Shout! Factory // 1981 // 96 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // March 8th, 2013
Pay to get in. Pray to get out!
From the height of the slasher craze of the '80s comes the Universal Studios production The Funhouse which marked the first big budget picture for master of horror Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre). The Blu-ray release is part of Shout! Factory's incredibly awesome horror line, labeled Scream! Factory, and features a playful transfer coupled with plenty of extras unique to this edition. This newly improved version should please fans who have clung on to their featureless DVD versions for long enough. So let's "spend the night in the Funhouse!" and see what pops up.
Two teenage couples on a double date decide it would be fun to get off a ride at a carnival and stay in it until morning. It would be a fun innocent lark if the ride wasn't run by a murderous freak who likes to hack up sexually promiscuous teens. Let the horror begin!
I mainly remember The Funhouse as one of those cable features that I would sneak down to watch on HBO after my parents went to bed. It played cinemas and drive-ins to brisk business in the early '80s, but it seemed to come and go without much fanfare or acclaim. The Funhouse was meant to be a low budget independent feature from Tobe Hooper and his team, but Universal got involved because horror proved lucrative in 1981 thanks to the likes of Halloween and Friday the 13th. The studio threw money at the film, and Hooper produced a very competent frightfest that holds up as a genre slasher flick. It follows the formula pretty tightly with plenty of expected beats, but there is a charming amount of character development along with creepy setup that makes it a cut above the usual slasher hack job. For fans who want an even more detailed story there is a Dean Koontz novel version that offers extra back story.
There are a lot of things to love in this creaky old classic for rabid fans to champion. The production is well-photographed with clever use of colorful cinematography that make it pop like a fantastic horror comic. The carnival world is fully realized, and the titular Funhouse is an impressive thrill ride that would inspire plenty of nightmares on its own merit. It becomes a force or a character throughout the proceedings even though the monster is the real murderer rather than the machines. There is a wonderful classical score by John Beal, which goes against the synth craze of the day by using orchestral tracks. The teen cast is impressive including Elizabeth Berridge (Amadeus), Largo Woodruff (Stardust Memories), Miles Chapin (Hair), Cooper Huckabee (The Curse) and Shawn Carson (Something Wicked This Way Comes). Character actors Kevin Conway (The Quick and the Dead) and Sylvia Miles (Midnight Cowboy) provide authentic carny color with memorable performances as an abusive barker and ragged fortune teller. Hooper has a sly sense of humor, and pays homage to the Universal horror legacy throughout the runtime. He even offers a nod to John Carpenter and Hitchcock in the opening sequence, which sets the stage for how the proceedings work.
This Shout! Factory release offers a new 2.35:1/1080p Blu-ray transfer which does a great job of polishing up what viewers have seen before. The original DVD pictures were on the dark side, looking muddy, and this new digital print ups the detail and color to make scenes more precise and poetic. On certain sequences there remains a strong wash of visible grain, but this is true to the era of the film and the stock it was shot on. Overall, this is the best The Funhouse has looked since its original run. There are two sound mixes including DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio and 2.0 lossless stereo. Nice separation provides a new experience for viewers with directional effects adding some oomph to the scary scenes. Clarity in the audio fields has been cleaned up as much as the visuals have.
Extras are plentiful with the main one being a director's commentary from Tobe Hooper, moderated by Tim Sullivan. It's a solid discussion of the film from conception to legacy, and much is revealed about what it was like to make The Funhouse. Kevin Conway provides his take on playing all of the barkers in a new interview, while executive producer Mark Lester sits down for his take on the business side of the film. John Beal describes his process when it came to the music in another featurette, and then there is an archival audio interview with actor William Finley, who died in 2011. Deleted scenes show up, which are extra beats shot to elongate the television cut that needed padding for run length. Vintage television trailers are included as well as radio spots.
The only problem with this Shout! Factory release is that there is a region-free Arrow Video Blu-ray version that came out in the summer of 2011 which offered meaty extras not seen here. It has a trio of additional commentaries and a very nice on-camera interview with director Tobe Hooper. The transfer isn't quite as good as what Shout! Factory has provided, but fans will want to find the Arrow release if they are interested in more substantial extras that talk about the effects and more in-depth sit downs with the key players.
The Funhouse is a great addition to the Scream! Factory line of Blu-rays that horror fans have been gobbling up. It offers a wonderful transfer along with nice extras nobody has seen yet. This is hardly horror royalty, but it offers enough thrills and a memorable enough monster to warrant a purchase for genre fans. This Blu-ray upgrade mainly provides fans with more detail and visual clarity than what has come before. It is like watching the film with new eyes, and Blu-ray allows it to be far more atmospheric and successful in scaring us with the idea of freaks in a funhouse.
Guilty of being a typical slasher flick but with flair for the theatrical
that saves it.
Review content copyright © 2013 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Audio Interview
* DVD Copy