funhouse

The Funhouse (1981, Tobe Hooper)

The Funhouse is terrifying. Director Hooper opens the film with a dual homage to Halloween and Psycho and then proceeds to do something entirely different in the end of this film. Like those two films, he takes a while to get to the violent acts. He does, however, announce he’s going to terrify the audience from the get go. And he does. The first forty-five minutes of the film is Hooper getting ready to terrify the audience. And then he does. The finale, which probably only runs fifteen minutes, is exhausting.

What’s so amazing about the first thirty or forty minutes is how the film doesn’t have to go anywhere else. It’s just a bunch of teenagers hanging out at a carnival, with Elizabeth Berridge’s protagonist on her first date with an older boy (Cooper Huckabee). She’s had a fight with her younger brother and he heads out to the carnival after she tells him she won’t be taking him. It could be a short movie about small town life.

Until almost halfway through, the carnival just seems dangerous. It’s never explicitly dangerous. Hooper and writer Lawrence Block spend more time on making Berridge give in to Huckabee’s affections than anything else. Well, anything else obvious. Hooper’s very subtly preparing the audience for the horror show.

Excellent performances help. Berridge is a great lead, Largo Woodruff is great as her friend. Kevin Conway is fantastic; his sincerity sells the danger.

The Funhouse is an awesome, frightening, exhilarating motion picture.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tobe Hooper; written by Lawrence Block; director of photography, Andrew Laszlo; edited by Jack Hofstra; music by John Beal; production designer, Mort Rabinowitz; produced by Derek Power and Steven Bernhardt; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Elizabeth Berridge (Amy Harper), Cooper Huckabee (Buzz Dawson), Miles Chapin (Richie), Largo Woodruff (Liz), Sylvia Miles (Madame Zena), William Finley (Marco the Magnificent), Wayne Doba (Frankenstein’s Monster), Shawn Carson (Joey Harper) and Kevin Conway (The Barker).

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