director Tobe Hooper
Tobe Hooper’s 1981 horror film about a pair of young adult couples who decide to overnight it in the funhouse of the travelling carnival is definitely tame stuff to have been subjected to persecution by the UK’s Director of Public Prosecution as a “video nasty”, but as I’ve noted before their list was hella random.
If anything, it struck me as somewhat of an homage-laden love letter to both the carnival and classic horror films. The titular “Funhouse” of the film is one of those rides in a dark space, with numerous jump scares and creepy images: skeletons, giant eyes, spiders, guys with axes, vampires, you name it. The idea of “movie as thrill ride” hadn’t necessarily been so overtly spelled out yet, but the metaphor of the ride and the movies is there.
The film kicks off with some explicit homages to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), with a small boy donning a mask and making like he’s going to kill his sister in the shower with keyframe shots spelling out the homage explicitly. But the bedroom through which the trickster works his way is loaded up with posters, masks, odds and ends of classic horror films like Frankenstein (1931) and The Wolfman (1941) as well as other automata from penny arcades and traveling fairs. The actual carnival also features some living “freaks,” though of the bovine kind, an interesting aside.
The star of this somewhat sentimental horror film is Elizabeth Berridge, who would go on to much more fame in 1984’s eventual Oscar winner Amadeus. Though you’ve also got Phantom of the Paradise‘s (1974) William Finley in a bit role as a stage magician.
It’s charming, if not necessarily a masterpiece.