The Rube’s Review: The Funhouse (1981)
You’d never guess that the first language The Rube ever spoke was Spanish.* Yep! Long story short, I spent a lot of He-Man quality time with my Grandfa Lopez growing up, watching a lot of Spanish Television (Telemundo). One of the best times of year to watch Spanish TV was Halloween. That’s when you would see tons of Santo vs. movies (Santo vs. las Mujeres Vampiro, Santo vs. la hija de Frankestein, etc.) and American Horror flicks, which were, of course, dubbed in Spanish. The week of Halloween each television station would have their own (edited) Halloween staple: KCOP Channel 13 had Re-Animator, KTLA Channel 5 had Halloween III, and KVEA Channel 52 had the American horror classic Carnavel Del Terror… or, as you might know it, THE FUNHOUSE.
This film starts out with a very haunting musical, creepy animatronics and sideshow puppets which already make everything feel quite eerie. After an uncomfortable scene with a naked teen (YAH BOOBIES!), Amy, being attacked by her masked younger brother (Joey) in the shower (EWH!), she gets ready for her big date with her boyfriend Buzz. While waiting for her new beau, Amy gets berated by her loving parents about dating a f*ck’n deadbeat and warn her to stay away from a local carnival that’s rolled into town.
After Amy and Buzz pick up their friends, Liz and Richie, for their double date they hotbox it in the GTO straight over to the forbidden carnival. There’s a quick montage of carnival fun before the teens bump into a junkie (?) and the girls go powder their noses. As Amy and Liz chat it up about “doing it” they get interrupted by a dirty baglady yelling, “GOD IS WATCHING YOU!” (DIOS TE ESTA MIRANDO!). While this is going on, Amny’s little brother, Joey, sneaks out of their two-story house and walks down a dirt road where a man in a pickup truck scares the shit out of him with a double barrel shotgun… oh, life in the 80’s without Megan’s Law or Amber Alerts!
Getting back to the adventures of the Mid-West chapter of Mystery Inc., the teens go check out a “freak” tent, see Marco the Magnificent’s act (played by The Phantom the Paradise’s William Finley) and take another “smoke” break. Not long after they get thrown out of Madame Xena’s tent for having “pot giggles,” and decide to go check out a peep show. For some reason, Richie gets the crazy idea of spending the night in the Funhouse… because there’s nothing that makes panties drop faster than spending the night on the cold floor of a carnival ride that’s sticky with spilled soda, old chewed gum, and kiddie puke. Anyway, as the carnival closes and the group gets settled in for the night, Joey continues to wander the empty carnival grounds looking for his sister. After almost shitting his under-roos when scared by the bag lady from earlier, Joey hops the surrounding fence to freedom,. However, when he finds Buzz’s empty car in the parking lot, he begins to wonder what his sister is up to.
As the the double date turns into a sleepover, the teens find their way up to the rafters where they start to hear strange noises. Turns out, the crawlspace continues to Madame Xena’s “private room.” where the fortuneteller is also the carnival’s “Lady of the Evening”… well, maybe the “Lady of Last Call.” While our gang peeps in, they witness a “friendly transaction” between Xena and a masked Frankenstein figure. The two literally bump uglies before Frankie gets upset when he pops off too early. Xena denies Frankie a refund and Big Frank chokes her to death. It’s not long before the no good snooping teens get discovered by the scumbag Carnival Barker and Frank (his deformed offspring). The movie then becomes a race out of the Funhouse before “Big Daddy” and his now unmasked mutant son take their revenge and put an end to these melding kids once and for all!
Yeah, it’s kinda a rip-off of Halloween and any of the hundred of slasher copycat films of the 1980’s, but this is a perfect movie to show on Telemundo. It has a virgin (Amy) that is warned by an old (bag) lady telling her that “God is watching,” there’s a drunk carnival barker dad that talks his mutant son into murder, “sinful” teens running for their lives, PLUS more drama when “The Smart Kid” steals the carnival’s cashbox… and all of this takes place in a crazy haunted house! To think, all of that could have been avoided if an old drunk prostitute had just given a refund. I don’t know if this film could have been any more novella drama! Remember kids: Don’t smoke pot, listen to your parents, don’t steal, don’t snoop, and never have sex with a whore… almost reads like one of the little religious comic books that you find outside churches or on bus benches.
As a movie, The Funhouse has a decent story and for one of Tobe Hooper’s early works, it’s well-directed with some really cool cinematic scenes of complete terror. The two things that really make this movie is the haunting soundtrack and how Elizabeth Berridge (Amy) can scream/freak-out on cue, especially when confronted with the movie’s monster. For the gorehounds out there, there isn’t a lot of blood, but the makeup on the Monster is super-rad, (yeah… I used RAD!) which for me makes up for the lack of splatter.
I think this was the one of the first horror movies that scared the living sh*t out of me, especially back then it was as intense as a horror movie could get. As a kid the thought of this movie kept me up for weeks, but as The Rube got older I just realized that all it was is a guy in a mask. All you can do is take a second look and giggle at the reason that you kept the nightlight on.
*SIDENOTE: After years of speech therapy, due to the fact that I learned English with a stutter, I lost my ability to speak Spanish… which kinda sucks, but sometimes late at night you can find me flipping though the Latin channels hoping to catch Hombres en Negro, Caballero Del Diablo, or Abierto Hasta El Amanecer… when dubbed in Spanish just sounds more badass than the original!
8/10 Frankenstein Masks
This article is part of the Countdown to Halloween blogathon, a month-long blogging marathon dedicated to honoring the Halloween season. For more information and a full list of participating sites, please visit www.countdowntohalloween.com.