While shopping for terrible movies, one of my personal strategies is to purchase the DVDs that have several movies on them, especially if even one of them looks remotely interesting. The movie I watched this week happened to be in a four pack. I bought it because of the movie’s name “Sssssssss,” but I ended up watching this one because the cover of the case had a weird-looking, evil clown, making me think it was an “It” rip-off.
How wrong I was.
Apparently, “The Funhouse” came out way before the original “It” aired, being released in 1981. The clown on the cover of the case I have isn’t even related to the film, let alone the original covers and posters for the film. The original poster for the film was a parody of the poster for “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” using the disfigured mouth of the main villain of the movie in place of the lips from the original.
I have to give this movie some credit. I actually enjoyed my time with it, despite its glaring issues such as the incredibly stunted pacing in the first half or its cast of full-grown adults who are supposed to be teens.
Speaking of, nothing screams a low budget horror film like opening the film to some less-than-tasteful nudity, and that’s exactly how this film starts. It opens to our main character disrobing and getting into the shower, but it feels incredibly uncomfortable for several reasons.
Firstly, the actress has a baby face. She looks like a 13-year-old when we first see her, which made us all uncomfortable about the scene that was obviously about to take place. Next was the fact that the character was a teenager still in high school, which I understand gets sexualized in other films, but that doesn’t make it comfortable. Lastly is the fact that her shower gets interrupted by a “Psycho” reference, except it’s her kid brother with a rubber knife. This same sort of thing happened in the “Elves” movie, and it was just as weird here.
After this, the girl and her friends then spend 30 minutes just hanging out at the carnival. It feels incredibly slow, and while many things do happen to set up later events, I feel like there was a lot of footage that could have been cut without damaging the story, such as the characters just participating in the different exhibits or a subplot focused on a creepy guy and the little brother, which ends hinting that the boy may have been assaulted by the man, but nothing is explicitly mentioned.
After the grueling exposition, the main characters finally enter the funhouse and fail to come out at the end, making the audience think that it may have done something to them. In actuality, they just got off the ride while inside and were having a “fun time” in the bushes of the ride.
Finally, the electronics shut down, and they put their clothes back on to try and leave, only to find they are trapped as they had locked all the entrances already. The group, made up of two couples, makes their way into the attic to find a way out, but they only find a mesh floor where they can see the fortune teller (who cursed the group earlier) and one of the masked ticket takers negotiating the price for a “fun time.”
The masked man never speaks, only grunting and grabbing more money out of the ticket sales to pay her. We learn that this is the son of the leader of the carnival, but the fortune teller ends up not doing anything because the boy refuses to remove his mask.
In anger, the guy kills the lady, knocking out the power to the whole carnival, and then he runs to get his father. In the meantime, our genius characters decide to take the money from the ticket box before escaping, even grabbing some of the money that the fortune teller had stored in her bra. After they hide again, the father comes in, angry that his son messed up, but at least the money was fine. He then looks, finds the money is gone and begins berating his son.
This leads to the son’s mask coming off, and my friends and I thought that he just had another mask on underneath at first, but then we see that no, it’s actually an incredibly deformed face, with a massive cleft lip and three noses with incredibly pale, veiny skin. The mask and makeup look incredible, and matched with the superb acting from the son’s actor creates the best part of the film by far.
The father and son duo then team up to find the thieves, leading to a great portion of the film where the group is tormented by them as well as the funhouse attraction itself.
The first death is the boy from the second couple who we originally believe to be hanged to death, only for him to later be killed by the group when they attack a shadow riding on the ride with an axe to the head. This leads to so many questions about this funhouse, because this means that instead of cheap props, everything in the funhouse is real and dangerous, with real weapons and metal suits of armor. How this got its safety permits I will never understand.
Next, his girlfriend is killed by the son in the air vents, which we thought was him pushing her head into a fan but were disappointed when he only just clawed her to death.
After that, the main girl’s boyfriend kills the father by impaling him on one of the swords held by the suits of armor, only for him to then die to the son because the gun he grabbed from the father had no more bullets in it. This then leads into the final scene that takes place in the mechanisms below the ride between the son and the main girl.
This entire scene is aggravating because all the girl does is scream and move right as the monster attacks. Even when he gets caught in the machinery and can’t move, she still stands perfectly still — within his reach. They also treat the audience like babies by showing us the two gears that the monster will die in no less than 10 times within the five-minute scene. Finally, him getting caught in the gears somehow causes the whole building to start tearing itself apart, and the girl finally gets out of there and survives.
I rate movies from 10 to -10, with negative being so bad its good. I give this film a -6 because while it is undeniably bad, it was pretty fun to watch and laugh at its many failures. I wouldn’t recommend seeking out this film to watch, but if you somehow stumble across it, it’s worth a watch if you have some friends along for the ride.
This week I want to talk about how the usage of the camera had such a big evolution throughout the ’80s, If you watch a movie from the ’70s, it’s pretty obvious that the camera is merely a mostly stationary object used to show the audience what the director wants, and operating the camera itself isn’t really viewed as the job of a specialist or an artist. But throughout the ’80s people began understanding the true power of using the camera, and you begin seeing films use the motion and setup of the camera itself to convey emotions and themes to the audience. This meant that the art of controlling the camera became a much more specialized job, and good cameramen were something that the industry desired.
This article was originally written for The University of Tennessee’s Daily Beacon’s Bad Movie Showcase.
Editing done by Evan Newell