I remember actively avoiding watching The Funhouse when I was younger because of the giant creepy clown face on the cover of the box. I ain’t fucking with no clown movies if I don’t have to. Turns out, clowns don’t even play a part in this movie. So if you have a clown phobia, you will be totally safe. However if you have a mutant kid in a Frankenstein mask phobia, this one might not be for you.
The Funhouse opens with a bizarre Halloween rip-off/homage where we watch things through the perspective of a young boy as he puts on a mask, grabs a knife, and goes to stab his older sister. The key differences here from Halloween are that the knife is fake (though this kid really sells it), and that the sister is in the shower so we see her boobs the whole time. Ignoring the fact that this kid has no qualms with seeing his sister naked for an extended period of time, this girl looks way too young to be naked on film, making the whole scene more unsettling than I think it was even intending.
After this happens, the sister naturally swears revenge on the kid, but strangely nothing much ever comes of this. He follows her and her friends to the carnival, but mostly we watch him run around, get on some of the rides, and generally just be at a carnival. He doesn’t really get involved with the main storyline.
There’s quite a bit of character time before shit real gets bad, but I felt it worked better here than in many of the other movies I’ve watched this month. We do get to know the characters better and they have some fun character traits and beats. I particularly liked how the sister’s boyfriend (I just realized I don’t think I ever call the characters by their names in any of these reviews, too lazy to look it back up I suppose) repeatedly tries to explain this lame duck joke he tells to her because he doesn’t think she understands why it’s funny. They are still not terribly fleshed out characters, but they are better than most and the actors are solid.
Eventually these characters decide they should spend the night in the funhouse, because that’s what kids did in the early eighties. When in there, they see the one thing all of us hoped we would never see at the carnival – a middle-aged fortuneteller jerking off a deranged mutant. He finishes in about 10 seconds and when she won’t refund the money he paid her, he murders her. This would be a shitty enough situation as is but then one of the kids steals the money that is being kept in a tin. Frankenstein mutant and his dad (the carnival barker) find out and then shit gets real!
My biggest issue with Terror Train is that it didn’t do enough with the whole idea of having a costume party on a train. The Funhouse does not have that problem and makes full use of its carnival setting. We see all the exhibits early on, and when they get into the actual funhouse there’s a lot of great use of the surroundings. Fake jump scares when the props come jumping out, trap doors, laughing statues, it’s all here and it makes the movie pretty effective. You also get some good creepy carnival-esque movie to amp things up even further. There’s surprisingly little gore and not a lot of kills for a slasher movie, but the suspense works and the carnival aesthetic keeps things interesting.
I can see why The Funhouse has developed a cult following over the years. It’s a fun movie with a unique setting and some memorable characters. This one just got released in a special edition blu-ray/DVD set, so I would say definitely give it a go.