Sunday, November 7, 2010

Final Girl Film Club: The Funhouse (1981) Review

The idea of going to the carnival is always way more appealing than the reality of actually going. Carnivals look like big clown mouths full of fun, but they invariably turn out to be an expensive way of mingling with people who don't shower enough and experiencing attractions that are sadly lacking a decent preventative maintenance schedule. So it shouldn't have come as a surprise that a horror movie set at a carnival, whilst sounding like a really cool idea, like most carnivals, turns out to be a bit of a let down.

The Funhouse begins with Amy (Elizabeth Berridge, looking spookily like Alyson Hannigan) getting ready to go out on a double date to the carnival that's in town. Her loving father strongly urges Amy not to go to the carnival because, according to the clunky expository script from which he is reading, two girls were murdered in the last town that this particular carnival visited.

Ominous, no?

In what is the first indication that this movie is 30 years old, Amy actually respects her parents and decides to try to convince her date, Buzz (Cooper Huckabee), to go to the movies instead of the carnival (seriously, when was the last time a young character in a horror movie showed their parents any respect?). Of course, Buzz is a douche (that's more like it) and insists on going to the carnival. After picking up the other fast and free couple, Ritchie (Miles Chapin) and Liz (Largo Woodruff), our four thrill seekers arrive at the carnival and do stuff that you do at a carnival. Tobe Hooper films all of it, seemingly in real time. It's not until well into the film that, for reasons that don't make a lot of sense, our party of four decide to spend the night in the Funhouse and things, predictably, start to go horribly wrong.

You can well image the genesis of The Funhouse. Some bright spark thought it would cool to make a horror movie set in a carnival because, let's face it, they can be creepy places, and decided Tope Hooper would be the man to direct it because The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was ace, man. Beyond that they had nothing, so the result is a well directed film of a seriously underdeveloped script.

For far too long, nothing really happens in The Funhouse. I'm a patient man and I appreciate films that take time to establish character and mood, but that's not what happens the first hour of The Funhouse. What we get are nicely shot scenes of four kids we hardly know visiting a carnival, and a pointless sub-plot involving Amy's brother following her to the carnival.

When The Funhouse does finally get going in the final act there are some suspenseful moments and the film always looks good. Hooper really does the best he can with the underdeveloped narrative. So I guess if you have a nostalgic penchant for carnivals, these elements, combined with your nostalgia, might be enough to make The Funhouse appealing to you. Sadly, for me, this film just served as an unnecessary reminder of how crap carnivals are.

Related Links:
Final Girl Film Club
Final Girl


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