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Funhouse, The (Blu-ray)

Review by: 
Black Gloves
Release Date: 
1981
Studio: 
Arrow Video
Genre: 
Monster
Format: 
Blu-ray
Region: 
B
Aspect Ratio: 
2.35:1
Directed by: 
Tobe Hooper
Cast: 
Elizabeth Berridge
Cooper Huckabee
Shawn Carson
Largo Woodruff
Miles Chapin
Movie: 
4
Extras: 
5
Bottom Line: 
4
Video: 
Click to Play

Tobe Hooper's reputation as a horror auteur is chiefly predicated on one incredible film, released in 1973 -- an all time high in his career, after which followed a seemingly unending string of increasingly hard to take lows. After this magical conjuring of what was actually his second movie and what is pretty much now the go-to picture for anyone in need of a lesson in post-‘60s independent horror cinema, the iconic "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" -- Hooper could only really ever expect to go downhill from there on. Apart from the box office success of the flawed Stephen Spielberg family horror project "Poltergeist" or his small-scale noughties revival with "Toolbox Murders", there has been little in Hooper’s filmography that comes anywhere near emulating the power of that initial triumph. Looking back though, some of those early films, though paling when set beside his masterpiece, are actually pretty respectable efforts. The director’s follow-up, "Eaten Alive", with its unexpected move into the Bavaesque unreality of colourfully lit studio-bound settings, had some memorable moments and the TV mini-series “Salem’s Lot” is definitely one of the best ever adaptations of Stephen King’s work for the screen. The pseudo-slasher effort "The Funhouse", a big studio attempt to exploit the slasher boom, financed by Universal in 1981 just as the genre was petering out, is also another flick that deserves to be looked at again by today’s horror fans. The film was written by Larry Block and draws on similar themes explored in works such as Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked this Way Comes” and Todd Browning’s infamous 1931 flop for MGM, “Freaks”. Hooper himself was drawn to the project because of an enduring fascination with carnivals, inspired by his love of the 1947 movie “Nightmare Alley”. This beautifully sharp and colourful new 2:35.1 HD transfer, available on Arrow Video’s new UK Blu-ray in an extras-packed special edition, provides the best possible means of reassessing this imperfect but interesting little early ‘80s gem.

The film begins by courting all the usual slasher clichés to an almost absurd degree. The opening sequence shamelessly steals from both "Halloween" and "Psycho" and is clearly intended as a pastiche of both films, starting with a POV shot of a knife-wielding masked assailant, sporting gialloesque black gloves, that deliberately recreates the opening of John Carpenter’s classic as we find ourselves peering through eye slits of a clown mask while sneaking up on an attractive naked girl taking a shower. Hooper then switches perspective, with a composition that recreates exactly the famous sequence from Hitchcock's masterpiece in which an ominous shadow can be seen creeping up from behind a shower curtain on an oblivious Janet Leigh as she bathes.  This opening instantly signposts the ironic, genre-aware nature of a film that courts slasher conventions at every turn, but actually intends itself to be, on a sub-textual level, a modern day parable about the rites and rituals of growing up.

The scene turns out to be a practical joke on two levels: the first trick is being played on the audience itself, who might think at this stage in the game that they’ve stumbled into the most generic slasher movie they could’ve imagined. The second level operates within the narrative and reveals the masked killer to be the ‘victim’s’ little brother Joey Harper (Shawn Carson), creeping up on his sister Amy (Elizabeth Berridge) with a rubber knife, and gaining a childish thrill from scaring her in her vulnerable state of undress. As critics Calum Waddell and Justin Kerswell point out in their commentary track (one of three included on the disc!) this is the first of many taboos obliquely addressed by the film: a young boy seeing his naked sister in the shower whilst wielding a rubber phallic weapon (we see it stabbing and bending impotently against the girl’s abdomen) carries certain unavoidable incestuous connotations. We then see the boy hiding from his angry sister by crouching in his bedroom closet – an image that figuratively suggests the repression of such unthinkable impulses. The classic monster posters that adorn the child’s bedroom wall -- the wall from which this pretend would-be killer selected his fake rubber weapon from a vast collection of horror-related ephemera (masks, models and action figures etc.) -- gives away the real inspiration behind this film:  a couple of the posters prominently depicted in shot show Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s Monster and Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man – two of the prestigious totems of Universal’s horror pedigree. Downstairs, the siblings’ parents are watching “The Bride of Frankenstein” on TV. When we enter Joey’s bedroom shrine to horror, the first image we see on his bedroom door as the film begins, just after the credit sequence sporting John Beal’s full-blooded orchestral score (which remains prominent throughout), is the image of the laughing mechanical woman which will later be revealed on the frontage of the Funhouse ride, here displayed on a poster advertisement for the carnival.

