The Funhouse aka Carnival of Terror (1981)
Ok, so I’m going to start of by admitting that when it comes to the slasher film in general, I watch them with rose tinted spectacles (not literally of course, because I would look like a complete Woodstock reject, but you get the idea.), and if it’s from the late seventies to mid eighties golden time period of the horror genre, well, then it will take a lot to disappoint me in a film.
Luckily The Funhouse gave me very little reason for furrowed brow, – little reason, not no reason – because we all know that there is no horror film in existence without flaw, or if there is I have yet to see it.
So four young crazy kids go to the Carnival – we have the good looking dickhead/jock type, the glasses wearing, nerdy, joker type, the jaded, kind of slutty girl, and the annoying girl next door/goody two shoes rounds up the group like a well oiled déjà vu machine.
So far, so familiar territory – and you’d be right in thinking the film is pretty standard fare in terms of plot but, well it’s the details that make this particular film so watchable (the deformed farmyard animal scene is both a little sad and creepy), not to mention the fact that it’s directed by Tobe (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) Hooper.
Amy Harper – our good girl, is going on a date with Buzz (yep that’s an actual name in America apparently) who works in a petrol station filling up peoples cars – he’s a high achiever is our Buzz. The parents, for some reason aren’t too thrilled (the mother is a blatant alcoholic though, so I’d imagine she isn’t thrilled about much these days), and her Dad tells her he doesn’t want her going to the Carnival and we find out that the last town the Carney’s pitched up in some local girls went missing . Good little Amy lies to Mommy and Daddy and tells them she’s going to the flicks before skipping out the door and into Buzz’s waiting tin can .. I mean, fairytale carriage.
Buzz is a bit of a dick, and his nerdy friend Richie isn’t much better, but Amy and her slutty friend Liz seem to have relatively low standards when it comes to men, so everyone’s happy.
So after pissing of the fortune teller, peeping on a peepshow and generally putting the fun in funfair, they stumble on to the fantastic and not at all moronic idea of hiding out in the funhouse overnight and having themselves a little sleepover, in the least comforting setting I can think of, but hey, what do I know?
While doing their bit to raise the film’s rating up to an 18, the teenagers are interrupted by a noise, and through the gaps in the floorboards they bear witness to the murder of the fortune teller by a man in a Frankenstein’s monster mask.
We discover that this isn’t his first murder (remember the missing girls from the last town people?), and that his father has been helping to cover up his sons murderous impulses for quite some time.
Oh yeah – a further little twist to the tale is that underneath the mask the kid makes the elephant man look like Johnny Depp.
So in true horror film style, the kids spying is discovered and they set about trying to escape the clutches of Freakshow and Son in the scary ass maze that is the Funhouse (FYI this carnivals idea of fun and my idea of fun are in no way compatible).
Now for the flaws.
This Amy chick is the most pathetic horror film ‘’heroine’’ I have ever encountered.
Now wouldn’t you think that been chased through a funhouse late at night by a deranged, not to mention, horribly deformed serial killer, you’d have some sense of urgency, to y’know, run away and shit?
Oh nooooo, this girl does nothing but stand around and whimper, and even when she is actually told to run, she sort of speed walks away! At one point it actually looks like she is waiting for the killer to get her (by this point you’re actually willing it to happen, because, c’mon anyone that idiotic deserves it, right?), and I’ll admit, my physique is shall we say, less than athletic (my motto is ‘There’s no need to run, unless you’re being chased.), but I’m damn sure that this is a situation where I would be giving one of those Olympic hopefuls a run for their money (excuse the pun).
There’s also a kind of sub plot concerning Amy’s little brother sneaking to the fair on his own, that doesn’t really know where it wants to go, and sort of fizzles out, and while it’s in no way detrimental to the main plot, it’s annoying all the same.
Flaws aside, this film is a too often overlooked, and way above average slasher. It’s aged extremely well, and there are some interesting scenes (the Magician could have a film all on his own), and it stands up a lot better than a lot of so called classics from the same era.
Eli (Hostel/Cabin Fever) Roth is working on a remake. Apparently Hollywood hasn’t tired of sucking the life and likability out of classics like this quite yet (this years Nightmare of Elm Street ring any bells?), but let’s face it, Eli Roth can’t be trusted with his own mediocre films, nevermind anyone elses -Tobe Hooper you are not, and will never be, pretty boy.
Maybe I’m being a little harsh, after all, the guy must know a fair bit about terror and revulsion – he’s engaged to Peaches Geldof.