The Curator of Schlock #44 by Jeff Shuster

The Funhouse (or, Don’t Go to the Carnival, Kids)

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1981’s The Funhouse from director Tobe Hooper (of Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame) has one of the most terrifying opening credit sequences I’ve ever seen in a movie. That’s because it’s clip after clip of audio-animatronic dolls! I don’t like puppets and dolls, especially the kind that laugh at me!

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They creep me out, and I don’t need to see them during opening credits. And some of these puppets look like clowns! I think I’m going to faint now.

The movie opens with teenager Amy Harper (Elizabeth Berridge, who played Mozart’s wife Constance in Amadeus) showering naked. A masked killer pulls back the curtain and starts stabbing her, but it’s okay.

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The knife is made out of rubber and when Amy pulls off the clown mask, it’s none other than her little brother, Joey. Amy chases him down and yells at him, saying that she won’t take him to the carnival this weekend. I hope the prank was worth it, Joey! No carnival for you! No funhouse with audio-animatronic dolls dressed as clowns laughing at you! Uggghhhh. I’m feeling dizzy.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Amy has a date with a guy named Buzz who works at a filling station much to her mother’s chagrin. Still, he’s a hunky enough guy with an ample supply of marijuana so it’s all good. Amy’s father tells her not to go to the carnival because of the dead bodies that were discovered after the carnival left the year before. Still, Buzz wants to go and Amy doesn’t want to be a buzz-kill.  They’re joined by an obnoxious couple, Liz and Richie.

Untitled 6There are many sights to behold at the carnival like cows with two heads, cows with cleft pallets, and mutant babies around in floating in glass jars. There’s a magician by the name of Marko the Magnificent who drives wooden stakes into the hearts of unsuspecting audience volunteers. There’s a peep show which costs three whole dollars to get in, but you can always sneak to the back of the tent and use your pocket knife to give you a free glimpse of the action. Just watch out for carnies who use the back of the tent as their own personal lavatory. You may want to skip Madame Zena (Sylvia Miles) , the fortuneteller. If you laugh too much at hackneyed predictions, she’ll threaten to break every bone your body.

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As the carnival winds down, our intrepid band of youngsters decides it will be cool to spend the night in the Funhouse, a dark ride featuring…puppets…laughing puppets. Anyway, the kids look through the funhouse floorboards to witness a disturbing scene. A strange carny in a Frankenstein mask grunts at Madame Zena indicating that he’d like her to take part in the world’s oldest profession. He pays her a hundred dollars, but things don’t according to plan and he ends up choking her to death.

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It’s a good thing the door to the Funhouse isn’t locked, providing our young protagonists an easy escape. Oh wait. It is.  It’s a good thing Richie didn’t decide to steal the carnival proceeds when no one was looking. Oh wait. He did. It’s a good thing the guy wearing the Frankenstein mask isn’t a mutant freak with splotchy white hair, protruding red eyes, and jagged monster teeth. Oh wait. He is. Yeah. There’s a good chance they’re all going to die. Incidentally, Dean Koontz wrote the movie novelization of this The Funhouse which apparently has nothing to do with the movie save for character names.

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How’s that for a reversal?

Five Things I Learned from The Funhouse

  1. Don’t fake-stab your naked sister in the shower. Actually, I didn’t have to learn that from The Funhouse. That’s just common sense.
  2. Don’t go out with hunky guys who work at filling stations. Your parents won’t approve.
  3. Two-headed cows need love, too.
  4. Carnies are even seedier than they appear.
  5. Puppets are evil. EVIL!

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Jeffrey Shuster 4

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102) is an MFA candidate and instructor at the University of Central Florida.

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