Tuesday, October 16, 2012

New Release Review : The Funhouse - Scream Factory's Collector's Edition Blu-ray!

Today saw the release of two more Collector's Edition DVD & Blu-ray titles from Scream Factory, the fairly new genre arm of Shout Factory that has already proven to be the horror genre's answer to the Criterion Collection, by churning out high end and special feature packed releases for cult favorites, specifically with the diehard fan in mind.  Yes, the movies they put out have already been released onto home video several times in the past, but never like this before, which is why Scream Factory's releases are must haves for fans of the films they put their mark on, regardless of how many times they've already bought those movies in the past.

Tonight, we take a look at their just released Blu-ray of The Funhouse, which I spent a few hours cuddled up on the couch with earlier!
1981's The Funhouse was directed by Texas Chainsaw Massacre's Tobe Hooper, in between the filming of two movies that went on to become much bigger all around hits; Salem's Lot and Poltergeist.  Similar in some ways to Chainsaw, though at the same time completely fresh and different, The Funhouse sees two young couples attending a local carnival one night, where they get high and formulate an idea that only someone high could possibly formulate; they decide to stay overnight in the carnival's funhouse ride, despite the fact that the place and everyone who works there is pretty damn creepy.  While inside the funhouse, they begin to hear strange noises and quickly realize that the carnies live underneath the attraction, giving the four youths a front row seat to the most fucked up reality show of all time (well, it's not quite as horrifying as The Jersey Shore, but still!).  After they witness a drooling monster in a Frankenstein mask killing the psychic slut they visited earlier in the night, their plans for a fun night in the funhouse turn real ugly, real fast.

One of the reasons I was very excited when I got this release in the mail is because my experiences with The Funhouse are extremely limited, to the point that the word experience cannot even be pluralized.  I saw The Funhouse only once, many years ago, and I'm pretty sure it was on TV.  Honestly, I really remember nothing of it aside from the imagery of the film's monster, and revisiting it again tonight really felt like I was actually visiting it for the first time.

I'm not gonna sit here and say that The Funhouse is one of the greatest horror films from the 80's, because it really isn't.  But what The Funhouse does admirably do is separate itself from the majority of 80's genre fare, by putting its young victims into a unique location; a small town creepy ass carnival/freak show hybrid.  Considering most of the horror films at the time had young people coming upon scary houses or venturing out into the woods, this change up of scenery actually goes a long way in terms of making the film a special experience.  In fact, just watching the characters roaming around the carnival and checking out the two headed cows and pickled babies is entertaining in and of itself, even when no real horror elements are present.

Basically, it's all about location, location, location with this one, and it's more the overall vibe and the carnival atmosphere that I dig about the movie.  It's not until nearly an hour into the film that anyone even gets killed, and over an hour before the four main characters come face to face with the killers, so not all that much is going on for the majority of the film.  Even when shit does begin to hit the fan, the movie really never gets all that gory, again quite unlike most of the horror flicks in the 80's.  But honestly, I don't even mind all that.  It's just fun to kind of spend an hour and a half in a sleazy carnival, and the movie quite literally is a funhouse of horrors come to life.  As someone who is incredibly fascinated by freak shows and carny life, The Funhouse provides more than enough of that type of goodness for me to consider myself a fan, and so thick is it with carny atmosphere that the smell of deep fried corn dogs and the feel of sticky cotton candy fingers currently fills my brain.  Yum.

And hey, ya kinda gotta love any movie that starts off with an homage to both Halloween and Psycho, wherein a young boy bursts in on his naked older sister in the shower and sticks a long rubber object into her.  OK, so it's a rubber knife, but it's still pretty sick.  By the way, does anyone else wish they focused a wee bit more time on that Tommy Jarvis-esque kid and his badass horror room?  His character basically serves no purpose in the film, despite the fact that we're led to believe he's going to, which is kind of a bummer.  Little dude was the man.  And I might sound crazy here, but did anyone get any vibes that the whole movie was going on in the kid's head, the first time they saw it?  The fact that he seems incredibly interested in his sister going to the carnival, and that he overhears his parents talking about how it's the same carnival where people died in the past, kinda made me feel like the whole thing was just some wild dream he had up in his scary little bedroom.  The theory is only bolstered by the fact that the little boy is seen playing with a Mego Frankenstein toy early in the film, which of course ends up being exactly what the monster looks like.  Food for thought, though I know it's just a total crack pot theory!

In regards to the Chainsaw connection, the similarities are strongest when it comes to the film's hideous monster, known as Gunther.  Not only goes Gunther wear a mask to cover up his deformed face (is it just me or does he look like the old Ben Cooper Frankenstein jiggler?), but he also doesn't speak aside from strange squeals.  Much like Leatherface, he's ruled over by a fairly abusive father figure (in this case, it's his real father), who is really the one pulling the strings.  And boy does Hooper make up for not showing us what Leatherface looked like under the mask, by exposing Gunther in all his ghastly glory for a good portion of the film, brought to life by a terrific makeup job from Rick Baker.  That is one ugly mother!
Could The Funhouse have been better?  Yea, and it also could've, and probably should've, been a bit more fun (some more creative kills would have gone a long way).  But it's a nice little relic from the 80's regardless, with impressive effects, a solid score, great set designs, and a gaggle of terrific character actors, which all work together to make it a fun and different little thrill ride.  I like it!