We now learn that a carnival is in town, and teenager Amy Harper (Elizabeth Berridge) sneaks out to join a group of her young friends for an illicit night out, lying to her parents that they’re simply going to see a movie at the local cinema. Ominously, we learn several young children once disappeared in a neighbouring town after the same carnival visited it a few years previously.  Fear of, and a simultaneous fascination with, sexual taboos, and the evocative image of hiding in a darkened space as if from one’s own attraction to such acts also associated with repulsion, prefigure the concerns which are central to the film, such as the emergence of an adolescent awareness of sexual desire and the idea of the corruption of innocence by dark strains of aberrant sexuality. Both the Universal monsters of old, represented by Karloff’s monster, and the modern slasher film which is mimicked in the opening shots, can be seen as a rite of passage and as part of the growing up process. Tellingly, the large framed poster of the Lon Chaney Jr. Wolf Man in Joey’s bedroom, is actually hung on the inside door of his closet, so that it is only revealed when Amy flings it open.

The carnival draws both the sexually naive adolescents (Amy and her group of teenage friends, hoping to get laid for the first time and/or to smoke pot) and the horror obsessed pre-teen Joey for similar reasons, while the Funhouse within the carnival grounds (which is overseen by a lurking figure dressed as Frankenstein’s monster) and some of the other attractions, represent the perilous route of corruption down which such fascinations could potentially take them. The themes of Hooper’s film in many ways make it an unlikely partner for David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” which addresses similar ideas in the context of the genre of Film Noir and 1950s small town America, while “The Funhouse” attempts the same feat (with less overall success it must be said) while restricting itself to the perspective and conventions of the slasher movie and the iconography of classic monster movies.

Hooper seeds the film was offbeat moments of unease through the accumulation of bizarre details planted one by one as he draws his characters into a colourful kaleidoscopic world of sound and colour beyond the gates that house the carnival attractions. This night out is also Amy’s first date with Buzz (Cooper Huckabee) and it’s clear from her conversations with her friend Liz (Largo Woodruff) that Buzz is considered quite a catch, and the night could provide the ideal opportunity that allows Amy to finally cross the threshold of adolescence into adulthood:  ‘Maybe you *won’t* be a virgin your whole life’ chids Liz. However, their deliberations are overheard by a grotesque old bag lady who materialises several times in the movie, usually just when Amy is contemplating doing something about which she might feel guilty, and who cackles ‘God is watching you!’ as though she has some special mad persons’ insight into Amy’s illicit desires. An ambiguity surrounds Amy in this regard, and it is difficult to determine how much of this was originally really intended by either the writer or the director. It seems likely that Hooper was throwing in ideas during this part of the film just to create a surreal “off-kilter” vibe as the illicit attractions which are being offered by the carnival are laid before the protagonists. Elizabeth Berridge’s performance captures this ambiguity nicely though: Amy is clearly sexually desirous of Buzz and impressed with his display of physical prowess when he wins a prize for her on one of the attractions which involves using a hammer in a feat of strength to make a bell ring. But she is also curiously drawn to a number of strange, grotesque stalls and tents which offer bizarre and disreputable sights: garish freak shows, displays of animal deformities and deformed human foetuses in jars, and an even seedier over 21s strip show which the gang sneak a peek at by making a slit in the back of the show tent (an amusing detail is that the canvas is already full of haphazardly patched-up sections from where others have obviously had the same idea). All of these disturbing, transgressive, illicit attractions seem to fascinate Amy slightly more than they do the others, who just treat the whole experience as a big, rather tasteless joke.

