Directed by Tobe Hooper
Distributed by Scream Factory
The Funhouse is something of a mid-level success for director Tobe Hooper. It never approaches the mastery of his Texas Chainsaw duo, but it manages to be a perfectly enjoyable slasher outing, nonetheless. It’s got the dynamic setting of a seedy carnival to work from, and Hooper doesn’t miss an opportunity to exploit it. If it weren’t for a severely odd plot structure and subsequent pacing issues, this might’ve been an even stronger experience. But there’s just something about the titular house of horrors that makes all its shortcomings easy to forgive.
The trouble with The Funhouse is that it takes forever to get going. It’s a movie about teenagers trapped overnight in a carnival attraction and stalked by a psychotic killer. But the odd thing about Larry Block’s screenplay is that the slasher elements are almost entirely confined to the third act, making much of the film feel like superfluous setup. It’s an issue compounded by the fact that the characters aren’t terribly interesting, so while Hooper’s carnival atmosphere is quite effective, the movie tends to feel like its spinning its wheels for a large chunk of it.
But there’s still some fun to be had throughout the slower than usual setup. The opening scene – a tipping of the hat to both Psycho and Halloween’s most infamous moments – is Hooper’s reflexive nod to the material he’s working with. Whether or not Hooper was wryly throwing the gauntlet at the feet of those slasher titans, or acknowledging viewer expectation at the outset is a matter of debate, but it certainly helps set the movie off on a fun note. And considering this is largely a movie about kids jaunting around a creepy carnival, well, I’d argue that Hooper’s tonal establishment is just about pitch-perfect for the material.
Hooper was perhaps never more confident than here. The Funhouse is an incredibly stylish and nice-looking film and it does a wonderful job of setting the viewer on edge before pumping in the suspense. The third act feels a little too rushed for my liking, but it delivers where it should: solid setpieces, an ever-tightening and claustrophobic setting and some memorable creature FX for added effect. It’s all fairly fitting for a movie called The Funhouse and perhaps that was Tobe’s ultimate goal: to simulate a Friday night out on the outskirts of Anytown USA, trawling a shady carnival attraction capped by a really spooky funhouse attraction. In that sense, he succeeds perfectly.
The Funhouse has been available via several iterations of DVD, but none of them have been terribly impressive. Shout! Factory remedies this, however, with a stellar 1080p high definition transfer. Colors are vibrant, and detail is absolutely remarkable on everything from backgrounds, to clothing and faces. Black levels are inky without sacrificing detail and flesh tones look perfectly natural. This is a remarkable presentation and fans of this flick are going to be thrilled with the work Shout! has put into it.
Audio-wise, we’ve got an equally strong presentation that offers two ways to hear the movie. The DTS HD 5.1 track has received a little bit of flak for being ‘distracting’, but I honestly thought it was a solid upmix. However, the 2.0 stereo mix does seem to provide stronger, clearer dialogue. Either way, this is a good listen.
Thankfully, Shout’s edition of The Funhouse is a bit more satisfying on the supplemental front than their simultaneous Terror Train release. This sucker comes equipped with a commentary track with director Tobe Hooper as ‘moderated’ by director Tim Sullivan. Having waded through Arrow’s trio of Hooper-less commentary tracks on their own 2011 release of this film, it was nice to have a chance to hear the director talk about it for a change. It’s a pretty good discussion that covers a lot of material in a light-hearted and engaging way.
Then we get a foursome of featurettes: a chat with Kevin Conway, who reflects on the shooting experience. Then there’s a talk with executive producer Mark L. Lester who contributes his own memories. Finally, a chat with John Beal, the film’s composer, that covers his approach to scoring The Funhouse after spilling into a bit of background information on his career. Lastly, a brisk audio conversation with the late William Finley on his contribution to the film. It’s good, informative stuff here, none of it redundant to the Arrow release.
Finally, there’s a collection of interesting deleted scenes. A friend of mine said these were commonplace for television airings back in the 80s, although I couldn’t recall having seen them before now. Either way, a great feature to have included in this set. There’s also a gaggle of promotional materials, a trailer, along with some TV and radio spots for good measure.
3 1/2 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5