The Funhouse Collector's Edition 4K UHD/ Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Written by Larry Block
1981, 96 minutes, Rated R
Released on September 6th, 2022
Elizabeth Berridge as Amy Harper
Cooper Huckabee as Buzz Dawson
Largo Woodruff as Liz Duncan
Miles Chapin as Richie Atterbury
Kevin Conway as The Barker
Sylvia Miles as Madame Zena
William Finley as Marco the Magnificent
Amy and her friends go on a double date to the local carnival where they enjoy the rides, play games, check out the freak show and visit a fortune teller. In possibly the worst idea ever, her friends opt to spend the night in the funhouse, a decision they instantly regret upon witnessing a crime inside the office room below. The carnival barker is called in to cover up the incident and he soon discovers there are trespassers hiding somewhere in the upstairs ride. In order to protect his carnival family, he decides it is best that the townies not be allowed to leave and report what they have seen to the local authorities. What follows is a suspenseful game of cat-and-mouse that grows to a terrifying conclusion that will haunt audiences long after the film ends.
In 1981, the golden age of slasher films was in full effect with at least one new title opening each month. The formula for this type of entertainment was already set and The Funhouse appeared on the surface to deliver more of the clichés that dominated the box office. The movie opens with a sequence featuring the first-person POV of a killer donning a mask, grabbing a knife and attacking a naked girl in the shower. Next, we follow a quartet of stereotypical teens smoking pot, sneaking glimpses of the nudie show, trespassing and committing petty theft. The mysterious killer is a man so hideous he must wear a Halloween mask to appear more normal. This leads to a series of grisly murders and nightmares as screams fill the night.
However, director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2) was more interested in providing a spin on the material and offered a salute to the old-fashioned monster movies, filled with atmosphere and suspense rather than heavy gore and tired scenarios. The characters are fleshed out as they react to their surroundings while taking in the numerous attractions on their way to the titular location. The killer in question has more in common with Frankenstein’s monster than the contemporary psycho killer and generates a sympathetic response despite his murderous acts.
Elizabeth Berridge (Amadeus) plays the only likeable character in the film and brings a sincerity to the performance that is missing from traditional “final girl” stereotypes. Surprisingly, she provides the only nudity in the feature despite being portrayed as “the good girl”. Kevin Conway (Eaten Alive) plays all three carnival barkers, primarily the one outside the funhouse attraction. He is rather nasty in the scenes with those he is closest to as opposed to the way he interacts with the interlopers.
The supporting cast is particularly strong, especially Sylvia Miles (The Sentinel) as the bawdy fortune teller, Madame Zena, and William Finley (Phantom of the Paradise) as Marco the Magnificent. Largo Woodruff (Stardust Memories) does a fine job as Amy’s best friend Liz, and Cooper Huckabee (True Blood) and Miles Chapin (Pandemonium) are equally fun as their dates. Shawn Carson (Something Wicked This Way Comes) is the ultimate bratty little brother as Joey, the possible savior to Amy, but her early threats to punish him prevent him from speaking up when he is finally returned to his parents.
Andrew Laszlo’s (Poltergeist II) cinematography makes gorgeous use of the anamorphic frame, filling it to the brink with rich colors and stylistic camera moves. Equally impressive is the score by John Beal (Killer Party) which combines orchestral elements with electronic instruments for an unsettling effect when passing through the attractions. Larry Block’s (Captain America, 1990) screenplay keeps things moving at a nice pace and was the source for Dean Koontz’s novelization (under the pen name Owen West). Director Tobe Hooper, hot off of Salem’s Lot, delivers the goods with The Funhouse, a stylistic treat for anyone hoping for something outside of traditional slasher formulas, instead delivering a first-rate homage to classic monster movies.
Video and Audio:
For this release, the original camera negative has received a 4K scan and restoration yielding stunning results. The picture is presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and the UHD disc includes Dolby Vision. This new transfer features strikingly rich colors that never bleed while maintaining natural-looking flesh tones. Black levels are rock solid and there are no signs of compression. A surprising amount of fine detail can be found within clothing patterns and the actors’ hair.