A particularly effective detail is that the carny showmen (the ‘barkers’) in charge of these attractions are all played by the same man: Kevin Conway. He takes on a variety of disguises to play three different characters, each of whom always seems to zone in on and pick Amy out of the crowd, as though directing their patter towards her alone. This helps heighten the air of unreality effectively rendered by the unusually vivid Technicolor of the cinematography – a rarity in films made in the 1980s outside of Dario Argento’s work. One of the criticisms sometimes voiced with regard to the film is that Amy Harper seems like something of a passive final girl, who tends to stand about and watch as her boyfriend is attacked in the latter stages of the film, and then again in her final confrontation with the monster; but if we think back to these early scenes, when Amy’s competing desires of both attraction and repulsion are memorialised in her spectatorship of the lurid carnival attractions, with their booming sales pitches that seem to somehow entrance her, then the later passivity seems something of a call-back that could be seen as a deliberate way of documenting the character’s ambivalence about the form her own sexual development might take, on what is the cusp of her sexual awakening. The singling out of Amy from the rest of the group continues in a beautifully played, extravagantly dressed and colourfully lit sequence inside the tent of Madam Zena the fortune teller (a striking and, later, quite a daring performance from Sylvia Miles). The crotchety old fraudster attempts to lay on the usual ‘tall dark stranger’ patter with her crystal ball placed in front of her, woefully attempting to create the mystical atmosphere expected of such theatrical encounters, but is constantly disturbed by the mockery and laughter of Amy’s three friends. Eventually, she becomes so angry that she upends the table on which her paraphernalia has been placed, ditching her fake gypsy persona to threaten and swear at them in a broad Brooklyn accent.

Meanwhile, Hooper is equally subversive in his treatment of Amy’s little brother Joey; although this subplot feels like it should come together with the main body of the film eventually, but it unfortunately never quite fully achieves this and  just peters out. After infuriating his sister with his prank, Joey sneaks out of his bedroom window and follows her and her friends to the carnival on foot. On the way he has a disturbing encounter with a dubious old man driving a truck, who at first offers him a lift in a friendly manner. Joey looks unsure, and we can surmise that he’s probably been warned by his parents not to accept lifts from strangers. All of a sudden, the man points a rifle at the spellbound boy, and upon seeing the fear in his eyes, starts laughing maniacally. Joey runs off into the night. This is a typical Tobe Hopper moment; coming early on in the film, it helps increase the sense of unease and danger without actually playing any clear role in advancing the story. Hooper is unusual in being a horror director who has never had any compunction about showing very young children in extreme danger in the course of his movies – “Death Trap” and “Salem’s Lot” offering two other memorable examples of this tendancy. There’s another even creepier and more subversive moment later in the film which also involves Joey. For now though, his role is simply to be mesmerised by the giddy colour and surface excitement of the carnival as he strains to see what his sister and her older friend are getting up to. It’s another illustration of the childhood theme represented by the boy’s attraction to classic horror iconography -- of his wanting to join in with the grown-ups without really being properly aware of what that attraction truly consists of. 

Eventually, Amy and her friend Liz are persuaded by their boyfriends, Richie (Miles Chapin) and Buzz to spend the night in the Funhouse after the carnival has shut down and been locked up for the night. Richie has heard about a group of friends of friends of his, who have apparently done this before. The Funhouse represents all the allure of the forbidden within the context of the film, and the fact that the Funhouse fair-taker is a carny dressed up in a Frankenstein’s monster mask and costume, relates the attraction once again back to the posters on Joey’s bedroom wall and their important role in the experience of growing up. The teenagers’ true reason for wanting to spend a night among garish waxworks figures of fairy tale characters, representations of fictional murderers and models of film monsters, is of course to experience underage sex; their entering the Funhouse is also entering the viewer into the film’s most surrealistic, hyper-colourful environment, in which Hooper’s love of the films of Dario Argento (specifically “Suspiria”) gets to be indulged for the first time. He would attempt to do this again much later in his career with his re-make/rebranding of the film “Toolbox Murders”, but “The Funhouse” is the closest the director ever comes to emulating some of the stylistic flourishes of the Italian maestro.

