Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Funhouse (1981)

Since Vince over at Slasher Speak asked for votes for favorite slasher flick, I thought I'd defend my off-the-cuff and oddball choice of The Funhouse (1981) - which I did not know until just now was a Tobe Hooper film.

First, let me say I'm not a fan of slasher films at all. Freddy and Michael and Jason do nothing for me. I find the violence nihilistic, trite, and boring.

That being said, I could see the lasting impact and appreciate the jump scares and chase scenes of the original Halloween (1978). But instead, I picked this little oddity for two reasons:

1) I like monster movies, because they evoke sympathy for both the victims, and (if they're really done well) for the monster, whose monstrosity is not of its own choosing and not under its control (and may even be questionable whether it's a "monstrosity" at all). For this, Funhouse stands out. The teens aren't obnoxious as in many other entries in the slasher genre, and by the end, I really felt sorry for the inbred mutant monster (especially when he got caught in the big gears, I was really crying for him to get out and get free from all the shit that had been dumped on him his whole life).

2)This movie really reminisces about old fashioned carnivals and freak shows, rather than all the plastic, Disney/Sony/Viacom crap our kids are now enthralled by. I'm not going to get too misty eyed over them, but I do think our kids are missing something natural and normal (ironically) in that all they see is antiseptic, safe entertainment, and are kept from seeing bearded ladies, lobster boys, 1000 lb hogs, and dead babies in gallon mason jars. An old fashioned carnival was sexual, dirty, forbidden, mysterious, dangerous - and this film brings that out well, with poignancy as well as disgust. I applaud it for that.


Blogger Max the drunken severed head said...

This post was one of the best I've read in a horror blog in a while, and crystallizes some of my feelings on slasher vs. monster movies. As someone who saw the last of the old sideshows with their human and animal marvels and oddities, I have to applaud your sentiments! Fiji Mermaids, headless women, and pickled punks forever!

3:39 AM  
Blogger KPaffenroth said...

Yes, I do remember those, and "fondly" would not quite be the right word - but perhaps with "wonder" captures it. And last summer I was at a carnival (Dutchess County, NY) that did have a real freak show, the first I'd seen since I was a kid. My daughter was just too grossed out to take into it, however, and a little too young to leave on the midway alone while my son and I went in. I'm hoping to get there this summer with only one kid in tow, so I can actually go in.

A passable substitute are the permanent installations of Ripley's at various tourist destinations. Toned down, but still freakish and wonderful.

7:59 AM  
Blogger Vince Liaguno said...

Solid choice, Kim. Definitely one of my own Top Ten slasher films, too. Thanks for participating. I especially appreciated your comments about today's theme parks as sanitized versions of those gloriously cheesy carnivals with their freak show tent flaps promising more than a young imagination could fathom. Brought back some cool memories. For me, slasher films were those old carnivals, the freak shows of my adolescence.

It's always the sign of a good screenwriter and (maybe to a larger extent in film) that of a director and the actor involved when you feel your heartstrings tug a bit for the plight of the "monster." One (human) monster character that sprung immediately to mind when I read what you said about "crying out for him to get out and get free from all the shit that had been dumped on him his whole life" was Annie Wilkes in the film adaptation of Misery, whom I cried out for when James Caan is pummeling her with the typewriter. Same thing - you just saw the shit this woman had been through her entire life oozing from every pore and sympathized and empathized and agonized for her. I've subsequently been compelled to see every Kathy Bates movie since out of my illogical guilt over doing nothing to help her(!).

I'm always fascinated by the appeal of one form of the genre or another for different people. Some of my own thoughts on the lure of slasher films: My own Top Ten (slasher and non-slasher) are in the entries directly following that one.

8:22 AM  
Blogger KPaffenroth said...

Though I think Misery is an excellent thriller, and Bates is an awesome actress, I can't back you up on the pummeling of her character, Vince. I'm cheering when Caan is beating her to death. I can't help it. All sympathy had gone to him by that point in the movie (and long before). But I'm sure mutant-in-the-gears doesn't give any "normal" person the sniffles!

8:31 AM  
Blogger ILoz Zoc said...

A little gem that glimmers, after spittle and polish, in the dim sawdust-laden air of the hoochy-kooch backlights. It's so off-kilter and sleazy, and the crane shots leading into and then away from the center of the carnival, the funhouse, set up the bad place surrounded by a bad place atmosphere, creating an unsavory tone that colors every person and event it comes into contact with. The introduction of the freak dressed as Frankenstein, builds on that monster in a monster scenario. Only the Frankenstein monster is so ha-ha funny in appearance here, and not so monstrous anymore, and so passes as normal.

It's a wonderful contrast that radiates throughout the film. The ending clearly shows that no one is left untouched. I can never look at another carnival without cringing. I love this film.

8:37 PM  
Blogger kindertrauma said...

Very underrated movie that's only improved with age. Great choice K.P.!

1:08 PM  

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