Friday, September 18, 2009

In Through The Out Door: The Funhouse(1981)

Tobe Hooper has long been one of my favorite horror movie directors. He endeared himself to me with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre(1974) and then later Poltergeist(1982). In between these two horror classics Hooper also directed another horror film that I believe has ably stood the test of time. It lacks the depraved characters of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and the overall stand out special effects of "Poltergeist" but this movie still manages to hold its own quite well. I'm referring to The Funhouse, produced by Derek Power & Steven Bernhardt and directed by Tobe Hooper, the movie originally released to theaters in March of 1981.

The film's story: four young people(two males and two females) pay a visit to a local carnival, taking in all the entertaining and often bizarre acts and shows. The two couples, after smoking some weed behind one of the carnival tents, decide to enter "The Funhouse", one of the carnival's exhibits, and spend the night in the structure. The idea of spending the night inside the "Funhouse" seems innocent enough. The problem: there's a real monster inside the exhibit, a masked fellow who is kept of out sight most of the time by his father. After the two couples witness the monster murder another carnival performer in a fit of rage and are subsequently detected by the creature's father, the abomination begins to stalk the four young people inside the "Funhouse". Predictably, the monster, a truly grotesque, white haired humanoid in serious need of some cosmetic dentistry(and surgery), kills the members of the group until only one, a lone female, is left. The climax of the film is basically this young lady, "Amy" in a fight for survival against the monster. (no other spoilers)

Observations: the sets of the film are terrific. An actual carnival was literally moved to the shooting location of the film(in north Miami, Fl). The carnival is a visual bonanza of motley and often bizarre characters, as well as a disturbing image of what appears to be a severely disfigured fetus preserved in a large glass container. The "Funhouse" itself comes alive for our group of protagonists and the viewer of this movie: the facility, courtesy of some extensive animatronics, features skeletons, other monsters and a variety of loud audio effects including monster growls, roars and more human like shrieks and screams. This animated structure ably serves as a creepy backdrop for the struggles of the pair of young couples as they try to escape while being stalked by the monster.

The monster is played by Wayne Doba, who was employed as a professional mime when approached by the film's producer about being in The Funhouse. The monster make up effects are courtesy of Rick Baker, who has gone on to become one of Hollywood's legendary makeup artists. Doba does a good job of adding a sympathetic element to the monster through his variety of body postures and hand movements. The creature in The Funhouse reminds me a great deal of the Frankenstein monster: it's a hideous abomination to be feared but also a monster that I feel some sympathy for as well as it spends the vast majority of its life hidden away from society, and totally dependent on a single person, in this case its father(played by veteran actor Kevin Conway).

I haven't seen The Funhouse on television for as long as I can remember. I'd sure like to see this film make the rounds at AMC or on "SyFy" but that might be wishful thinking, especially regarding AMC, whose horror movie programming and its film lineup for "Fearfest"(formerly called "Monsterfest") in late October has become very predictable and redundant.

The DVD of The Funhouse(1981) is available on Region 1 DVD, the releases presenting this movie in its original 2:35.1 widescreen aspect ratio. To see the DVD of this movie for sale at Amazon click the DVD covert image above.

The trailer: