The Funhouse 1981 Review
The Funhouse 1981
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Starring: Elizabeth Berridge, Shawn Carson, Jeanne Austin
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
We humans all reflect on poor previous experiences and wish that we had chosen a different option, a different set of words or a different solution. It’s a common thought process to imagine what might have been had we reacted to a bad situation in a different way. No matter how successful, happy or influential someone may be, we all carry regrets that weigh heavily upon our shoulders like anchors. Deep inside every one of us is a dreamer that yearns for a chance to relive past experiences armed with the knowledge that we gained the first time around. Although turning back the hands of time is an impossible act, the ability to do so would be beneficial to each and every one of us.
This mentality applies in all walks of life, and cinema is no different. Imagine for a moment that after John Carpenter’s Halloween set the standard, the genre loosened its restraints and pushed forward to greater heights. Instead of the intoxicating pollution of minimal brained and non budgeted features that plagued cinemas after 1978; what if studios had spent time and money investing in the cycle and pushing new boundaries for its ongoing development? Despite an astoundingly negative reputation, the slasher genre, when handled correctly, can provide exemplary results. Just ask Alfred Hitchcock.
In 1981, Tobe Hooper was a director with the world at his feet. Hot on the heels of his cult classic features The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Eaten Alive, the director had been recognised by movie mogul Steven Spielberg and his name had become well respected in Hollywood circles. With the weight of a major studio behind him, Hooper decided to invest his talents in the fashionable slasher genre, which on paper promised to provide a feature that would finally rival Carpenter’s classic.
Hooper makes no effort to disguise Funhouse’s slasher heritage and he launches his entry with a scene that references two of the genre’s heavyweights. Whilst showering, our protagonist Amy is stalked via Carpenter-alike steady-cam in an opening that successfully sets the mood for the remaining runtime. The carnival has arrived in town and Amy and three of her teenage friends have decided to go along for the opening night. Despite warnings from her parents, the youngster bows to the pier pressure from her boyfriend and they arrive to be entertained by the lights and attractions on display. Ritchie has the ambitious idea to spend the night in the Funhouse, believing that the group can make-out and spend time alone without the intervention of their parents. It soon turns out to be a fateful plan, when the teens witness the brutal slaughter of one of the workers. Alone and locked in the carnival until morning, the troupe are stalked by a maniacal assassin with no chance of escape.
An endless amount has been written about Tobe Hopper’s full from grace and it reminds me very much of soccer striker Andrei Shevchenko’s awkward stint at London club Chelsea FC a few years back. It was hard to watch the former legend strolling around so clumsily and being criticised every week for his mediocre performances and the downhill slope for the quality of Hooper’s later work was equally as stark and unrelenting. The Spielberg collaboration that gave us 1982′s Poltergeist promised us so much and was supposed to launch Hooper as a Hollywood suspense maestro who could maybe share a status with past-greats like Hitchcock and Kubrick. Unfortunately the opposite happened and his career never hit the heights that had been predicted. Nowadays, horror connoisseurs look back on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as the only truly outstanding feature in his portfolio. That’s somewhat unfair on The Funhouse though as this is an equally shocking and grim vision of terror.
Chainsaw Massacre’s strengths were its excessive use of terrifying sound, a skill that Hooper successfully repeats in this follow up. The final scene is an excellent juxtaposition of visual and audible horror and the film maintains a harsh and unrelenting feeling of danger that surrounds the heroine. Mixing bright flashes of light and the ear piercing chimes of steel cogs and chains, the director creates an atmosphere of unease that provides the right mechanical backdrop for a tense showdown. The final girl here is obviously different from any that we had been treated to in the genre prior to this and at no time did she show the bravery of a Laurie Strode or a Ginny Fields. She cowers away at the smallest of noises and spends the majority of her confrontation dumbfounded, petrified and in a state of shock. Although Elizabeth Berridge is reputedly no fan of the genre and spent years criticising the film and others like it for their content, there’s no denying that she delivers a fantastic portrayal and it’s breathtaking watching the extent of her visual transformation into a terrified wreck
Modern day humans are obsessed with their image, and Hooper makes an intelligent social commentary as the youngsters glare in amusement at the freaks on display at the carnival. Their brash attitudes are ruthlessly avenged when they realise that they are alone with something that they had previously considered to be defenceless against their mockery. Revenge is served coldly as the protagonist emerges psychologically warped and drained like the creatures on display at the ‘freak show’. Funhouse’s subtle ethical theme shows an intelligence largely unseen in the genre.
The intelligence of author Larry Block’s script is given due respect by the vision of a director at the top of his game. His work is also complemented by some crisp photography and shadow play that’s planned with finesse. Set pieces are skilfully conveyed and the circus freak makes for an authentic and creepy bogeyman. Much like Halloween, Hooper takes the decision to steer away from gratuitous gore and builds a credible underlying momentum of growing dread over a longer period of time. The killer does not begin to stalk the teens until at least an hour in to the feature, but we never get bored or never feel like the terror is far off. This is mainly due to some well-developed characters and a tense and well-streamlined runtime. John Beal’s rangy score works perfectly to sustain the moods in places.
Why Tobe Hooper never became the horror maestro that so many predicted is a mystery. Funhouse proves however that there is more to his catalogue than a Chainsaw Massacre in Texas. By far one of the best of the early eighties slashers, this entry deserves to be remembered. On a footnote, Funhouse was bizarrely and inaccurately banned briefly in the United Kingdom as part of the video nasty phase.
Final Girl √√√√
Posted on February 27, 2013, in Slasher and tagged 1981, masked killer, psycho, Slasher, suspense, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Funhouse, Tobe Hooper, Top 25 slashers. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.