Blu-ray review: THE FUNHOUSE (1981)

by: Damon Swindall
July 26th, 2011

Amazing cover art on Arrow's release of THE FUNHOUSE

It’s no surprise that director Tobe Hooper is most well known for a small indie horror flick from 1974 called THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. This film shocked audiences the world over and became one of the most influential and frightening films of the genre. But before he would strike box office gold with Steven Spielberg on POLTERGEIST in 1982 he made a few more films with varying degrees of success and cult status. One such film is a creepy carnival centric picture from 1981 called THE FUNHOUSE and now Arrow Video has decided to honor this overshadowed film with a fantastic Blu-ray release.

The film sees a group of four teens on a double date making way to a traveling carnival for the evening. Once there, they see all of the great sideshow attractions, spend time playing games on the midway and riding an assortment of rides with questionable safety regulations. After a while, Amy Harper (Elizabeth Berridge) calls home to say she’ll be spending the night with a girlfriend – in actuality the quartet is going to stay behind after hours in the carnival’s funhouse for the purposes of dirty, dirty teen sexual interaction. As you would imagine, things go very wrong with their plan as they witness a murder, see a severely deformed boy, and have to fight to make it out alive.

Although this box art has a special slot in my memory I had never seen this entry in Hooper’s filmography because I heard bad things somewhere. Whoever I spoke to is fired, because this is a quickly paced and fun fright flick with some great FX and skin-crawling atmosphere. For the first half of the film, there is a young boy (in his teen years to my best estimation) who is silent and hidden behind a Frankenstein’s monster costume. If his silence and erratic movements aren’t odd enough, once he removes the latex mask we see his hideously deformed face and hear the inhuman screeches he emits. Hidden away from the freak shows he is made to work in the funhouse and is the cause of more than one death when trying to get his jollies with a townie. This time, though, he has killed one of his carnies.

The mongoloid boy is not the only blip on the creep radar as the animatronics in the funhouse are the kind of things bound to instill nightmares. The jerky movements, the scary “family-friendly” clown paint, and the accompanying sound effects from a crackling speaker are enough to make the hardest horror fan shudder. The best, or worst depending on how you look at it, of the group is a mechanical fat woman in a polka dot dress who sits atop the entrance and turns her head slowly whilst cackling uncontrollably. Sleep with caution.

One of the other characters in the film is Amy’s younger monster-obsessed brother Joey who helps start the film off with a laugh mixed with a fright all wrapped in homage. As Amy soaps up in the shower, he comes in and gives her a jolt by wearing a creepy costume, throwing back the shower curtain and stabbing at her with a rubber knife. At the same time the audience gets an homage to one of the most well-known scenes from any horror film, the shower scene in PSYCHO, and the brother-on-sister POV stalking from HALLOWEEN. What a brilliant way to start this film and suck in the horrorphiles.

Arrow’s new high definition transfer is a thing of beauty. After the last couple of discs I reviewed turned out to be visually lacking, THE FUNHOUSE is clearly from a great source and given just the right amount of restoration treatment without any over tinkering. There are still some soft focused elements from the original and a few speckles of dust and scratches while still being cleaned, cleared and brightened. Everything you want in a Blu-ray of this kind of film from one of horror’s golden decades. Hooper and cinematographer Andrew Laszlo (FIRST BLOOD, POLTERGEIST II) set-up some very interesting shots in and around the location of this haunted funhouse with some great strong neon lighting, and they all look stunning on the Blu-ray’s transfer.

As for the extras none of them will play in my U.S. coded player, though the movie works fine. I could have sworn that Arrow said they were going to start mastering all their bonus features in HD too so that the Americans who want to import can enjoy them as well. Guess that’s not going to happen on every release.

Here is what comes extra with the disc, and if you have a region-free Blu-ray player, you can enjoy them.

-Carnage at the Carnival: Tobe Hooper Remembers THE FUNHOUSE
-Miles of Mayhem: Acting in Tobe’s Funhouse with star Miles Chapin
-A Trilogy of Terror: The Make-Up Madness of Craig Reardon
-Master Class of Horror: Mick Garris on Hooper’s Career
-Live Q&A with Tobe Hooper from San Francisco
-Never Before Seen Behind-the-Scenes Photos from Craig Reardon’s Collection
-Trailer
-Three Separate Audio Commentaries
-Collector’s Booklet
-Four Panel Reversible Sleeve Cover Art with Amazing new art by Rick Melton
-Double-Sided Fold-Out Poster with the New Art and Original Poster Art

This is a great release of a fun horror flick from Hooper’s past. The picture and sound quality are fantastic, if only the wonderful long list of extras would play in the States. Fans of this movie will find the upgrade on image quality alone worth the price but beware of the lack of bonus feature compatibility in America.

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