THE FUNHOUSE (1981), LIMITED EDITION, ARROW VIDEO, CERT. 15 (CATALOGUE NUMBER FCD477).
We spent Sunday strolling through THE FUNHOUSE. What did we learn? The famously inarticulate Tobe Hooper (literally, everyone talks about it), turns out to be a witty killer with a one-liner. By the end of Arrow Video’s limited edition blu-ray, the filmmaker’s self-deprecating style even convinced us to re-watch his straight-to-video atrocity CROCODILE (2000) – and that’s quite something.
Many movie commentaries are like enduring some guy – and it is always a guy – sat three rows behind you trying to impress his mate/date with detailed pseudo-knowledge of the movie. Arrow gives us three commentaries here. Are they worth it?
First up, and possibly best of the bunch, critics Calum Waddell and Justin Kerswell give great history of the slasher movie. It’s a generous and detailed listen but they rather expose themselves – and us! – by the end credits: “I wonder if anybody is gonna listen to all three commentary tracks… that would be really, really boring, you’d need to have no life whatsoever…”. Yeah… Thanks for that.
The second commentary comes from celebrated make-up designer Craig Reardon in discussion with Jeffrey Reddick of FINAL DESTINATION fame. You’ll probably get enough of what you need to know in Reardon’s video doc. Give that a look and then check back here if you fancy more of the (searingly honest) same.
The third and final commentary comes from producer Derek Power getting impatient with Howard S. Berger. It’s worth a listen for the amount of times Power – an experienced filmmaker – is refreshingly abrasive with Berger – a film historian.
The docs from High Rising Productions – complete with lovely title animations that mimic the dark ride stylings of the movie – pander to our more meandering attention span.
In MILES OF MAYHEM, actor Miles Chapin – the massively bespectacled and entirely mistaken fool of the film (“I’ve just had the greatest idea… Let’s spend the night in the funhouse!”) – talks nicely enough about working with Hooper. Our interest really piqued when he sidesteps HOWARD THE DUCK in his CV: “I was lucky enough to work up at Industrial Light & Magic on a picture…” Now, why wouldn’t you mention that one?
In CARNAGE AT THE CARNIVAL, a sensitive Hooper (“sorry I have to say it, but ‘freak show’”) describes the background to the film and the challenges of finding a location for night shoots with children (they finally ended up at the same Miami studio as FLIPPER and GENTLE BEN, which is so wrong and yet so right). His deadpan response to Sylvia Miles’ concern about giving the creature a hand-job gets you really warming to the guy.
A TRIOLOGY OF TERROR: Craig Reardon describes his awkward apprenticeship on Hooper’s EATEN ALIVE before moving onto THE FUNHOUSE and POLTERGEIST. Reardon is smart and honest about how films get made – and what can all-too frequently go wrong. Elsewhere, he also provides the on-set photographs: get beyond the usual cast and crew cuddles and there are superb images of the creature FX including “little brother” prior to his bottling.
In the least interesting of the docs, MASTER CLASS OF HORROR, Mick Garris explains Hooper’s standing as a “dark dreamer” but gets our eternal backing by exalting the geeks of this world:
“I don’t know what his childhood was like, but I know so many of the people who work in this genre came from very unhappy childhoods. They were not the class president. They were not on the football team. They were not, you know, the popular people in school. They were people who were outcasts. Whether it was for physical reasons or because they just thought weird. Well, those outcasts are the ones who conquered the earth”.
Q&A for TOOLBOX MURDERS: Whilst you won’t learn anything about THE FUNHOUSE here, Hooper talks freely about the perils of making his low budget CROCODILE (“the 400,000lb rubber ducky”). Seemingly filmed through the bottom of a bottle – Arrow are beyond apologetic about this – this one is where Hooper gets into his hilarious stride.
And that’s the meat of the meal.
Arrow provides ample alternative sleeve art – with gorgeous new illustration by Rick Melton – and a cracking essay by the esteemed Kim Newman. Newman’s gentle about the film, describing it as “just a good creepy little picture”, which is about right. He also mentions British grindhouse cinemas in an aside: definitely one for a lazy google.
Finally, there’s a bedroom somewhere with posters from Arrow’s catalogue plastered all over the walls. We don’t want to wake up there after too many sherries on a blind date.
THE FUNHOUSE (1981) Tobe Hooper
Within a nightmarish funhouse stalks a lovelorn creature designed by FX legend, Rick Baker. Tobe Hooper’s 1981 bid to be a respectable horror moviemaker suffers slightly in that we never quite believe (or understand) how the young folk are so lost in the titular hellhole. However, it excels at serving up sexual eccentricity, sweaty scares and all-round creepiness, lingering forever in our fetid dreamscapes.
In moving pictures? Our final girl descends to the lowest pit of hell, assaulted by cogs, steam and rusting (meat?) hooks.
Featured images: THE FUNHOUSE (1981)