Director Tobe Hooper will forever by synonymous with his classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but he has given us a few other great flicks over the years including Poltergeist and Life Force. While it had all the right ingredients to become yet another cult classic, The Funhouse which he directed amid all those other hits, isn’t all that fun and misses the mark just like in a rigged shooting gallery.
A kid whose life revolves around creepy things goes too far in pestering his older sister (he actually bursts into her showering to stab her with a rubber knife while wearing a latex monster mask) and as a result she reneges on her promise to take him to a traveling carnival show.
Warned by her parents not to go herself, she is persuaded after being goaded by her boyfriend and a couple of other friends. The carnival features the usual assortment of freakshow, thrill rides, hammer game and even a “Girls, Girls, Girls!” adult exposition (well you’re going to have to make your own judgment on the definition of ‘girls’) all whipping up public frenzy by carny barkers. The highlight is The Funhouse coaster ride that carts couples into a maze of creepy mannequins and animatronic nightmares which is manned but a rubber handed and facemasked ‘Frankenstein’ creature.
Towards the end of the night one of the kids has the bright idea of hiding out in the The Funhouse for overnight stay and some lustful frolicking. Nestling on the tracks on the second floor, their late night passion party is pooped when they hear and see “Frankenstein” in the floorboard cracks trying to buy the favors of the Psychic Fortuneteller with his keeper’s petty cash reserves. When he is repelled by the greedy clairvoyant (guess she didn’t see what’s coming) he kills her, but not before his mask is discarded and the kids learn that the horror under the mask is worse than any Frankenstein monster.
Meanwhile the kid brother has snuck out of the house and has made his way to the carnival on his own and having seen his sister and friends enter The Funhouse and then failing to exit, knows that they are inside. As he is helplessly locked out the older kids are locked in and at the mercy of the creature and his keeper. From there it becomes a bloody body count to see who survives.
I was particularly envious of the young brothers bedroom decorum, a kiddy dream room with tons of Universal Monster posters and toys, but the entire plot line featuring the kid is almost neglected after he makes his way to the carnival. Instead of adding to the story in any significant way, the character is disposed without use or consequence.
The horror and gore during all the chase is fine, but the highlight is makeup artist Rick Baker’s gruesome split face creature design which stands along some of his finest works. If only it could have been used in a more solid story.