And it is  here that cinematographer Andrew Laszlo gets to bathe the screen in beautifully livid neon reds, greens and blues which fizz on the screen, and to make the assorted waxworks figures and ghoulish models that decorate the cavernous interior of the Funhouse appear even more lurid and macabre than ever as they loom out of the darkness. There are various shots and images which could have almost been lifted straight from Argento’s 1977 masterpiece: the final image of Amy Harper leaving the Funhouse is one such instance, to which Laszlo adds a delirious crane shot (one of several in the movie) which ascends into the clouds to give a God’s eye view of proceedings as the film ends. The production design of Mort Rabinowitz and the art direction of Jose Duarte must also be singled out here as being intrinsic factors in the movie’s success with their conjuring of a vivid, decorous atmosphere full of monstrous macabre once the action transfers to the Funhouse interiors. Hooper was also influenced in this vision of a vibrant, colourful aesthetic, employed so effectively during the movie, by the work of the post-impressionist Russian artist Marc Chagall, and this can be seen in both the lush fairground-Gothic décor of the sets and in Hooper’s crowded compositions bustling with their models and waxworks dummies, thanks to this being one of the only films the director shot in the full 2.35:1 aspect ratio. As the film progresses in this underground, cavernous, unreal environment, it seems to matter not that the dimensions of the interior in no way match up with the exteriors of the Funhouse attraction. Here, we are in the Freudian realm of the unconscious drives which are behind the motors that power the deepest desires of the characters.

The film is halfway over before the main thrust of the “slasher” narrative is finally brought into focus: while making out amid the gruesome wax figures, plastic skeletons and fake cobwebs, the gang are disturbed by strange noises coming from deep below them. Peering through gaps in the floorboards, they gaze down into a grotty storage area underneath the fairground ride. Now we also are taken down into the deepest darkest interior depths representing the basest of desires, as we join the protagonists themselves in spectatorship of the deeply grimy events about to take place below. We witness the lumbering figure in the Frankenstein's monster mask, last glimpsed taking the ride's fairs, raiding that day's takings to pay for the chance to have sex with the carnival’s ageing fortune teller Zena. The night of unbridled lust doesn't develop quite how either of them expects though: with gelatinous slobber dribbling from his mouth, the Frankenstein figure attempts to have his way with the bored fortune teller on a stained mattress in the corner of the room; after things come to a head (so to speak) a little too quickly to justify his monetary expense, the masked figure brutally kills the woman in frustration after she taunts him and refuses to hand back his stolen cash. The death scene is shot in the midst of a cacophony made by the mechanised waxworks figures that are jolted to life after the killer slams the woman into the power junction that controls them. When his "keeper" and probably also his father – once again played by Kevin Conway -- comes home and sees the fortune teller's mangled body, he sets about trying to think of a convincing cover-story ("we'll dump the body and blame it on the locals," he cackles!). In scenes heavily reminiscent of ones from Hooper’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” in which Leatherface is similarly berated by the father figure among the clan of misfit backwoods cannibals, Conway taunts the twisted, tormented figure into beating himself with his fists until his dime store mask falls away to reveal an even more grotesque deformed creature underneath, barely human in appearance and looking suspiciously similar in his deformities to the two-headed cow in the freak show tent (it seems the ‘No Molesting the Animals’ notice may have been ignored!).

The ‘creature’ is played by a former street performer, mime artist Wayne Doba,  who brings a great deal of subtlety in these sequences to a performance which requires him to be stuck behind a disappointingly immobile mask designed by Rick Baker (although most of the actual make-up work was carried out by Craig Reardon). The monster make-up is simply a one-piece mask and was designed on the understanding that the creature would never be clearly seen on screen. Unfortunately, in the event no attempt was made to obscure it and the artificial nature of the mask is all too apparent. Nevertheless, Doba’s performance helps to bring pathos and horror to the concept behind this strange mutant creature.

