*. The opening is both familiar and weird. The killer’s POV, the black gloves, the girl stepping into the shower . . . check. And we know this is a set-up so it’s no surprise that it all turns out to be a joke being played on her. But . . . by her brother? Who is maybe 8 years old? How creepy is that?
*. As an aside, that’s child actor Shawn Carson playing Joey, and he would return to the fairgrounds just a couple of years later in Something Wicked This Way Comes. Strange how these things work out.
*. The combination of familiarity and weirdness continues throughout The Funhouse. Most of the time it’s a not-very-interesting dead-teenager movie, of the kind that were coming out in a rush at this time in an attempt to cash in on the success of Friday the 13th. It has all the elements you’d expect. Just look at the four leads: the jock (tight t-shirt), the slut (tight red pants), the nerd (big glasses), and the virginal last girl (but not so virginal she isn’t ready to go all the way with a dude named Buzz at a sleazy fair). You can even tell in advance what order they’re going to be dispatched in.
*. But there are surprising elements as well. The killer may be less a psycho than a freak. Like Frankenstein’s monster, whose mask he wears, he is an object of pity. Despite his father’s suggestion of his having cannibalistic tendencies, he seems a sympathetic figure. And even his father, who is a bad man (Kevin Conway, playing all three carnival barkers), is practical in his approach to murder. He just wants to get rid of these pesky kids and move on to the next town.
*. How scared of the killer can we be when he appears in such a silly looking mask and, instead of being beaten by his father, is ordered to beat himself up? How can you not laugh at that scene?
*. Maybe the funhouse is just a strange place where strange things happen. I mean, just look at how much bigger it is on the inside than the outside. How does it have so damn many levels to it? It’s not like it can have a basement.
*. It’s not even a gory or particularly violent movie. There are really only a couple of deaths that are shown on screen, and the others are often hidden in the dark or are mostly kept out of frame. In all of this there seems a real confusion as to what kind of a movie was being made.
*. I’d like to think someone thought of The Funhouse as a horror-comedy, but I suspect there was little intentional about the humour. The movie seems like too much of a grab-bag of ill-assorted odds-and-ends. The plot, for example, is full of extraneous material. Why introduce Joey as such a major, even creepy character when nothing is done with him later? He can’t be a red herring, and at the same time there’s not enough to his role to allow us to identify with him. What is the significance of his sister’s earlier line to him about getting even with him later? I can’t figure this out. Nor is it clear why so much time is wasted introducing all the different carnies.
*. Perhaps they just didn’t have enough material. That’s the sense I had: of a fair-ground ride that had to be somehow stretched out to 90 minutes. Some of what they threw into the mix is, as I’ve said, weird. Most of it, however, is just pointless.
*. Tobe Hooper. I guess enough has been said already about the disappointment of his career after The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Maybe he was just an odd fit for big studio productions. Even here there was apparently a lot of interference. Meanwhile, I’ve heard he turned down directing E.T. in order to do this film. He might have already suspected that it was going to be Spielberg’s movie anyway. If not, that’s a lesson he’d learn making Poltergeist.