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August 16, 2011

Movie Review: The Funhouse (1981, Blu-ray)

When Tobe Hooper's macabre creation The Texas Chainsaw Massacre rattled audiences throughout the world in 1974, you would have thought that by now, 37 years later, he would have resume of work that was among the greatest directors in horror. That's unfortunately not the case as the often maligned talent could rarely hold onto some of the film opportunities given to him after The Texas Chainsaw Massacre's success. The Funhouse (1981) was one of a handful of Hooper's successes - though not without it's flaws - to make an impact on the genre. Arrow Video is handling the duties of presenting one of Hooper's finer outings on Blu-ray. Does it hold up like it did upon its release back in the 80's?

Buy The Funhouse on Blu-ray at Amazon UK!

The Funhouse was one of the first horror films I remember from my youth. The box-cover (which is an alternate cover on this disc) scared the living shit out of me as a youngster. A clown brandishing an axe, who looked as if he was ready to chop me to bits, wasn't something I was quite keen on viewing at seven. I'll later find out after mustering up the courage that there was no clown, or axe, but there was a creepy little story to being told about a traveling carnival and a group of teenagers that become trapped in a "Funhouse".

The virginal Amy Harper (Elisabeth Berridge, Amadeus) is our central character and among four not too terribly annoying teens who become terrorised by a mad carnival barker (Kevin Conway, Flashpoint) and his impotent mutant offspring (Wayne Doba), who he uses to murder each of the kids. Acting wise, the performances are serviceable and pretty routine but I have to give credit to Berridge, Doba and especially Conway. Conway's energy comes through in his performance as he's basically a puppeteer to the creature which tends to add that extra touch of unease; being that the blood is not on his hands.

As with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, one of the most engaging qualities of The Funhouse is it's outstanding production design. Hooper really puts the viewer into a funhouse complete with robotic clowns, cackling fat ladys and numerous other unpleasant company. The carnival not only has a funhouse but also a freakshow. Being that there really are no deaths or gore early on in The Funhouse this prevents the film from being too draggy in the early going.

Arrow has put together a generous array of extra features worthy of viewing. Tobe Hooper gives a Q&A about his career and the feature, director Mick Garris is on hand with some recollections of Hooper's career in the featurette Master Class of Horror, actor Miles Chapin talks a little about his contribution to The Funhouse and in my opinion the unsung talent of The Funhouse, Craig Reardon (Poltergeist), gets some time to shine with A Trilogy of Terror.

The extras don't stop at the featurettes as we're also treated to three very solid audio commentaries : Producer Derek Power has his own as does Craig Reardon and the third by writers Justin Kerswell and Calum Waddell. The Reardon commentary covers some interesting ground including his relationship with FX guru Rick Baker and even Baker's uneasiness to making the memorable deformed creature. The moderator really doesn't have to prod him for questions, which is refreshing. He just keeps rolling as the feature plays. I'm not much for commentaries with people not attached to the movie but I did enjoy Kerswell and Waddell. Both bring up enough 80's slasher tidbits and backround on The Funhouse not covered on the others. There's also a nice story about Joseph Ellison and his experience finding an audience for his sickie Don't Go in the House that I found quite amusing. Slasher buffs will especially enjoy that track.

As per usual on many of the recent Arrow releases there are also some liner notes (written by genre expert Kim Newman), a reversible cover that includes the video cover of the clown mentioned earlier as well as some brand-new cover art.

It's apparent that the transfer used for the Blu-ray of The Funhouse is obviously from a pristine element. There's zero damage that I could see, color correction is spot-on and thankfully no DNR is visible to ruin the experience. It still looks like an 80s film, as it should.

The Funhouse is one of the better films to come out during the 80's slasher cycle. Thankfully, it's received the red carpet treatment by Arrow Video. Highly Recommended!


  1. Good review! This is one of my favorites of Hooper's, so it is nice seeing it get a nice release on Blu Ray. Plus, William Finley as a carnival magician is gold. Pure gold.

  2. I put the Finley photo up for you Heather:). This is one of the best releases this year. Grab it!