Much like the dark rides in carnivals and amusement parks of our youth, Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse, is a slow, yet creepy film, and an intriguing thematic sequel of sorts to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
The simple story takes place over a single night when a double date between Amy and Liz (Elizabeth Berridge and Largo Woodruff) and their respective beaus Buzz and Richie (Cooper Huckabee and Miles Chapin) turns into a nightmare when they become trapped inside the funhouse at the local carnival.
Berridge, the film’s lead, is a likeable actress. She epitomizes “the girl next door” and acts as the conscience of the audience at times, never wanting to bow to the pressure of her friends. Woodruff as the "bad girl” is a nice counter to Berridge’s squeaky-clean character. Although the two are so different, it’s easy to see why Amy likes Liz as Woodruff plays her. Huckabee and Chapin as their boyfriends are equally amiable. The four make a realistic team, and you really do care for all of them in some way. Along the way, the four meet some interesting characters and Sylvia Miles is great as the carnival’s psychic. She has a scene in the film that is easily the best. Kevin Conway has a trio of roles that are interesting, the main one being the barker of the funhouse. He’s a creepy presence no matter what he is playing here.
Shout! Factory’s release of The Funhouse is fantastic looking and sounding. The bold colors from lighting and costumes that are prevalent against the often very dark backgrounds pop nicely, and detail level is quite nice. Overall, this is a very filmic looking transfer, with the slightest sheen of grain, which appears to be natural to the source. The score, which is a nice accompaniment to the picture, is mixed well, as are the sound effects, of which there are about a million. None of these things ever interfere with the dialogue track, which is clear and natural sounding.
There is a midway full of bonus material here to enjoy starting with a commentary by Tobe Hooper and fellow writer/director Tim Sullivan. The two seem to be having a good time talking, however Hooper doesn’t seem to have a lot to say at times. Sullivan seems to be prodding him to talk much of the time, leading to a commentary that is much more Sullivan-heavy than I am sure most would like. The fun continues with a series of interviews with Actor Kevin Conway, executive producer Mark L. Lester, composer John Beal, and a short talk with the late William Finley. Next up are six deleted scenes, and a few TV and radio spots to round things out.
The Funhouse's opening shows much promise by blending the ever present black gloved killer in a trench coat from many an Italian giallo, a nod to John Carpenter’s Halloween and Hitchcock’s Psycho, and a love letter to the Universal monsters. The film has some pacing issues and it’s a shame Hooper couldn’t forego some of the seemingly endless scenes in the first half and build more on the chills and thrills of the ride and the kids trapped inside during its second half. Still, it’s worth the price of admission. Just remember to keep hold of whomever you’re with. They may disappear into the darkness.
Film Score: 3.5/5 Disc Score: 4/5