Following the completion of his adaptation to Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, director Tobe Hooper turned down an offer that would have him steering the ship for Steven Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial to instead finish his current ghoulish project at the time: The Funhouse.
Paying homage to such clascs as Psycho and Halloween, the film’s opening sequence reflects these horror gems manifesting an unknown being with a first-person point of view, hearing nothing but heavy breathing, lurking into an occupied bathroom where a showering female unknowingly is about to get a heart-stopping surprise.
The Funhouse (1981) follows a seemingly innocent teen, Amy Harper (Elizabeth Berridge), going on a first date with the corruptive Buzz Dawson (Cooper Huckabee) and a couple of friends to a traveling carnival that came to town. But after deceiving her father’s orders to not go to the carnival, Amy learns that karma is a bitch as she is soon faced with something more thrilling than lame rides and mutated animals (yes, we do see a cow with a cleft palate, as well as one with two heads).
As Amy’s date has the bright idea of spending the night in the carnival’s funhouse, their lustful evening is soon interrupted as the pack of teens secretly witness a murder. But the only way out of the funhouse is through the sub-human, inbred monster and his imprudent father.
As the story is somewhat slow moving forward, Hooper takes the time to interpret character development, although this aspect hinders any suspense building until about halfway through the film. For being produced in the early 80s, the dialogue actually staggers away from the corny, clichéd lines than one might expect. Berridge and Huckabee are quite charismatic for the most part, and the makeup effects of the carnie monster is uniquely developed.
Those looking for T&A or a blood bath of a film will surely be disappointed as there is little bloodshed presented (as Hooper heavily favors implied violence in his films). But for those who actually want to see a decent, uncomplicated story unfold, it can be a fun 96 minutes with a splash of excitement favored in its finale.
Author Dean Koontz also wrote a novel of the same name based on the film, but under the pseudonym Owen West. It is not to be minterpreted that the film is based on the book, although the novel happened to be released prior to the film as a delay in post-production ensued.
Overall, a mple storyline with decent acting and nicely-done effects gives this an above-average rating of two-and-a-half stars out of four.