Tobe Hooper's The Funhouse
has an ingenious opening that manages to pay homage to Halloween
in a deft swoop that's both knowing and terrifying in its own right. It's entirely fitting that the sequence plays with generic expectations only to pull the rug from beneath you. A funhouse indeed. In openly challenging what we expect from 'this type of movie', it addresses the playful position Hooper's film occupies in the slasher tradition. Conventions are confronted head on and then despatched to make way for a unique take on the hack and slash template. The resultant movie takes us all the way to its unbearable final stand-off before the intensity of this opening is quite matched, with our heroine unleashing a rather impressive display of screaming.
Against the will of her parents Amy sets off for a night out at the fun fair with her boyfriend Buzz, best friend Liz and her boyfriend Richie. They take in the sites and generally do as 80s teenagers do, fooling about until Richie suggests they spend the night in The Funhouse ride and make-out. Once the park closes, they're alerted to some strange goings on and witness the murder of fortune teller Madame Zena at the hands of the fun fair barker's horrifically disfigured son, Gunther. Trapped inside, the teens are stalked by the rage-fuelled Gunther intent on wiping out the witnesses.
Despite being released in an age when horror was becoming increasingly gory, with Friday 13th
and its ilk ramping up the set-piece murders, The Funhouse
is conspicuously light on the blood front. Much like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
, Hooper generates the scares through a carefully crafted atmosphere rather than in-your-face splatter. This is where the antics on display here are so distinctive - the gaudy otherness of the open fair is more than matched by the eeriness of the closed rides, as once joyfully ghoulish props take on a genuinely unnerving form after the lights go down. So too, the patently old-fashioned and tangibly fake scares of ride itself are set against a very real, living threat - whilst the ride itself is a laugh, the folk who run it most certainly aren't.
As a re-appropriation of the haunted house movie, Hooper's flick is an imaginative gem. The monster of the piece, Gunther, is less successful - neither especially threatening nor hugely sympathetic. That said there's a pervading sense of a warped 'family' in the relationships at the fair, that recalls Tod Browning's Freaks
. There's even a queasy sideshow involving a two headed cow and a mutated foetus in a jar, obliquely alluding to Gunther's unhappy origin. The Funhouse
isn't Hooper's finest moment but it's a strong runner-up, managing to embrace the pleasures of the slasher movie whilst creating a totally unique vibe - a twisted, playful and creepy treat. With some top drawer screaming of course.
Arrow's put together another comprehensive package for this Blu-ray. The picture is fantastic, clearly from source material of considerable integrity with negligible artifacts. They've maintained the soft focus manner in which the film was shot, with the edges of the frame blurring at times. There's no artificial cleaning up of the image, yet detail is great and the colours are vibrant. Don't expect a razor sharp image, nor should you for this movie.
"Carnage At The Carnival" - Tobe Hooper Remembers "The Funhouse" (16 mins)
The first in a number of extras produced by Arrow Video regular, High Rising Productions, Hooper gives little away, as he recalls the shoot. It's a talking head interview, ending with palpable apathy from the director at the prospect of the remake...
"Miles Of Mayhem: Acting in Tobe's Funhouse" with star Miles Chapin (21 mins)
Miles Chaplin is a revelation - he gives a gracious, enthusiastic and down-to-earth account of working on the film, and indeed the acting profession in general. Highlights include his insight into Hooper's directing style.
"A Trilogy Of Terror: The Make-up Madness of Craig Reardon" - the SFX wizard recollects his collaborations with Tobe Hooper on "Eaten Alive", "Poltergeist" and "The Funhouse" (18 mins)
Reardon has some great anecdotes as he takes us through the trilogy of Hooper films he worked on. He touches on the absurdity of make-up in Eaten Alive
and the Spielberg/Hooper working relationship on Poltergeist
. It's very much from an FX point of view and he's careful not to speculate too much on the rest of the film-making process. It's a fascinating perspective that hammers home how much luck and chance play in getting hired for such projects. Master Class Of Horror" - Mick Garris, the director of "Sleepwalkers" and "The Shining" reflects on the crimson-covered career of his longtime colleague Tobe Hooper (13 mins)
Mick Garris elaborates on the more commercial and political aspects of getting horror movies made, covering his own and his contemporaries' experiences. He gives more away about Hooper and expands on his Masters Of Horror
series. Live Q&A with Tobe Hooper from San Francisco (20 mins)
A very poor AV quality (acknowledged by Arrow at the outset) video shot from an elevated position, features Hooper in a Q&A following a screening of the Toolbox Murders remake.
Never before seen behind the scenes photographs from the collection of Craig Reardon
An annotated slide show with music features some on-set photos, mostly of effects work.
All the extras here are engaging and there's very little repetition, as all the participants come at it from a different angle.
There's no less than three commentary tracks as follows...
- SFX wizard Craig Reardon and Jeffrey Reddick (creator of "The Final Destination" series)
- Producer Derek Power and genre scholar Howard S. Berger
- Justin Kerswell (author of "Teenage Wasteland" and host of the slasher cinema website "Hysteria Lives") and author Calum Waddell
Kerswell and Waddell perhaps make the most entertaining pairing, though all three tracks shed new light on the movie.
Also included but not available at the time of review:
Collectors' booklet featuring brand new writing on the film by critic and author Kim Newman; four-panel reversible sleeve options with original and newly commissioned artwork; double-sided fold-out artwork poster.
The Funhouse (cert. 15) will be released on Blu-ray by Arrow Video on 18th July 2011.