Of course before we delve into the disc itself, I have to mention Scream Factory's incredible cover art/slip cover art, again done by Nathan Thomas Milliner, and again featuring the film's original art on the reverse side of the inner cover art.  If you're wondering why my copy has holes punched in it, that'd be because screener copies of DVDs/Blu-rays often have the barcodes either scratched or punched out, to prevent resale.  Unfortunately, given the Scream Factory releases have reversible art, this method really damages the covers.  But hey, I got it for free, so I really can't complain!

Special shout out to the disc art too, which has that awesome imagery of the slimy gnarly mouth that was used on various early posters for the film.  Love it!!
On the picture quality front, Scream Factory has done yet another impressive transfer job, and The Funhouse looks better than ever, while still retaining that gritty grimy look that any film dealing with the world of carnies and mutated sideshow freaks should have.  Was really nice to be reintroduced to the film in such an impressive and crisp fashion, being that the first and only other time I saw the film was on TV.  So yea, no complaints there.  This is another worthy addition to Scream's high def vault!

On the special features front, they've packed this release with all new content, none of which was present on the DVD.  In fact, the DVD releases of the film have always been bare bones.  The main highlight being a new audio commentary with Tobe Hooper, moderated by filmmaker Tim Sullivan (2001 Maniacs).  Normally with a Blu-ray release of an older film like this I watch the movie with the commentary track on, so I get to listen to the track while still being able to see how the quality of the picture is, this way I'm able to kill two birds with one stone and review both those aspects, but again, it had been so long since I'd seen The Funhouse, that I wanted to watch it without a commentary track playing over it.  So I've yet to listen to the track, but will eventually go back and do that.

Also on there is an 11 minute interview with actor Kevin Conway, who played three roles in the film, most notably Gunther's father.  It was cool to see that Conway has many fond memories of the making of the movie, moreso than a lot of the movies he has done, and he talks a bit about his experience and the various ideas he brought to the table.

Another 8 minutes is devoted to an interview with executive producer Mark L. Lester, who tells some interesting behind the scenes stories about things like the budget and the sets.  He also talks a bit about the slow drawn out opening to the film, and how that whole scene of the little boy fake stabbing his sister in the shower was added after the movie was completed, as a way of kicking things off with more of a bang.  Interestingly, he too mentions a fascination with soda that he remembers Tobe Hooper having, which Conway also mentions in his interview.  Though Conway remembers Hooper drinking a whole lot of Coke on the set, Lester reminisces that Hooper's office was lined with empty Dr. Pepper cans.  Dude loves his soda, and I feel like a better horror fan for knowing that!
The last couple interviews are a 10 minute one with composer John Beal, who talks about his score and the lasting impression of it, and a very brief three minute audio chat from back in 2005 with actor William Finley, who played the Dracula looking magician.  Finley actually passed away back in April of this year, and in the interview he was mostly talking about Tobe Hooper, and his experience with him on set.  It's a very brief little snippet of a larger interview, but it's a nice little tribute from Scream to have it included on here.  Also very cool to see that they put an image of Finley on the back cover of the packaging, even though his role in the film was quite brief.  Props on that, Scream!

Also included are five minutes of deleted scenes, mostly from the early portions of the film.  These scenes were all added to the film for the television cut, to make up for lost time from scenes that had to be cut out, so it could air on TV.  There's nothing really of note with these and it's all in standard def, but it's nice to have it on here regardless.

Rounding out the package are the trailer and several TV and radio spots.  Unless I'm mistaken, one of the TV spots had some footage in it that was not in the movie, or the deleted scenes, but it's possible that I'm just too tired right now and I'm wrong there.  I'd go back into the film and check but, well, I'm too tired.  Didn't I say that already?
**Since Scream Factory doesn't discriminate, the special features on the DVD & Blu-ray are all the same!**

Now I simply wouldn't be doing my job here if I didn't mention that Arrow Video also recently released The Funhouse on Blu-ray over in the UK, a Region 2 release that was also jam packed with special features.  There are a whopping three audio commentaries on there and tons of new interviews with the cast and crew.  That said, the content on there is entirely different from Scream's content, and the interviews are with mostly different people, so the two are perfect companion pieces to one another, rather than one being more of a must buy than the other.

So if you're a hardcore fan of The Funhouse, I'd have to go ahead and encourage you to pick up both the Arrow Video and Scream Factory Blu-ray releases, which together should make you one hell of a happy fan!

The other Blu-ray Scream released today?  Terror Train, which will soon also get the review treatment!


Harry44 said...

Thanks for the review. Actually found this at a local shop yesterday and will get to watch it tomorrow night. I have always been fond of this movie since seeing it as a drive double feature with Friday the 13 when I was 7. Gotta love my parents for that one!

Matthew F said...

Well said. I love the first third of The Funhouse—maybe even the first half. The setup, locations, and atmosphere just work well.

Hooper is truly all over the place. Some of his work makes me think he has talent, and some of it makes me think he doesn't know what he's doing. The Funhouse, if anything, is well made.

Anonymous said...

I always remembered the scene where Sylvia Miles got angry with them for questioning her abilitys as a clairvoyant, Sylvia was pushing 60 at the time the movie was made and shes always been a very good actress, her acting ability seemed to give the movie an extra bit of class.

Anonymous said...

Its a distant memory now, but i actually remember being in London when this movie was released there in 1981, as a lifelong lover of horror movies i went to see it at a really posh cinema called The Plaza near Picadilly Circus, it was so nice to see a quality horror movie in a truly superb and luxurious cinema, its not a combination that occurs that often (unfortunately) but when it does its really something to cherish.