The Video Nasties #117 – The Funhouse (1981, Tobe Hooper)


‘Who will dare to face the challenge of the Funhouse?

Who is mad enough to enter that world of darkness?’

1981 was truly the year of the slasher movie, and The Funhouse has a higher pedigree than most – directed by Tobe Hooper (Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Death Trap) and released by Universal Pictures, it’s one of the few titles on the Nasties to be released by a major Hollywood studio. The film itself is so totally innocuous, that it has led many to believe the film was targeted in the hopes of securing a high profile prosecution from a reputable, mainstream company. It has also been suggested that people mistook it for a retitling of the infamous Last House on Dead End Street, though I think that’s giving the DPP too much credit.


After the migraine-inducing Death Trap, The Funhouse finds Hooper on more restrained form, although he opens with a cheeky nod to both Psycho and Halloween, with young Amy menaced in the shower by a knife wielding assailant who turns out to be her little brother, who is a real fucking jerk. That’s your sister dude, stop creeping on her in the shower. Rather than beating the little shit up, Amy tells him she’s not going to take him to the carnival on Saturday and that’s it. Remember that guys, it’s going to come up later.


The first 10 minutes are pretty reminiscent of Last House on the Left, with the heroine showering then going downstairs to her disapproving parents, who are tut-tutting about some undesirable boy she’s going out with. To be fair, he is called Buzz, so maybe the parents have a point after all. So far so good, but I really hope you like carnivals, dear viewer, because the next 45 minutes are going to be spent watching our four friends wandering around one. They visit a fortune teller, a freak show, some kind of weird strip show, the works. It doesn’t half go on, even though the actors are all pretty good and likeable, and the awkwardness of a first date with a man named Buzz is handled convincingly.


Incidentally, is this the only slasher film in the world where the one character to bare her breasts is the Final Girl? Answers on a postcard, please.


I’m rapidly losing interest in their hi-jinx by the time one dumbass suggests they spend the night in…The Funhouse. Well, about bloody time mate. The film is approaching the hour mark by the time our horny miscreants witness the fortune teller being murdered by the Funhouse operator’s deformed son, and an astonishing 68 minutes until the first one of the gang dies. The rest of the movie plays out in the corridors of the Funhouse, which is at least a really cool, evocative location, though I don’t think Hooper uses it to it’s full potential. That said, I love how one of the corpses just keeps rolling around and around the tracks with an axe embedded in his head.


Speaking of axes in heads, this has got to be the least nasty Nasty of them all. It’s hard to even call it a slasher – a strangler movie would be more apt. The first two deaths are from strangulation, the third is offscreen and the fourth is a little stab wound in the stomach. The horror elements are not helped by the killer, who despite having a memorable make-up job, is played by quite a small man with no intimidating physical presence to speak off. He’s slender, with narrow shoulders and a comically large head – Kane Hodder this guy ain’t.


Eventually she offs the killer in a very long, drawn out fashion and escapes the Funhouse, wandering into the dawn to find the carnival packing up and ready to move on to the next town. But wait a minute, I thought Amy said she was going to take her brother on Saturday? What a disappointment that trip would have been.

The Funhouse is a passable time-waster, but from the director of TCM and Salem’s Lot, I expected a lot more.

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