The Funhouse (1981)

Genres - Horror  |   Sub-Genres - Horror Comedy, Slasher Film, Teen Movie  |   Release Date - Mar 13, 1981 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 96 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Tobe Hooper's entry into the slasher film cycle of the early 1980's lacks the inspiration and scare power of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre but still manages to deliver the goods for its target audience. The best element of The Funhouse is its setting: the filmmakers did an excellent job recreating the sleazy, nocturnal feel of a traveling carnival and this helps the film maintain a creepy atmosphere even when its storytelling falls short. The least impressive element of The Funhouse is Larry Block's lightweight script, which takes a long time to get going and builds itself around a quartet of cookie-cutter teen protagonists that aren't like to inspire much sympathy in the audience. The latter problem carries over to the performances: only Elizabeth Berridge sparks any interest via a believable, effectively underplayed performance as the main heroine. These problems make The Funhouse a pretty lightweight affair, especially when stacked up against a real horror classic like Halloween. That said, The Funhouse remains worth a look to horror buffs for a few reasons. The biggest reason is the supporting cast: Kevin Conway is believably sleazy (and terrifying) as the villainous Barker, mime-turned-actor Wayne Doba pulls off the impressive feat of humanizing the film's mutated killer without the benefit of any dialogue and cult favorites Sylvia Miles and William Finley add color in bit parts as carnival workers. Director Tobe Hooper delivers an exciting finale and works in the occasional inspired stylistic flourish along the way: the best of these is the tongue-in-cheek opening sequence, which manages lampoon key moments from Psycho and Halloween at the same time. Ultimately, The Funhouse is too uneven to qualify for classic status but remains of interest to genre fans for its periodic flashes of inspiration.