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THE FUNHOUSE

Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: Elizabeth Berridge, Cooper Huckabee, Sylvia Miles, Largo Woodruff, Miles Chapin, Shawn Carson
Director: Tobe Hooper
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles: English, French
Video: Color, anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Universal
Features: Trailer
Length: 96 min.
Release Date: September 7, 2004

"You will scream with terror.  You will beg for release.  But there will be no escape, for there is no release from the Funhouse."

Film ***

Tobe Hooper has made a successful career directing horror films.  Although his efforts of late have been fairly laughable, who can forget his cult classic debut, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre?  Or, for mainstream family audiences, the Steven Spielberg-produced Poltergeist?  Or, one of my secret favs, Lifeforce, not really a great film but certainly great to look at!  Another of Hooper's early films, The Funhouse (1981), is a solid and entertaining film deserving of cult status.

The Funhouse's premise is a fairly simple one.  One evening, two teen couples go on a double date to a carnival.  The guys decide it might be exciting to spend the night hidden away in the house of horrors.  Typical, right?  Still, the girls reluctantly agree, and all four teens sneak off into the spooky funhouse.  Unfortunately, something goes horribly amiss, and the teens' fun outing transforms into a night of sheer terror.

The Funhouse has a cast comprised largely of unknowns, save for a young Elizabeth Berridge (best known as Mozart's buxom wife in Amadeus).  Berridge’s girl-next-door persona in The Funhouse provides audiences with a likable and winsome heroine.  As for the other cast members, well, this is a horror film, after all.  Some of them might just meet a ghastly and untimely demise.  In fact, The Funhouse opens with a typical slasher shower sequence that is a blatant rip-off of (or homage to) both Psycho and Halloween.

Berridge portrays Amy, the young heroine who goes out on an evening date with her somewhat obnoxious new boyfriend Buzz (Cooper Huckabee).  Amy's friend, Liz (Largo Woodruff), tags along with her nerdy date, Richie (Miles Chaplin).  And sneaking along behind all of them is Amy's pesky kid brother Joey (Shawn Carson), who ends wandering aimlessly around the carnival before losing track of his sister and getting scared out of his own wits.

When the film’s four teens hide in the funhouse, they are accidentally locked in.  More ominously, they are not alone inside, and after secretly witnessing a blood-chilling crime of passion, they realize that unless they can escape from the funhouse, the same fate awaits them, too.

Okay, the plot is fairly predictable, and any horror fan worth his salt should reasonably surmise the general direction of the storyline.  Still, The Funhouse, which is based on a Dean R. Koontz novel, retains a good sense of style and thrills and offers enough plausible twists to elicit more than a few sudden shrieks.

Personally, I've always considered carnivals at night to be a little spooky.  I'm not speaking of amusement parks, mind you, but real traveling carnivals, with their fortune-tellers, magicians, houses of horrors, and exhibits of mysterious or misshapen creatures (and sometimes people).  Throw in a creepy barker or two, and a carnival can be downright freaky in the dark.  This film has a particularly eerie house of horrors, and if a Moebius strip were constructed like a house of horrors, it would be much like the one in The Funhouse.  Not only does it seem larger inside than outside, but it comes with the prerequisite shadows and dark chambers, not to mention plenty of mechanical zombies, chains and gears, cobwebs, and things that go bump in the night.

While The Funhouse is not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, it is still a lot of spooky fun and well worth checking out on a dark and stormy night!

Video *** ½

The Funhouse is presented in a color widescreen format.  Although the transfer is only single-layered, the film looks quite nice, with good color saturation, accurate flesh tones, and solid black levels.  Details are sharp and clear without any obvious dust or dirt, surprisingly.  This is a very clean transfer with only a trace of grain.

Audio ***

The Funhouse is presented in stereo 2.0.  It's not too powerful but generally serves the film well.  Elizabeth Berridge proves to be a great shrieker, and had she done more horror flicks, she might have given Jamie Lee Curtis a run for the money as teen horror queen of the early 1980's.

Features ½*

There are no blood-thirsty, murderous clowns in this film, contrary to any impression given by the DVD's front cover artwork.  The only bonus feature is the trailer.  Otherwise, this is a bare-bones DVD.

Summary:

One of Tobe Hooper's early horror films, The Funhouse will provoke many goose bumps and nervous squeaks.  More of a "fun" horror film rather than a serious one, it makes a great midnight treat, especially for those chilly autumn evenings.

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