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The carnival is a place for fun and laughter, but not for Amy and her friends. When their childish dare to stay all night in the spooky funhouse backfires, it leaves a trail of dismembered teenagers a mile long in Tobe Hooper’s classic video nasty era slasher.
For more about The Funhouse and the The Funhouse Blu-ray release, see the The Funhouse Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on October 7, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Elizabeth Berridge, Shawn Carson, Jeanne Austin, Jack McDermott, Cooper Huckabee, Largo Woodruff
Director: Tobe Hooper
» See full cast & crew
The Funhouse Blu-ray Review
This Blu-ray is no freak show.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, October 7, 2012
I'm going to get you so bad you're never going to forget it!
It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt, and it's all funhouses and teenagers acting stupidly until one or more of them gets killed. Director Tobe Hooper's Funhouse is nowhere near as spine-tingling horrific and depraved as his macabre masterpiece The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but it's at the very least a competent and fun little slice of Horror cinema that takes a slasher-type formula and transforms it into something a little more monstrous. The movie suffers through unimaginative characters and dialogue, but it excels in the areas of mood, atmosphere, location and creature design. In fact, the film's boogeyman looks like it could have been an inspiration for Sloth from The Goonies or one of the aliens from The Last Starfighter. But even beyond that circus freak's terrifying appearance, Hooper's 1981 picture almost magically creates an environment that's at the same time friendly and inviting and terrifying and dark. The movie is all about its feel rather than its plot specifics, specifics that are rather uninteresting and a feel that's as tasty as a big clump of cotton candy, as odd as a bearded lady, and as scary as a haunted house ride.
Amy Harper (Elizabeth Berridge) is no fan of her younger brother's Horror obsession, but his childlike antics are nothing compared to the terror that awaits her on a fateful date at the carnival. Amy, her new boyfriend Buzz (Cooper Huckabee), her friend Liz (Largo Woodruff), and Liz's boyfriend Richie (Miles Chapin) attend the carnival despite her parent's wishes (and, in this case, better judgment) and the foreknowledge that it's been host to untimely deaths. The gang soaks in the sights and sounds, including an eerie run-in with a old woman promising the wrath of God and a foul-mouthed fortune teller (Sylvia Miles). The foursome chooses to make a night of the event by sneaking off a haunted house ride and hiding out inside until the park closes down. It seems like a great idea until they witness a hulking man in a Frankenstein costume murder the fortune teller in cold blood. Frankenstein and his close companion Conrad (Kevin Conway) discover that the foursome has witnessed the murder. They set out to eliminate the witnesses and effort not to reveal Frankenstein's dark secret. Can any of the teenagers survive until dawn?
Funhouse captures the essence of a classic Monster movie intermixed with 1980s Slasher elements. The film begins with a playful homage to all things Horror in a scene that combines the genre nerd's dream come true with the classic opening sequence of Halloween and the famed shower scene from Psycho. But that's about as close as the movie gets to true and classic "Slasher" formula, though the movie certainly incorporates elements thereof. At its center, Funhouse is a moody and somewhat novel Survival Horror flick, about finding the truth behind the exterior or, in this case, the mask. It's a classic "bend the rules and break the rule bender" sort of tale, about pulling back the curtain on oddity at best and depravity at worst passing off as family-friendly entertainment and becoming trapped in a world designed to scare, only this time with a real boogeyman lurking in the shadows, not harmless animatronic figures. The movie is far from perfect, but the quality production design, uniqueness of the tale, and the accomplished setting make for a fine and fun little escapist Horror picture that combines formula, novelty, and relatable scares with remarkable efficiency.
The movie is largely superficial then, but that's par for the course for the Horror genre. The picture introduces completely generic characters whose names matter not and whose back stories matter even less. Director Tobe Hooper understands where, when, and how to butter his bread, however, and he focuses on all of the most important aspects of the film and leaves well enough largely alone with the unimportant details. The movie doesn't waste too much time slugging around in needless character construction, spending only a few opening minutes establishing the heroine-to-be and moving on to poking around the carnival for the rest of the first act, establishing that critical mood and atmosphere that enhances the mystery and unsettling nature of the second act and betters the reveal and panicked pacing of the final act. Hooper gets the most out of every square inch of each frame, crafting a mesmerizing world of the macabre disguised as evil in plain sight. The picture's makeup effects are great, and while the kills are rather tame even by early 1980s standards, The Funhouse feels more frightening thanks to both that makeup and that critical dark, eerie carnival ambience that the film so expertly constructs.
The Funhouse Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Funhouse arrives on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory's new Scream! Factory label. The result is very impressive 1080p high definition transfer. Presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio, the movie looks fantastic, generally, offering very crisp, film-like details. Grain remains throughout and solidifies a pleasant, natural filmic texture. There are plenty of softer shots scattered throughout -- some blurry edges and a few smudgy details -- but it's clear that this is The Funhouse as it was intended to be seen. The image's crisp elements truly impress with natural, well-defined objects such as clothing, the Frankenstein mask, wear and tear around the carnival, and complex facial textures. Colors are largely fantastic, with oftentimes brilliant splashes to be seen all over the carnival, from bright yellows to vibrant blues. Flesh tones are accurate, and blacks are acceptable, though perhaps a little pale in places throughout what is a fairly dark movie. The image sees a few scattered white speckles and a couple of random vertical lines, but on the whole this is a very well balanced and authentic 1080p transfer of an old favorite looking better than ever on home video.
The Funhouse Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Funhouse features a wonderful DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack. From the great opening title music forward, this audio presentation impresses at worst and dazzles at best. That opening music plays with a big, well-spaced, and completely immersive sensation, offering precision clarity and the feel of a live performance. The carnival atmosphere proves most sonically impressive; the listener often feels completely immersed within the environment, enjoying the din of games and barkers and music scattered amongst general crowd ambience. Such scenes make use of the entire soundstage and prove enjoyable and critical both in pulling the audience into the movie and establishing the environment to enhance the terror that comes later. There are some very big, potent, and spooky sound effects -- such as booming thunder -- to be a heard during the haunted house ride. Bass is deep and aggressive but not overly so. Various mechanical sounds near the end nicely fill the soundstage and play with an evident and crucial surround element. Dialogue is clear and accurate, though microphone dialogue playing through carnival speakers comes through with an understandable, and even welcome in the name of authenticity, muffle. Overall, this is a fantastic soundtrack that serves the movie and the audience both very well.
The Funhouse Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Funhouse contains a new audio commentary track, several interviews, deleted scenes, and more.
The Funhouse Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Funhouse isn't a traditional 1980s Slasher. It combines the teenage victim angle of that style, however, and mixes it with a moody, wonderfully atmospheric classic Monster flick. It's a winning combination that impresses through just about every second of its lean runtime. It's a little dated and rather tame in hindsight, but The Funhouse holds up as a movie working wonderfully on the back of a great atmosphere and a director who understands what the movie requires to work. Shout! Factory's Blu-ray release of The Funhouse features very good video, strong audio, and a nice array of extra content. Highly recommended.
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