Having witnessed all these events, the traumatised group of teenagers attempt to creep out of the maze of pitch black Funhouse interiors, but find all the exits locked up for the night. During their wanderings, they come upon the storage room itself, still containing the dead body of the fortune teller. Unknown to anyone else, Richie steals the contents of the moneybox and unwittingly seals the fate of himself and his friends when the theft is discovered by the Funhouse attendant. The scene is now set for a tense man hunt through the darkened, cramped passages and ramp-ways of the deserted Funhouse as the attendant and his monstrous son set out to dispose of the witnesses to their crime. Caught in this surreal environment of darkness streaked with intense primary colour, the characters find themselves confronted by a malevolent warren of trap doors and secret compartments which the denizens of the Funhouse can use to catch them out at any moment. Hooper refrains from overt gore just as he did in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”; although the fate of several of the characters is less than pleasant – the details of their demise is kept off screen for the most part. Perhaps the least successful aspect of what is an otherwise compelling and original take on the slasher genre, is really a failing of the screenplay, which doesn’t really incorporate or bring together in a satisfactory way Joey’s story with that of the one taking place inside the Funhouse. The boy tracks his sister and her friends to the Funhouse and he notices that they never emerge again when the ride closes for the night; and then there is a scene that nicely parallels the sequence near the start, with him inside his bedroom closet waiting to pounce and scare Amy: this time the boy is peering inside a gap in the base of the Funhouse ride, when the creature suddenly emerges, scaring the boy and sending him into the arms of another carny (not one of those played by Kevin Conway). This leads to a subversively creepy scene when the carnival worker calls the boy’s parents, who then come out to take him home. Hooper has the carny stroking the boy’s face and behaving in a creepily ingratiating manner, suggesting his interest in the child is rather less healthy than it really should be. Joey, meanwhile, is now completely mute and wide-eyed and now exits the picture never to return again, while the main business of the film  carries on. (Amy sees her parents only meters from her as they’re driving away, through the spinning blades of an extractor fan system, but cannot make her-self heard above the noise) Given the sheer creepiness of the carny whose been ‘looking after’ Joey until his parents arrive to take him away, one can’t help wondering if his mute, traumatised countenance is a result merely of his brief run-in with the monster, of if something far worse has befallen the boy in the meantime!

“The Funhouse” is flawed but a visually striking and compelling film from Tobe Hooper and is probably one of his most overtly artistic and sub -textually rich pieces of work. The movie was not a great success for Universal at the time -- coming in an era when the heyday of the slasher movie was largely over. And anyway, this is a movie which only partially conforms to the subgenre’s standards, and is far more productively seen as a pastiche of monster movie conventions which implicitly asks what these monsters actually represent on a psychological level, and why we are both drawn to and repelled by them. Baker’s original make-up, although poorly realised, is actually based on real birth defects found in medical text books, although Hooper had Reardon “monster it up” with fangs and claws because of a certain un-comfortableness with the idea of exploiting such things just for the sake of attempting to gross out audiences. The end of the film has Elizabeth Berridge emerging from the Funhouse in daylight, when the neon and the noise have faded and the place looks like a rubbish strewn dump. Her clothes are ripped and she is as mute and wide-eyed as her little brother, seen earlier. As the camera pans back and rises above the scene, she becomes indistinguishable from the bag ladies and vagrants who cling to the edges of society as its outsiders, just like the monsters that populate horror movies for our entertainment.

*

Arrow Films have certainly pushed the boat out with their Blu-ray release of “The Funhouse”, cramming the disc with exclusive extras and commentaries and providing it with their usual attention to detail when it comes to the packaging options. Once again purchasers will receive a double-sided fold-out artwork poster, four-panel reversible sleeve options and a collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Kim Newman. The HD transfer itself is generally excellent, bursting with vibrant colours and really highlighting the aesthetic qualities of the picture with its detailed production design and its surreal qualities. Only a few short scenes look a little faded or over-grainy, but this is for the most part one of Arrow’s better recent efforts.

