Part well made scare marathon, part funny and cheesy homage to previous 50s and 60s horror films, Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse (1981) is another example of his gift at making entertaining horror movies. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was absolutely terrifying and captivating, while Lifeforce is pure cheesy goodness on an epic scale. The Funhouse works almost as a bottle episode stretched out as a full length feature movie: a bunch of kids are trapped in a carnival funhouse, stalked and hunted by carnival freaks. One of them is even more freak than man, a monstrous evil that might be inhuman. At the same time Hooper can’t help but conform to slasher genre conventions, which both helps and hurts this movie.
Chief among those conventions being the need for a “Survival Girl,” a woman who is considered pure although in this case she is more just slightly aware of what is going on. This girl keeps thinking that going deeper into the carnival is a bad idea, that maybe something terrible is going to happen. Of course she ends up being right, yet by the time the rest of the group she goes in with figures it out the murders begin to happen. Violence is responded to with more violence, and by the end of the long gory night people will never be the same. Especially that poor young lady who should have remained at home and kept her sanity.
At times Hooper gets too cheesy, and there are a few scenes that are rather downright predictable. The Funhouse almost wears out its welcome, and yet its still a really good horror film, a movie that presents the carnival scene, warts glory and all. Not to mention a really creepy and memorizing performance from Kevin Conway, who does a great job being two different people. Underneath the bright lights, past the freak acts and the cheap parlor games, lies a darker world that only some are aware of. Those who dare to enter must pay the fee, and the fee is rather high. Rather high indeed.