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THE FUNHOUSE
DVD Region 2. Arrow.

Tobe Hooper's career has had such a downward spiral that whenever you look back at his older work, it's impossible not to look on it more kindly simply because it's not, say, The Mangler. The Funhouse is a case in point - a movie that was something of a disappointment on release now seems pretty decent.

Shot between Salem's Lot and Poltergeist - when Hooper seemed Most Likely to Succeed out of the horror new wave that included George Romero, Wes Craven and David Cronenberg - the film opens with a pastiche of the opening scenes of Halloween (and elements of Psycho), setting the scene for a movie which, if shot today, might almost be seen as a post-modern self-referential production. Alternatively, we might simply think it was a movie bereft of originality.

In true early 80's style, it takes a group of rather unappealing 'teens' and sets them up for the slaughter - virginal Amy, her meathead date and their obnoxious friends are visiting the carnival (against the express wishes of Amy's parents, who ominously warn of the deaths that occurred in the last town it visited). In a dubious plot development, the kids decide to spend the night in the Funhouse (that's a ghost train to you Brits). Well, that's what you get for not letting them visit bars until they're 21 I guess.

Unfortunately, while making out, they witness a murder by the mutated son of the Funhouse's owner, and after clumsily making their presence known, are left to try and escape before Mutie tracks them down.

Hooper handles all this with skill, but no amount of creepiness can disguise the flaws here. The biggest is that we have to wait over an hour for any killing to commence, and when it does, it's all too quick and too dull. Hooper succeeded in not showing any blood in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre because the film was so brutal, so intense and so damned good that he didn't need to - here, the virtually off-screen deaths simply don't deliver the required shocks. It's hard to see what the British censors found to cut back in the day, and mind-boggling to know that this film was briefly considered a video nasty.

The film certainly packs in familiar elements. The mutant killer is little more than a revamped Leatherface, and many of the sets and father-son moments could have come straight from Texas Chainsaw (or its sequel, which also uses a fairground setting). The teens are stalk-and-slash stereotypes and a sub-plot involving Amy's irritating kid brother goes nowhere (oddly, her parents are set up to seem somewhat sinister too, it seems, but nothing comes of that either).

Where the film does work is in setting up the seedy, unsavoury and unpleasant Carnival world. Of course, in the UK at least, a visit to your local fair will be far scarier, with chavs looking to mug the unsuspecting, but the carnival here is suitably grubby, sinister and other-wordly. Here at least, Hooper shows his masterful skills at creating an unsettling atmosphere.

While no classic, The Funhouse is at least a harmless timewaster. Whether that is enough to buy this bare-bones DVD (without even a trailer) is open to question.

DAVID FLINT

BUY IT NOW (UK)

BUY IT NOW (USA)

 

 

 

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