The disc comes fit to bursting with extras including, count ‘em, three commentary tracks! The first pairs up critics Calum Waddell and Justin Kerswell for what is really more a casual conversation about the slasher genre in general rather than a deep analysis of this particular film. Both are of course extremely clued up on the genre and as well as filling in a few bits of background information on the film itself they’re able to sketch the context within which it was produced and released, especially regarding its subsequent history on VHS. Amazingly, the film was banned in the UK during the video nasty scare – a fact which proves just how hysterical that whole period actually was. Some may find this all a bit tangential and beside the point, but given we have two other commentary tracks on the disc dealing more directly with the film, I found it to be a perfectly valid venture and quite engrossing. The second commentary teams up Jeffrey Reddick, the creator of the Final Destination franchise, with SFX wizard Craig Reardon for a discussion of how Reardon came to work on a film originally assigned to Rick Baker, and his memories of the shoot. In the event, Reardon requires little prompting from Reddick, who barely needs to interject as the special effects expert is full of anecdotes, so much so that he still seems to be going strong as the film comes to an end, making for rather an abrupt cut-off. The third and final commentary probably contains the most in-depth information pertaining to the film overall although it’s also the driest. It features producer Derek Power and is moderated by genre scholar Howard S. Berger. Power goes into much detail over how the film came to him as a project from Tobe Hooper, and how he almost handed it on to Joe Dante when Hooper went off to direct the TV movie “Salem’s Lot”. When Hooper came back and decided he wanted to go ahead with the project, Power found himself in the embarrassing position of having to tell Dante that the film was no longer available for him to direct. Dante had the last laugh though: he made “The Howling” instead, which wiped the floor with “The Funhouse” when the two films opened against each other! Power also expresses regret for not allowing Hooper to get gory with the picture; he and the other producers were terrified the MPAA would come down harder on them because of Tobe Hooper’s involvement. There’s also a strong intimation on Power’s part that Hooper may have been experiencing difficulties at the time in his private life, which may have influenced his ability to keep control of the film. He uses phrases such as ‘the movie was getting away from him’, and ‘Hooper was overwhelmed’, but he’s frustratingly unwilling to go into details, except to suggest that cinematographer Andrew Lazlo was essential in keeping the whole shoot from coming apart. Power seems genuinely surprised about how well the whole film stands up thirty years later though, and singles out the film’s cinematographer and also production designer Mort Rabinowitz for their unique contributions toward its stylistic brilliance.

The disc also features a great many new featurettes, produced as usual by High Rising Productions exclusively for Arrow Video.

Carnage at the Carnival: Tobe Hooper Remembers “The Funhouse”

This fifteen minute featurette sees Tobe Hooper thinking back to how writer Larry Block eventually persuaded him to go ahead with the project, and how his love of the film noir “Nightmare Ally” was a key factor in his decision to shoot the script at all. The set was actually a real carnival, but it had to be moved in its entirety to the East Coast because the union rules regarding the number of hours child actors could work were much laxer in the state of Florida. Here the interiors were filmed on the set previously used to film the Ivan Tors series “Flipper,” while the carnival set was put up on the back lot. The fact that there were so many extras involved and that the production was taking place in the midst of a real carnival setting resulted in a difficult shoot, with lots of long set ups required, but Hooper pays tribute to his cinematographer and production designer, whose work is really the stand-out feature of the finished work. At the end of the featurette, Hooper mentions the remake that’s being mooted, supposedly to be produced by Eli Roth and directed by the team behind “The Last Exorcism”. Hooper also mentions that this was one of the first surround sound pictures ever produced.  It’s a shame, then, that the surround sound track doesn’t seem to have survived, for this disc contains only the standard mono track which has always appeared on previous DVD releases, although it gains an extra kick here on Blu-ray.

