Combustible Celluloid
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With: Elizabeth Berridge, Cooper Huckabee, Largo Woodruff, Miles Chapin, Shawn Carson, Kevin Conway, Sylvia Miles, Jack McDermott, Jeanne Austin, William Finley, Wayne Doba
Written by: Larry Block
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 96
Date: 03/31/1983

The Funhouse (1981)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Rides Are Turning

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I kinda loved this Tobe Hooper movie, which is possibly an underrated classic. It definitely uses some of the genre's most reliable staples, and includes an opening sequence that pays tribute to Halloween, but Hooper's own touches are firmly in place, and it delivers a decent measure of fun and a decent measure of scares.

Four teens decide to hide out and spend the night at the local carnival after it closes. They are: the hunky Buzz (Cooper Huckabee), the smaller, bespectacled Richie (Miles Chapin), Buzz's cute, virginal girlfriend Amy (Elizabeth Berridge), and Richie's hot blonde girlfriend Liz (Largo Woodruff). Meanwhile, Amy's younger brother also sneaks out of the house and into the carnival. The Funhouse has a slow build, while Hooper establishes the rich atmosphere of the carnival, the sideshows, the rides, the food, the colors, sounds, and smells.

Then, a carnival worker, disguised by a Frankenstein monster mask, pays to have sex with the fortune teller (Sylvia Miles, from Midnight Cowboy); something goes wrong and there is a murder, and now our friends are stuck.

Hooper cooks up many ingenious ways of killing his characters, using the mechanical whir of the carnival's inner workings, as well as eerie, boldly colored lights and dark shadows. A showdown in the bowels of the funhouse, complete with clanking chains and hooks, grinding gears, and blasts of steam, is a thing of gruesome beauty. Rick Baker's makeup work on the monster is scarily superb, and his icky presence on screen, near his victims (not just an indefinable digital glob), makes all the difference.

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