Jarv’s Schlock Vault: The Funhouse
“Well, you never were much for knowing the value of cash, were you”
One of the principal pleasures I take from writing the vault reviews, is that the films themselves give me plenty to muse on while I’m skiving work. For The Funhouse, which I’m doing because Mark Lester (director of Class of 1999) produced it, I have to wonder what on earth happened to Tobe Hooper. I’m not suggesting that Lester directed this film like Spielberg did with Poltergeist, despite what it says on the box, but really how the fuck did he manage to go from making one of the quintessential horror films to occasionally directing episodes of Taken? Not that he didn’t make some top-drawer schlock such as this (or the sheer awesomeness of Lifeforce– which has the two greatest debut performances of all time in it given by Mathilda May’s left breast and Mathilda May’s right breast), but really, his epic failure can’t all be down to drugs, can it? I know that Zelda Rubinstein maintains that Spielberg directed Poltergeist, (allegedly because of Hooper’s little problem), but if he managed to keep that up for nearly three decades then you can probably park an oil tanker in the gap where his septum used to be.
It’s bizarre, because you can see the creative brilliance of Texas Chainsaw Massacre all the way through this film, from the incredible pastiche opening that sets the film’s stall out with quite some verve and no little audacity, through the exquisite set and costume design to the superb use of light and sound. However, as entertaining as this film is, it feels like its missing something. I’ll come back to this later.
Everyone knows how 80’s slashers work, but just in case you’ve been asleep for a while, I’ll quickly go over the rules. Morally dubious teenagers are slaughtered by mask wearing freak. Virgin survives. Psychopathic serial killer dies. It was a much more simple time, really. The Funhouse is a great example of how it is possible to be creative within this structure although the plot pretty much follows these lines perfectly. Horny teenagers go to carnival, despite warnings that people keep disappearing in the towns where the carnival has passed through. They decide to stay the night in the funhouse, because they’re horny, stoned and stupid. While hiding out they witness a murder and then spend the rest of the film trying to escape. Virginal (although she isn’t especially chaste here, but at least they tell us she’s a virgin) teenager escapes after despatching freak.
So, pretty run of the mill stuff- so what precisely is good about it? To be honest, quite a lot. The acting is all pretty solid- Elizabeth Berridge (who later performed with some distinction in Amadeus) is on great form as the survivor girl, and her support is suitably douchey.
I’m going to quickly do the downside to this film now, because it obviously isn’t perfect, but what I want to recommend about this film is so fucking good that I want it to be at the end. I’m burying bad news here.
The film feels like it’s lacking something. I don’t know precisely what, and I can’t put my finger on why, but it just feels a touch incomplete. For example, our heroine’s odious kid brother is knocking around the fair, and he isn’t killed. He doesn’t add anything to the story, something that doesn’t quite fit right as I thought the purpose of him was obviously going to be hostage of the evil carnies before being rescued by his sister. However, this simply doesn’t happen. If it was an attempt to confound expectations, then that’s fair enough, but the end sequence of the film is also strangely anticlimactic. Sure, there’s the big fight scene and survivor girl crawls out of the funhouse, but the film ends with her meandering through the devastation of the fair just as they’re packing up to leave. It just feels weird and not good weird- more like that they ran out of ideas and couldn’t think how to conclude the film properly.
Secondly, the characters all have what I like to term “Blair Witch Syndrome”, which can be loosely summarised as “lacking any sense of direction whatsoever, so resort to walking around in circles even though the way out is fucking obvious”. This is annoying, although it is a minor quibble.
Thirdly, and much more seriously, they reveal the monster too early. He’s originally wearing a Frankenstein mask, and this grotty piece of latex is frightening- there’s no two ways about it. The scene where he suffers from an extreme bout of premature ejaculation (wearing his mask) with the Fortuneteller is gripping stuff. He could quite easily have kept the mask on and had the final girl remove it when he’s trapped. As much as I like the design (and I think it is superb), I just think that it would have worked splendidly for a little extra turn of the knife at the end.
Now, quibbling over, because there are 2 things about this film that elevate it head and shoulders above the herd. The first is that Tobe Hooper at this time was a fucking genius. I know that sounds like an exaggeration, and it is, but when he was on form, he really was great. Remember they use of discordant sound in Texas Chainsaw Massacre? How jarring and unsettling that was? Well, it’s a trick he repeats here to great effect. (MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD)
In the finale, the freak chases our heroine into the bowels of the funhouse intending to slice her up. Luckily for her, inbreeding does make you dumb and she is able to manoeuvre him between two giant cogs that slowly crush him to death. Where Hooper excels is that the scene is a cacophony of light and sound with clashing chains, flashes of brightness and the howls of the freak all combining in a brilliant symphony of horror. It’s truly superb.
The second scene of the film that helps to confirm it as a forgotten gem is the opening scene. It opens with a little boy selecting a knife and mask before sneaking up to ambush his sister in the shower and stab her. However, Hooper parodies/ pays homage to Halloween by filming the sequence through the mask and then also to Psycho with the construction and sound of the shower. And there’s some totally gratuitous nudity. This is superbly put together, but the reason I like it so much is that it is a balls out opening to the film- it stands there and instantly tells the audience what sort of movie this is: it’s a slasher with a sense of humour. It’s a brilliant scene, and maybe my feeling of it missing something is because the rest of the film doesn’t really live up to it.
Overall, would I recommend it? Yes. It’s a good, fun anachronism the likes of which will be rarer than rocking horse shit. Watch it, and make sure you do before this happens to it:
“I’m talking with Universal about that one. The Funhouse is a movie where the first half is brilliant. They set up these great characters, and then they pay off none of them. You have Marco the Magician sawing his daughter in half, the brothers who run the carnival and the funhouse setting. And then it’s all about this weird mutant thing. It should be about the kids getting killed in horrible ways, put in different contraptions in the funhouse and the final girl being strapped into the ride and sent into the tunnels to be confronted by terrifying tableaux of her dead friends. A smart remake could be so much fun. Kill the kids in fabulous ways and continually reuse the bodies by making them freaks in the freak museum, sew their eyes shut, waxworks. That’s the stuff I want to do in a remake of The Funhouse.” Eli “Talentless bag of cocks” Roth, 10th June 2009.
This is missing the point, and just shows what a useless waste of the time his dad spent ejaculating into a cup he is. The Funhouse is an old style slasher movie. A playful, inventive, enjoyable little film is the very antithesis of torture porn. The fact that the fucking idiot wants to take an underexposed film like this one, and remove everything from it that makes it worthwhile, thereby turning it into an atrocious exercise in torture porn is a crime- it will cause this film to be completely forgotten (much like the original Scarface), and if that happens, then I’ll have to bitchslap him.
Eli Roth is not fit to lick Tobe Hooper’s crack pipe clean. See Hooper’s forgotten gem before that little fuckhead ruins it.