Starring: Elizabeth Berridge, Cooper Huckabee, Largo Woodruff, Miles Chapin, Wayne Doba, Herb Robins, Shawn Carson
Rated R (for Horror Violence, Language, Sexuality and Drug Use...I guess)
In general, horror movie characters come in three flavors: smart ("The Descent," "Scream"), stupid ("The Vatican Tapes," "Valentine") and "too dumb for reproduction" ("Terror Train," "The Ice Cream Man"). Then there are these doofuses, who are just asking for it.
I'm serious. The four protagonists are so dumb that I was actively wishing for them to die. Hell, the only reason I wouldn't give the killer the Nobel Peace Prize is because he's equally stupid.
How dumb are they? Let's see...well, they make the usual stupid mistakes, like needlessly putting themselves in danger (par for the course), not checking their aim, and so on. That will hurt a horror movie, but it's excusable. They also never shut up, even when a killer is stalking them, they carelessly drop things in front of a killer, and they also rob him. You see what I mean about not wanting people this dense to pass their poor genes on. Oh, and one stands around after she has incapacitated a villain.
The set-up is good, although director Tobe Hooper fails to truly capitalize on it. It's not hard to twist nostalgia and kitsch into something sinister; "IT" and "Dead Silence" did something similar to much better effect. Despite the "impossible to mess up" setting, there isn't a lot of atmosphere or general creepiness. A few mild shocks, a cheap laugh or two (okay, the scene with the palm reader is laugh-aloud funny, although I'm not sure it was intended to be so).
The acting? Is it even worth mentioning? Horror movies rarely attract talent, and "The Funhouse" is no exception. No one here can act, although Elizabeth Berridge, who plays the lead, went on to play Mozart's wife in the 1984 Best Picture winner, "Amadeus." You wouldn't know that she had any acting talent whatsoever based on her performance in this film. She's awful, and so are her co-stars. The villain, when unmasked, is unintentionally hilarious because his make-up is so fake.
Even on its own level the film is stupid. It's filled to the brim with anachronisms and a completely pointless character. For example, there is one scene where the characters are shown with a backlight even though it's supposed to be a darkened room. And what travelling circus has the means or the desire to build and transport a haunted ride with a basement and a sublevel underground? And for all the time spent watching the lead character's annoying little brother (Carson) sneak around the fair, his character serves no purpose whatsoever (Hooper tries to cover this with a flashback voiceover but it doesn't work).
The opening shot is also worth mentioning. It's intended to be a homage to the infamous first scene in "Halloween," but Hooper botches it by cutting the shot numerous times and because it's badly done. In fact, it misses the mark so far that it becomes unsettling (in a bad way) rather than scary.
Trust me. Don't see this movie.