The Funhouse Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Shout! Factory
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Written by Larry Block
1981, Region A (NTSC), 96 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on October 16th, 2012
Elizabeth Berridge as Amy
Cooper Huckabee as Buzz
Miles Chapin as Richie
Largo Woodruff as Liz
Kevin Conway as The Barker
Sylvia Miles as Madam Zena
Amy and her friends go on a double date to the local carnival despite her parents’ reservations. Once there, a variety of attractions promise fun and surprises for all audiences including an animal freak show, a bizarre magician, a fortune teller and countless rides and games. Amy’s little brother Joey has followed her to the park with the intention of having a fun time of his own and the possible bonus of cock-blocking his sister. He sees the couples enter the funhouse ride and waits for them to return, but when they don’t, he suspects they are up to no good.
Amy’s friends have decided to spend the night in the funhouse, a decision they instantly regret upon witnessing a crime inside the office room below. The carnival barker is called in to cover up the incident and he soon discovers that there are trespassers hiding somewhere in the upstairs ride. In order to protect his carnival family, he decides it is best that the townies not be allowed to leave and report what they have seen to the local authorities. What follows is a suspenseful game of cat-and-mouse that grows to a terrifying conclusion that will haunt audiences long after the film ends.
In 1981, the golden-age of slasher films was in full effect with at least one new title opening each month. The formula for this type of entertainment was already set and The Funhouse appeared on the surface to deliver more of the clichés that dominated the box office. The movie opens with a sequence featuring the first person POV of a killer donning a mask, grabbing a knife and attacking a naked girl in the shower. Next, we follow a quartet of stereotypical teens smoking pot, sneaking glimpses of the nudie show, trespassing and committing petty theft. The mysterious killer is a man so hideous that he must wear a Halloween mask to appear more normal. What follows is a series of grisly murders and nightmares as screams fill the speakers.
However, director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) was more interested in providing a spin on the material and offered a salute to the old fashioned monster movies, filled with atmosphere and suspense rather than heavy gore and tired scenarios. The characters are fleshed out as they react to their surroundings while taking in the numerous attractions on their way to the titular location. The killer in question has more in common with Frankenstein’s monster than the contemporary psycho killer and generates a sympathetic response despite his murderous acts.
Elizabeth Berridge (Amadeus) plays the only likeable character in the film and brings a sincerity to the performance that is missing from traditional “final girl” stereotypes. Surprisingly, she provides the only nudity in the feature despite being portrayed as “the good girl”. Kevin Conway (Eaten Alive) plays all three carnival barkers, primarily the one outside the funhouse attraction. He is particularly nasty in the scenes with those he is closest to as opposed to the way he interacts with the interlopers.
The supporting cast is particularly strong, especially Sylvia Miles (The Sentinel) as the wickedly obscene fortune teller and William Finley (Phantom of the Paradise) as the creepy magician. Shawn Carson (Something Wicked This Way Comes) is the ultimate bratty little brother as Joey, the possible savior to Amy, but her early threats to punish him prevent him from speaking up when he is finally returned to his parents.
Andrew Laszlo’s cinematography makes gorgeous use of the anamorphic frame, filling it to the brink with rich colors and stylistic camera moves. Equally impressive is John Beal’s music that combines orchestral elements with electronic instruments for an unsettling effect when passing through the attractions. Larry Block’s screenplay keeps things moving at a nice pace and was the source for Owen West’s novelization (an alias for author Dean Koontz). Director Tobe Hooper, hot off of Salem’s Lot, delivers the goods with The Funhouse, a stylistic treat for anyone willing to hope beyond any expectations of traditional slasher formulas and experience a first rate monster movie.
Video and Audio:
Technological improvements in picture and sound quality continue to smile on this movie as anyone familiar with the original VHS release remembers that murky pan and scan squeeze job. The laser disc and original DVD releases corrected the aspect ratio, but were 4x3 hard mattes. Finally the film gets a gorgeous new high-def transfer for the Blu-ray release that will satisfy fans new and old.
Presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, this anamorphic release features strikingly rich colors that never bleed while maintaining natural looking flesh tones. Black levels are solid and there are no signs of macro blocking. A surprising amount of fine detail can be found within clothing patterns and the actors’ hair. While the film may not have undergone a total restoration, dirt and scratches have been greatly reduced from the previous DVD source material.
Shout! Factory offers a solid DTS HD 5.1 mix that gives the surround channels a real workout throughout the numerous carnival crowd scenes. Bass becomes more aggressive within the titular location as thunder booms and ominous music fills the room on all sides, particularly during the final act. Atmospheric sound effects are a bit loud at times, but the dialogue remains clear and free of distortion. The disc also offers a DTS HD 2.0 lossless audio track that preserves the original ultra-stereo mix.
Shout! Factory’s new Scream Factory line-up continues to impress with its supplements despite the absence of a formal retrospective or any of the numerous special features created for the British import from Arrow Entertainment a few years ago.
The primary supplement here is a commentary track with director Tobe Hooper in conversation with fellow filmmaker Tim Sullivan (2001 Maniacs). There is no room for down time as Hooper shares anecdotes from throughout his career and discusses this production thoroughly. A highlight comes with the tale of being showered with vomit by the extras unfortunate enough to be left riding the rides during lengthy takes. There is much talk of the make-up designed by Rick Baker and his assistant (fellow legendary make-up artist) Rob Bottin, but nowhere does Carl Fullerton receive mention despite receiving the on-screen credit for the work!
The majority of the special features are presented in a series of four interview segments:
The Barker Speaks! is an 11-minute chat with actor Kevin Conway who discusses his experiences working with Tobe Hooper and how he snagged the job by insisting on playing all three carnival barkers.
Something Wicked This Way Comes is a nine minute segment talking with Executive Producer Mark L. Lester about his memories of getting The Funhouse made and how it grew from a low budget independent movie into a multi-million dollar studio picture.
Carnival Music (10 minutes) finds composer John Beal discussing how he came up with the score for the film and other anecdotes on how the unique music was created within a two week period.
Next up is a brief (three minute) audio interview with the late, great William Finley who tells of his work as the magician “Marco the Magnificent” in the film. He also shares a unique view of working with Tobe Hooper that is not echoed anywhere else in this edition.
A collection of “deleted scenes” are presented in full frame with time code, but are actually five minutes of alternate material shot for the television broadcast to make up for an abridged running time due to censored material.
A theatrical trailer and a set of TV and radio spots round out the special features on this disc.
The Arrow UK release featured different supplements including multiple commentary tracks and over an hour of interviews plus a Q&A session with director Tobe Hooper. It is a shame the different companies could not share the material, but it is nice that Shout! Factory took the time to create some new goodies, despite the noticeable absence of many cast and crew members.