The Funhouse (1981)


Nastiness Rating:

Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Lawrence Block



Four kids go to a creepy traveling carnival. It’s the same one that went through another little town when they had “some trouble.” That, apparently, is code for “a couple of little girls were found dead after the carnival left town.”

The kids just want a good time. Chaos ensues. Chaos….and MURDER!

Amy (Elizabeth Berridge from Amadeus) is our young protagonist and she starts the movie off naked and scared. In a scene that recalls both Psycho and Halloween, her little brother bursts into the shower with a rubber knife and a clown mask.

Then, after she took off for the carnival with her future boyfriend, her little brother snuck out behind her and headed to the carnival on his own. At the carnival, the four teenagers decide to stay the night in the old Funhouse. They witness the murder of the fortune teller by one of the young carnival workers who doesn’t speak and won’t take off his Frankenstein mask. (Hmmm…I wonder what’s under the mask.)

That’s when I knew that things would get…um….sigh.

The rest of the movie is the five kids running from creepy, inbred carnies and freakshow denizens. And, of course, they die one by one.

The main problem with this movie is that it takes about an hour for them to get to the action. We’re subjected to a LOT of set-up of characters that we really don’t like and aren’t made to care about. Sure, that may not really be why we’re here. But if we’re going to spend that long with them, we should care a LITTLE bit about them. There’s an hour of blah, blah, blah and then about 20-30 minutes of pretty mediocre kills and screams.

But where’s the grue?! Well, here’s the deal on that: The Funhouse was put on the Nasty List by mistake. Whoops! Did we ban your movie from an entire country because we confused it with Last House On The Left, which is known as The Fun House in some circles of Hell? Yarp. And did director Tobe Hooper get an apology? Narp.

Wait…Tobe Hooper? Of Texas Chainsaw fame? Yep. This is the movie that made him too busy to direct ET for Spielberg. Instead, he did Poltergeist with The Beard and then moved on with his life of silly, mediocre horror flicks made with no budget. Before this one he did one great film (Texas Chainsaw, of course), one pretty good TV mini-series (Salem’s Lot) and one ok flick (Eaten Alive). After, he did Poltergeist, one of the scariest films ever made. Then…he really did nothing. Not a sausage. Sure, he’s directed a LOT of movies. But name me one. Go ahead. I’ll wait. No, you’re not allowed to go to his IMDb page. That’s cheating. His movies have been crap for 25 years.

Oh well. I will give him one thing in The Funhouse. The creepy “kid” in the Frankenstein mask is genuinely frightening under that mask. That’s probably more of a factor of Rick Baker’s makeup than Tobe Hooper’s direction, though. And I almost think that he reveals him too early.

A Nasty in name only, this one is really kind of missable. It’s better than some, but it’s just not particularly good, either. I think the poster is more disturbing than the movie.

It did kind of make me miss the old dark rides of yore. Whatever happened to those things?

LOW POINT: This is a pretty mainstream movie, so it doesn’t have much of a low point. Maybe when one of the girls is trying to ply Frankenstein with sexual favor so that he won’t kill her. “I’ll make you feel good! Please don’t kill me!” That’s pretty low.

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