Shout! Factory offers a solid DTS HD 5.1 mix that gives the surround channels a real workout throughout the numerous carnival crowd scenes. Bass becomes more aggressive within the titular location as thunder booms and ominous music fills the room on all sides, particularly during the final act. Atmospheric sound effects are a bit loud at times, but the dialogue remains clear and free of distortion. The disc also offers a DTS HD 2.0 lossless audio track that preserves the original ultra-stereo mix.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
The primary supplement here is a commentary track with director Tobe Hooper in conversation with fellow filmmaker Tim Sullivan (2001 Maniacs). There is no room for down time, as Hooper shares anecdotes from throughout his career and discusses this production thoroughly. A highlight comes with the tale of being showered with vomit by the extras unfortunate enough to be left riding the rides during lengthy takes. There is much talk of the make-up designed by Rick Baker and his assistant (fellow legendary make-up artist) Rob Bottin, but I don’t recall hearing Craig Reardon receive mention despite being the on-set artist.
Carnival of Blood (2022, 9 minutes) with Largo Woodruff finds the actress remembering auditioning for her death scene, memories of Tobe Hooper, hanging out with her co-stars and filming around the carnival and interior sets. There is a nice collection of behind-the-scenes photographs throughout and the actress talks about the teen connection to her character and seeing the finished film in a theater.
In Let’s Spend the Night (2022, 11 minutes), actor Miles Chapin shares his thoughts on his character, shooting in Florida and riding carnival rides. He tells some fun Hooper stories, has kind words for his co-stars and goes on to detail how his death scene was accomplished.
Alive Alive Alive (2022, 19 minutes) is an interview with Craig Reardon, who talks about working with Rick Baker designing dentures, eyes and hands for the monster and sculpting the deformed fetus. One highlight is when he brings out the original Gunther wig.
Actor Wayne Doba speaks via video conference of his work in the film in the featurette Dancer in the Dark Ride (2022, 15 minutes). He reveals that in addition to playing Gunther, he filled in as the numerous animatronic figures using his skills as a mime. He goes on to discuss working with a mask and his character’s wardrobe. Other topics include getting his head cast by Rick Baker, working with Reardon, memories of Tobe Hooper and shooting the various kill scenes, including the infamous meat hook scene. He is proud of the work and shares a touching story of meeting a fan at a horror convention. There are additional behind-the-scenes photos included within this segment.
The Barker Speaks! (2012, 12 minutes) catches up with actor Kevin Conway, who discusses his experiences working with Tobe Hooper and how he snagged the job by insisting on playing all three carnival barkers. Other topics include his thoughts on character motivation and shooting the fight scene.
The segment Something Wicked This Way Comes (2012, 9 minutes) finds Executive Producer Mark L. Lester sharing his memories of getting The Funhouse made and how it grew from a low-budget independent movie into a multi-million dollar studio picture.
Carnival Music (2012, 10 minutes) finds composer John Beal discussing how he came up with the score for the film and other anecdotes on how the unique music was created within a two-week period.
Next up is a brief (2005, 4 minutes) audio interview with the late, great William Finley, who tells of his work as the magician “Marco the Magnificent” in the film. He also shares a unique view of working with Tobe Hooper that is not echoed anywhere else in this edition.
A collection of “deleted scenes” are presented in full frame with time code, but are actually five minutes of alternate material shot for the television broadcast to make up for an abridged running time due to edited content, the highlight being an extended scene with Finley’s magic act.
A theatrical trailer is paired with a set of four TV ads and four radio spots.
A TV commercial (29 seconds) promoting the novelization is included.
The Arrow UK release features a number of different supplements, including multiple commentary tracks and over an hour of interviews plus a Q&A session with Hooper. It is a shame the different companies could not share the material, but it is nice that Scream Factory took the time to create some new goodies – but completists will want to hold on to both discs.
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