Film Archive: Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse lacks wit and bite

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I am a fan of Tobe Hooper. Anyone who makes a film as astonishingly effective as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre deserves a level of respect. My love of that film has lead to me exploring his other works, but sadly the new blu-ray release his 1981 film The Funhouse left me cold and disappointed.

The movie starts with an enjoyably freaky scene which pays homage to both Hitchcock’s masterpiece Psycho and Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now. A small human wearing a circus mask runs into a bathroom and appears to attack a young woman in the shower, waving a blade manically and attempting to slash her. But the whole thing is a trick – it’s her younger brother trying (rather successfully) to scare her.

Unfortunately the visual power and cinematic intelligence of this early moment is never matched later on. As we follow the aforementioned young woman and her friends walk around a carnival and its deadly Funhouse attraction the chills become silly and lazy instead of chillingly bizarre.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre worked so well because of its harrowing twists and moments of true, undiluted terror. The characters, although flawed specimens, were believable, and when they found themselves in awful situations it felt as if the viewer was going through the terrible ordeals with them. But The Funhousegroups together a selection of unappealing teenagers, puts them in a room full of masked bloodthirsty murderers and lets them scream. It is a film of its time, when the slasher genre was trying to discover an identity and have imagination. Today, it’s a strangely uninvolving experience.

If you have a fear of clowns, dolls or people wearing masks, you will probably find the film terrifying. Viewers who are used to such horror clichés, however, will most likely be left underwhelmed and unsatisfied.

A note on the disc: Arrow’s blu-ray release of the film is a full high-definition 1080p transfer in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. It’s a solid, if not remarkable, presentation. Colours are good and although clarity sometimes wavers, the level of grain gives the feature a pleasing filmic feel without becoming a distraction. The extra features on the release are superb.

The Funhouse (1981), directed by Tobe Hooper, is distributed on blu-ray disc and DVD by Arrow, Certificate 15. 

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Second year BA Film & English Student. Watches too many films and enjoys good novels.

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