Miles of Mayhem: Acting in Tobe’s Funhouse

Miles Chapin, who plays Richie in the film, talks about his career, his attitude to acting and his memories of making “The Funhouse” in this featurette lasting for 21 minutes. Chapin reveals that he wasn’t aware of the horror genre beforehand and had never heard of Tobe Hooper. After a screening of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” he told the director it was probably the greatest comedy he’d ever seen! The actor, whose career has since gone on to include appearances in “The People vs. Larry Flynt” and “Man in the Moon”, seems an affable chap and happy to look back on his initiation into the horror genre.

A Trilogy of Terror: The Make-Up Madness of Craig Reardon

Special effects specialist Craig Reardon has worked with Hooper on three films starting with “Eaten Alive”, which the director walked off half-way through. Reardon was brought in as a replacement for another make-up artist who ended up doing the film anyway. He relates how his sole contribution to it was to put make-up on the breasts of one of the actresses! Next came “The Funhouse” and here Reardon naturally repeats a lot of his anecdotes from the commentary track, but he seems to back up Miles Chapin’s memoires of Hooper being a director of vision who sometimes had difficulty conveying his wishes to the actors. Reardon also sees Hooper as being the kind of director who produces his best work when he’s left alone, without interference from studio executives and producers. Lastly, Reardon worked on “Poltergeist” at the express wish of Hooper himself, although the main idea he worked on was never used in the finished film. In fact, Reardon remembers Hooper having many great ideas for the movie which never made it to the screen.

Master Class of Horror

A fascinating interview with Mick Garris, director of “Sleepwalkers” and the TV mini-series remake of “The Shining”, reflecting on Tobe Hooper’s qualities as a director and on his own career. Garris sees the director as ‘a Texas Jimmy Stewart with a passion for the outré’ and praises the dark, twisted sexuality that lurks behind the colourful sheen of “The Funhouse”. Most of the interview focuses on the difficulties of bringing an indie sensibility to the world of corporate filmmaking, relating this back to Garris’ own career as well as to Hooper’s. Garris comes across as enthusiastic and articulate in this 12 minute featurette, which naturally indulges in a spot of cheerleading for his own Masters of Horror television series, explaining also how it allowed each featured director to remain true to his own vision without either advertiser or TV station interference, because almost all the funding came from a DVD company.

Live Q&A with Tobe Hooper from San Francisco

This is 20 minutes of amateur video recorded at a San Franciscan convention in 2004, so the quality is pretty poor, but it makes for interesting viewing nonetheless. Hooper is joined by writers Adam Gierasch and Jace Anderson, this being soon after the release of their reimagining of “Toolbox Murders”, and they’re being interviewed by Arrow’s Calum Waddell. They talk a little about the LA lore which they drew on for the film and a lot about one of the previous projects the duo worked on with Hooper, the ill-fated “Crocodile”.

Craig Reardon’s Photo Gallery Collection

This is a fantastic collection of rare stills from “The Funhouse” taken from Craig Reardon’s personal collection. Most of these illustrate the process of applying the monster make-up or some of the other effects Reardon worked on, such as the foetus in the jar and Largo Woodruff’s injuries after she’s attacked by the monster; but there are also many fun behind the scenes shots, most of them involving Wayne Doba dressed up as ‘Toilet Paper Man’ and terrorising the other actors!

“The Funhouse” is a film that has had to wait a long time for its true brilliance to shine through. As producer Derek Power says on his commentary track, it’s a better film today than it was when it was made. The intelligent, sometime sly way in which it addresses horror history, subverting it in a manner that is both shocking and amusing (such as the infamous scene when Frankenstein’s monster is shown getting a hand job by a bored Sylvia Miles, for instance), is just one of the many levels on which it can be appreciated. Aesthetically, it’s Hooper’s most extravagant and colourful film and Arrow Video have really done a fine job in giving it a worthy Blu-ray release which addresses the film from just about every angle thanks to the wide selection of extras and the many participants in them. A great film and an exemplary release, this is highly recommended.

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