean Koontz, actually came out some time before the film, leading to a few reviewers to think the book inspired the film and not the other way 'round. Hooper does a good job with the visuals and setting. Carnivals can be fairly creepy on their own, so it doesn't take much to make them scary. The story is another matter; the novelization has a bit more background as why the characters act the way they do, although almost none of this comes across on the screen.

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