Five Thoughts: The Funhouse


* *

Dir. Tobe Hooper, 1981

  1. Having re-visited Texas Chain Saw, I thought I’d look into Tobe Hoopers’ work that I haven’t seen; or in this case saw a few minutes of on TV years ago. He makes for a difficult director to pin down, in large part because he was replaced (or fired) on so many of his projects. This was his first theatrical effort since Eaten Alive, and the one he made right before Poltergeist (I think he had more of a role in Poltergeist than the narrative that Speilberg did most all of it would suggest).
  2. While not part of what is traditionally considered New Hollywood, Hooper (via TCM) was foundational in the independent film movement via the exploitation underground. And Hooper’s arc follows that of many (if not most) of the New Hollywood directors who’s initial efforts were stylistically adventurous but later works are conservative and dull to a curious point. This might be the transition film for him. None of his films have ever come close to the apocalyptic style of TCM,  but at least Eaten Alive looks like it was made by the same person (as with some of his later work). The Funhouse has some interesting flourishes, including one of the most ambitious crane shots in horror history, but for the most part stuck in medium close-ups.
  3. While stylistically like most other teen-oriented horror of the early 80s, thematically, the film is very much like Hooper’s first two films. Aside from Todd Browning, Hooper is probably the person I’d want to make a movie about carnies, and he does give some grotesque glimpses into that life. The father-son dynamic is pretty much lifted from TCM, and the “Bad guys” aren’t the mechanical slashers popular in this period (in fact the opening scene is a straight parody Halloween). In some ways, it feels like Hooper is trying to say something with the positioning of the Frankenstein monster (which Leatherface and the monster here are more aligned with: simple and misunderstood) to the slasher subgenre.
  4. The problem with this film is that it’s so threadbare that nothing Hooper can do will save it from its ridiculous premise.
  5. Even if you don’t watch the entire film, William Finley’s magic act/monologue is a masterfully handled scene and a must see demonstration of horror craft.

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