Release Date(s)1981 (October 16, 2012)
Studio(s)Universal (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B+
Tobe Hooper is one of the most frustrating directors working in the horror genre. He’s capable of greatness, as evidenced by the first two Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies, Poltergeist (we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on that one), and even the unhinged space madness of Lifeforce. But he’s also responsible for some god-awful dreck like the 1986 remake Invaders from Mars and The Mangler. Most of his work in the last 25 years has either been for television or gone straight to video.
Falling somewhere in between Hooper’s usual two speeds of awesome and awful is 1981’s The Funhouse. Four kids on a double date elect to go to the seediest of all seedy traveling carnivals, despite the fact that some bodies turned up in its vicinity in a neighboring county. The carnival is populated by an array of sinister oddballs, including Kevin Conway as the barker, William Finley as magician Marko the Magnificent and Sylvia Miles as fortune teller Madame Zena. After the group decides to spend the night in the funhouse, they witness a murder and find themselves being stalked by Conway and his hideously mutated son.
The Funhouse should be much better than it actually is. The movie looks amazing, beautifully shot by Andrew Laszlo with a phenomenal funhouse set. But the first hour is slow going, which would be less of a problem if the four main characters weren’t so irritating. The carnival workers we meet are great, creepy fun but almost none of them figure into the main story. Most of them turn out to be nice, helpful people. There’s also a subplot about the younger brother of one of the teenagers wandering around the carnival alone that goes nowhere. It feels like it was tacked on because they needed to pad out the running time. Even so, the movie’s good parts are good enough to secure it a healthy cult following.
Scream Factory brings The Funhouse to Blu-ray in style with a gorgeous new transfer that brings out the movie’s best. Early scenes seem a bit soft but once we hit the carnival, it’s a bright, colorful image that truly looks amazing in HD. Audio options are in DTS-HD Master Audio, including both the original 2.0 stereo mix and a new 5.1 version. The 5.1 remix is impressive, opening up the soundscape and allowing John Beal’s great music room to breathe. It’s a thoughtfully done mix but I’m glad the original audio has been preserved.
Bonus features include an audio commentary with Tobe Hooper and filmmaker Tim Sullivan that rambles a bit but is still worthwhile. There are three new video interviews (running between 8-10 minutes each) with Kevin Conway, producer Mark L. Lester and John Beal. They’re fairly interesting but too brief to be particularly in-depth. There’s also a short audio interview with the late William Finley that left me wishing he was still with us (not to mention in the movie more). Rounding out the package are a handful of deleted scenes, several TV and radio spots and the original trailer.
The publicity materials for The Funhouse promise a much better movie than Tobe Hooper ended up delivering. It’s a great looking movie in search of characters we care about and a plot that goes farther than from A to B. But when a movie’s technical aspects are primarily what it has going for it, it’s great to have them preserved on such a high quality Blu-ray.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke