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John’s Horror Corner: The Funhouse (1981)

March 6, 2013

A thoroughly misleading movie poster.

MY CALL:  This is a fun, underrated (and under-known) horror gem.  Fans of the genre should give it a shot!  Just lower your expectations a bit.  IF YOU LIKE THIS WATCHThe Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and sequels all the way up to Texas Chainsaw 3-D (2013).

Teenager Amy Harper (Elizabeth Berridge), her boyfriend Buzz (Cooper Huckabee; The Curse, Night Eyes; True Blood), and their friends Liz (Largo Woodruff; Jeepers Creepers II) and Richie (Miles Chapin; Pandemonium, Howard the Duck) go on a double date to a traveling carnival. The same carnival which left two young girls dead in its wake last year.  This carnival is complete with deformed livestock, mutant fetuses, a go-go club tent with some lunch buffet-quality strippers and creepy carnies.

This is what happens when you don’t use a condom.

These troublemaking teens lie to their parents, smoke pot, and decide that it would be a good idea to spend the night in the carnival funhouse.  [This exact idiocy was duplicated in a museum in The Outing (1987)]

That night they witness some masked hulking menace of a carney murder his palm-reading worker (Sylvia Miles; The Sentinel).  This monstrous murderer has the mind of a child, the sex drive of a teenager, a serious speech impediment, and he hides his extensive deformity and paternal psychological abuse behind a mask.  Essentially, this is a less interesting version of Leatherface.

A face that only a mother could love.

This movie, while generally underrated, moves at a slow pace until the third act.  A lot of time is wasted over-justifying the killer’s abusive relationship with his father.  Similarly, we watch the teenagers bicker about nonsense and what they’re going to do far longer than is warranted.

When it comes to killing off the protagonists, this movie is typical of the lower budgeted constituents its era–pretty much the middle ground of kill scenes.  We don’t see the kills as ostentatiously as in Freddy movies (or Saw, Hostel, Chainsaw Massacre, etc.), but the kills don’t go completely unseen.  It’s better than seeing a shot of a knife, a shot of a screaming victim, a shot of blood spraying on a wall and finally a shot of a knife already in someone’s chest.

The final showdown between the spastic, mutant killer is incredibly awful and, when viewed with the right attitude, pretty funny as well.  My biggest disappointment was the general paucity of gore.

Horror master Tobe Hooper (Poltergeist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Lifeforce, Salem’s Lot) took me by surprise with this movie…not in a good way, but a super-campy way.  The opening scene is a shower scene complete with a bare-breasted girl who is hardly passable as eighteen.  This is a cheap, hormones-raging, schlocky tactic–and in the opening scene?  Now don’t get me wrong. Some bad horror has utilized this cheap tactic as soon as the first minute of running time and still managed to pull off a great bad horror flick (e.g., Of Unknown Origin).  But after Hooper’s dark, twisted, macabre Texas Chainsaw Massacre along with its graphic brutality which had hardly been seen to date (in 1974), I was shocked to this from the very same director seven years later.

This is a fun, underrated (and under-known) horror gem.  Fans of the genre should give it a shot!

 An alternative poster which tells a more honest story about the movie.

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