Carnival Horror (The Funhouse, 1981)
The titles start out quite promising with a montage of rather creepy animatronic puppets. The film then starts out as if Tobe was making a Halloween meets Psycho ripoff. We see the killers point of view as an attractive girl takes a shower. The killer even selects a clown mask (Ala young Michael Myers). It’s clear the killer seems to live in the house with the girl…we get a point of view shot from behind the mask (again! Like in Halloween). There is a struggle and then the girl, Amy, discovers her attacker is her little brother playing a practical joke. Am I just really abnormal in finding this bizarre? Am I really the only one? It seems not uncommon in movies that you have brothers playing jokes that require them to ogle their sister. I know I’ve seen it in other films…are screenwriters all only children?
The girl tells her brother she is not taking him to the carnival that weekend. She then tells her father she is going out with her boyfriend Buzz, and her father tells her not to go to the carnival, as it the same carnival where two girls were found dead the prior year. She promises not to go, but we all know this is a lie…as we do not have a movie without it.. Her boyfriend and their two friends go to the carnival.
The carnival Funhouse features one of the most uninspired carnival barkers ever (Kevin Conway). He delivers everything in a low gravelly tone. But the four friends go inside. Meanwhile? Amy’s little brother sneaks out and makes his way to the carnival. The four hide behind the tents to smoke a joint, because, they need to work towards complete the “Horror Movie Sin List.” Then they visit the fortune teller, whom they offend with their pot induced snickering. Damn drugs.
The kids get the wild idea to stay overnight in the Funhouse. At the Carnival where two dead girls were found the year before. So, the kids call their parents to say they are staying at each others homes overnight. They get on the funhouse ride and slip off once inside. Damn drugs.
Then we get some long and drawn out shots of people leaving the carnival. Amy’s Brother stays behind as while. He’s frightened away as the animatronic dummy at the entrance seems to recognize that he is standing there. Meanwhile, the teens are adding to the Sin List in the funhouse by making out and feeling each other up. Damn teenagers.
They discover that they are above a room, so they watch what plays out…they discover that the fortune teller is a part time sex worker. I am not exaggerating here, she takes money from men to perform sexual acts. She is pretty lousy about it, because she is mean and rude to her john. Unless that is his thing. It might be, as her john cannot speak and wears a Frankenstein mask. He’s unsatisfied with her performance and kills her. Then he hides the body.
Our drug addled sex fiends, er, the kids decide it is time to get out and go home. Not a bad idea, in theory. But it turns it to not be so simple. The exit is chained shut. They are trying to figure out a new way to get free, only to witness the john (who is the carnival geek) being abused by his father…it turns out that the geek is a rather deformed mutant. So, things are getting worse.
Then the killing starts. I mean, after the first killing. Turns out the geek is pretty sneaky, tricking the kids and separating them.
The film makes a good use of color, lighting and sound, the funhouse itself feels old and dilapidated, and is really more fearsome than the monster in that it feels like a rundown deathtrap. Hooper doesn’t have a lot of victims to work with, so it is not some unrelenting spree of death, and he focuses as much on atmosphere and trying to build a real sense of dread. It’s not successful, however as scenes are drawn out a bit to long to the point the final confront has you starting to get bored and want it to be over already.
The film is full of strangeness. For example, there is the old woman who tells the girls that God is watching them. And then there is Amy’s brother walking along the road and some guy pulls up and offers him a ride-then pulls out his shotgun…as the kid runs away? He laughs like a horror film mad scientist. No reason given for that either. And he never shows up again. Damn drugs.
Unlike Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which is unrelenting towards the end and has you wanting the end to come as a release, here the end just needs to come period. It hurts to say this, as I do like much of what the film has to offer. It’s the drawn out ending that kills it for me.