The Funhouse (1981)

This movie seems like it’s going to be a slasher, yet much like Eaten Alive, it exudes a level of real fear, sleaze and menace that few films reach. Yet it has a heart and joy to it that makes me love it. It’s also one of Becca’s favorite childhood films!

We open on Amy (Elizabeth Berridge, Amadeus) as she showers, but the killer isn’t a killer. It’s her little brother Joey, which is troubling on a few levels. He’s a horror film fan who loves practical jokes. And he goes along with Amy and her boyfriend Buzz, Liz and Richie to a traveling carnival.

They don’t follow any of the rules as they go to the event. Of course, they smoke weed. And then look at naked women. And heckle Madame Zena (played by Sylvia Miles, who was the original Sally on The Dick Van Dyke Show and earned Oscar nominations for Midnight Cowboy and Farewell, My Lovely before becoming close pals with Paul Morrissey and Warhol). And then sneak in and spend all night inside the Funhouse.

They decide to ride into the funhouse when they watch a man in a Frankenstein mask have sex with Zena. He comes too fast and then tries to get out of paying, at which point Zena makes fun of him. He goes crazy and murders her as the teens are trapped. And Richie is dumb enough to steal money from the carnival after all of that!

It turns out that the man in the mask is really Gunther, the son of the owner Conrad Straker. He’s hideously deformed, with long fangs and white hair. He’s played by The monster was played by Wayne Doba, a professional tap dancer and former mime who was also the otherworldly Octavio the Clown in Scarface.

His father riles him up and he kills Richie and goes after the rest of the kids. Liz is killed with an industrial fan. Buzz kills Conrad, but Gunther offs him. Finally, Amy is able to kill the monster with two gears. She barely escapes with her life as the robotic fat lady laughs at her. After all, it ain’t over until the fat lady sings.

There’s a book version of the film by Owen West (Dean Koontz) which adds plenty of back story. As the film was delayed in post-production, it came out a long time before the movie.

Interestingly enough, Hooper would Tobe Hooper reuse several props when he directed the music video for Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself.”

My favorite scene here is the reveal of Gunther. And I almost forgot that William Finley from The Phantom of the Paradise shows up as a magician! This is a near-forgotten piece of horror film that is worth you finding and watching for yourself. You can grab a copy from Scream Factory or the Arrow UK import at Diabolik DVD.

3 thoughts on “The Funhouse (1981)

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