Tobe Hooper is not what one would call a gifted and/or talented film-maker. He’s a genre legend due more to the idea of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre than to the reality of his film work. Seriously people, it’s not a good movie… effective at times yes, but good? No. His best film remains the television mini-series of Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot (unless you believe he directed Poltergeist of course), but while he’s made some real stinkers the majority of his work falls into the generic middle ground between treasure and trash.
Arrow Video in the UK has just released a new Blu-ray (the first) for one of Hooper’s better efforts, the 1981 horror thriller The Funhouse. The film is one of his most accessible horror efforts to date and a fun watch, and the disc is one of Arrow’s finest efforts as well.
The film opens with a Halloween-inspired POV, boobs and all, before revealing itself to be a prank played by a resourceful younger brother (Shawn Carson) on his virginal older sister (Elizabeth Berridge). Amy tells a little white lie to her parents as to her evening’s plans before heading off to the carnival with her boyfriend and another couple. In no mood to be left behind her kid brother Joey sneaks out after her. The quartet has a fine time at the carnival before deciding in a moment of brilliance that they should spend the night in the titular funhouse, but after hiding out, screwing, and wandering around the dark they see something they shouldn’t.
And that “something” sees them too.
The opening shower scene immediately marks a change from the norm as we realize that the film’s lead has shown her boobs. Most slashers (which this is to a nominal degree) of the 70s and 80s were very clear about their nudity and sex. Getting naked and fornicating is the quickest way to a death sentence and most heroines avoided both. But not Amy. Hooper and Lawrence Block’s script also depart from the typical with a killer who’s both gloriously deformed (he looks like Family Guy‘s Stewie but with sharp teeth and white hair) and mildly sympathetic. He doesn’t look it, but he’s more human than most of his victims.
One of the film’s strengths is the way it takes its time before cutting the monster loose but still manages to create a creepy atmosphere and a feeling of impending dread during this downtime. We see mutated animals at the carnival’s freak show, experience a ride through the nightmarish funhouse, and perhaps most unsettling attentive viewers will notice the same man acting as barker in front of the freakshow, the funhouse, and the girlie show. It was apparently actor Kevin Conway’s suggestion for him to play all three roles, and while attention is never really drawn to it the effect is quietly disturbing.
The film is one of Hooper’s most visually attractive ones as well, and I don’t just mean that the heroine shows her boobs twice (that’s a total of four boobs for you math nerds). He takes full advantage of the carnival setting and creates an atmosphere of colorful distractions. There’s also a nice crane shot over the entire fair that helps add scope to an otherwise claustrophobic film. This was Hooper’s first film in widescreen, and he takes full advantage of it.
The Funhouse is an effective little shocker that follows a straight forward setup with some legitimate scares and fun creature effects from Rick Baker and Craig Reardon. It’s light on story, but since when did that ever matter with a horror film? (Plus there’s a novelization by Dean Koontz that actually fills in a decent amount of background to add some real weight if you’re that interested.) Watch it for the solid fright scenes, fun kills, and the knowledge that Hooper had more than one or two good movies in him. He had three.
Arrow Video’s presentation of the film is pretty fantastic especially in light of it being a thirty year old movie. The picture is intentionally soft but with crisp and distinct colors, and it’s only occasionally marred with unavoidable debris. Those colors are really where the transfer shines as Hooper’s film is a carnival of garish hues alternated with dark passages and tunnels, and it all comes through clean and beautiful.
I’m a sucker for extra effort put into menu screens, and this one features an animated bit of saliva threatening to drop from the creature’s lip. A small touch to be sure, but a noticeable and enjoyable one. The disc’s special features include:
- Carnage At the Carnival – Tobe Hooper Remembers The Funhouse (16:25) – Interview with director Tobe Hooper on the film’s making-of including it’s origin, child labor laws, this being his first widescreen film, and the possibility of an Eli Roth-produced remake
- Miles Of Mayhem – Acting In Tobe’s Funhouse (21:12) – Interview with Miles Chapin who played Richie the douche
- The Makeup Madness Of Craig Reardon – A Trilogy Of Terror With Tobe Hooper (17:53) – Reardon recalls working with Hooper on Eaten Alive, The Funhouse, and Poltergeist including some fun and honest anecdotes
- Masterclass Of Horror – Mick Garris On Tobe Hooper (12:55) – Garris speaks about his friend’s personality, talents, and films as well as his own battles with the Hollywood system (the audio has some odd echoing on this segment)
- Tobe Hooper Q&A (20:43) – A 2004 Q&A from San Francisco featuring Hooper discussing his film The Toolbox Murders
- Audio Commentaries – Three different commentaries including Calum Waddell/Justin Kerswell, Craig Reardon/Jeffrey Reddick, and Derek Power/Howard Berger
- Original Trailer
- Still Gallery
I was sent a disc-only review copy of The Funhouse, so I can’ t speak to the physical extras included in the release other than to list them. They include:
- A four panel reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork
- A two sided fold out poster
- A booklet featuring an essay by Kim Newman
The Funhouse won’t be remembered as a classic of the genre, but it deserves far better than to be forgotten all together. It’s easily one of Hooper’s better films as it entertains and frightens without ever feeling the need to sink into debauchery or tawdry terror. Best of all it’s a fun horror movie that manages the triple crown of breasts, blood, and beasts, and you really can’t ask for much more than that in an eighties “slasher” pic.
Buy The Funhouse on region-free Blu-ray from AmazonUK