Despite frequently being listed among the great horror directors, Tobe Hooper will always have the hardest job of pleasing his fans. No matter what film he makes, it will always be compared to his 1974 classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. To this day it remains one of the greatest and most chilling horror films of all time and a true work of genius.
The same can‘t really be said of Crocodile or the overly goofy Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Yet people seem to forget Hooper is capable of making films as great as Poltergeist or Salem’s Lot. Sitting somewhere in the middle is 1981’s The Funhouse, now re-released on a deluxe Blu-ray from Arrow Video.
Released at the peak of the early 80’s slasher film craze, The Funhouse was Hooper’s first big budget feature. Despite working on a larger project with studio pressure, the film still carries all of the director’s early trademarks. The deformed monster of the film is abused and taunted by his father in the exact same way Leatherface is in the Texas Chainsaw films.
The plot of The Funhouse sees a group of teenagers headed by Amy (Elizabeth Berridge), deciding to spend an evening in a nearby traveling carnival. After taking in the freak show, burlesque and magic, the group makes the huge mistake of deciding to end their evening (and lives!) with a spooky ride into the Funhouse.
Hooper defiantly makes the most of his creepy fairground setting, even featuring an opening credits sequence full of strange dolls and animatronic figures. The excellent cinematography by Andrew Laszlo, is full of wild vivid lighting, making the funhouse itself as much of a character as any of the leads. The monster of the film is also pretty scary and effectively designed by make up legend Rick Baker.
While the film is well made and often fun, it suffers from a very slow-pace. It lumbers and shambles around as much as the deformed monster. Well beyond the halfway mark, the movie begins to excite but suddenly its over. There’s nothing wrong with slowly building suspense, as proven in films such as The Thing or Day of the Dead. Unfortunately, The Funhouse just isn’t interesting enough to warrant such an approach. Maybe Hooper wanted to emulate the experience of waiting ages and ages in a queue to finally ride something that’s good, but over all too soon.
It remains something of a cult classic in the U.K due to finding its way onto the infamous Video Nasties list. Amusingly the film has very little to offend anyone, outside of some obligatory boob shots. It’s a really old fashioned and minimally gory, peek-a-boo haunted house film. Honestly, it’s so tame the only thing liable to upset anyone is a scene in which the deformed monster is given a hand-job, and even this is fairly restrained. Presumably the film was immediately jumped on due to its VHS box-art, featuring an axe welding jack-in-the-box clown.
EXTRAS & TRANSFER
Thankfully though, while not a perfect film by any means, Arrow has excelled in giving another cult classic extremely lavish treatment. Fans of the film or simply slasher films in general have plenty of reason to pick up this Blu-ray which digs far deeper than just The Funhouse. Hooper is interviewed about the film itself and also filmed in a Q&A session in which he discusses Crocodile and Texas Chainsaw amongst other things.
Elsewhere there are interviews with Craig Reardon, make-up man on The Funhouse, Poltergeist and many other classic films. It’s a good interview, particularly his thoughts on the infamous controversy surrounding Steven Spielberg’s role on the set of Poltergeist. Also interviewed are Miles Chaplin, who plays Richie in the film, and horror director Mick Garris, talking about why he feels Tobe Hooper is such a great horror director. Both of these interviews are solid and full of stories and anecdotes about the making of the film.
As well as these great interviews, the disk is packed with three feature length commentaries. The first and most enjoyable is with film critic Calum Waddell and slasher film expert Justin Kerswell. It’s an amusing and laid back commentary in which the pair discuss why the film deserves a reappraisal, as well as putting the film in context with other slasher movies of the time. The second comes from effects man Craig Reardon and filmmaker Jeffrey Reddick (Final Destination), while the third features producer Derek Power. Fans are sure to enjoy all three commentaries, each offering a different take on the films production.
In terms of picture quality, the Blu-ray transfer looks very nice; at least as good as a 1981 cult horror film can look in HD. It’s colourful and sharp, with scenes in and around the carnival looking particularly nice. Following some mixed reception towards Arrow’s recent transfers, this is definitely a step in the right direction.
Rounding out the package are the usual extra goodies as standard with Arrow. A booklet provides an analysis of the film by Horror expert Kim Newman. There’s also a foldout poster as well as four interchangeable covers to choose from, showcasing a variety of different artwork for the film.
Summary: Tobe Hooper’s Funhouse is an uneven and awkwardly paced slasher, but still worth watching due to its great atmosphere. Arrow as always has provided an excellent range of features which more than make up for any flaws in the film itself.