The carnival has come to town!
Four teens, Amy (Elizabeth Berridge), Buzz (Cooper Huckabee), Richie (Miles Chapin), and Liz (Largo Woodruff), are having a double date and decide to visit the traveling carnival. After seeing the usual attractions, they smoke some dope and have the bright idea to stay in the funhouse after the carnival's closing.
While making out in the hiding, they accidentally witness the funhouse barker's son Gunther (Wayne Doba) strangling the carnival's fortune teller because he's not pleased with her... erm... "services". Soon enough they find out that they are locked inside and — due to Richie's stupid idea to steal the funhouse barker's money — Gunther and his father are now hunting them down.
And that's Tobe Hooper'snote 1981 Slasher Movie The Funhouse. It has your typical Slasher conventions: Stupid teens, plenty of Fanservice, and a deformed albino killer so monstrous that he has three noses and red eyes.
Oh, and Dean Koontz wrote the novelization. More on that below.
Enter the funhouse, and you'll find:
- Achilles' Heel: Women are this to Gunther. He can't control himself when meeting them.
- Auto Erotica: Two carnies are seen making out in a van.
- Amusement Park: The setting for most of the movie.
- Axe Before Entering: Gunther busts through a door to get to Amy.
- Being Evil Sucks: When Conrad tries to convince Gunther to go after the teens (see the Pet the Dog entry below) Conrad seems to really feel guilty about the other girls Gunther has killed before: he especially talks about an episode involving two girls, repeating twice how much horrible it was while staring off in the space. This makes clear that even if he helped Gunther in getting away with the previous murders because he really has some love for his son, he felt anyway disgusted for what he had to do to help him and what he had to witness.
- Cat Scare: Provided by a dog to Joey as he is walking to the carnival.
- Closed Circle: There are only four would-be victims of the monster, so it takes a while for them to start getting picked off.
- Conveyor Belt of Doom: The underside of the ride becomes one in the climax.
- Covers Always Lie: Various VHS and DVD covers show a murderous clown with an axe, who doesn't appear in the film at all.
- And despite what the French poster above is telling, no one's nose gets electrocuted in this film.
- Creepy Doll: The funhouse is filled with these. Several of them also appear during the opening credits.
- Crowbar Combatant: Amy defends herself with a crowbar in the final confrontation with Gunther.
- Developing Doomed Characters: The movie takes its time to set up the four main characters before killing them off.
- Double Date: The reason why the kids go to the carnival.
- Dramatic Thunder: The artificial kind is featured in the funhouse.
- Dramatic Unmask: Gunther unmasks himself as he thrashes around.
- Evil Laugh: Done by some of the dolls in the funhouse, some even to Narmy levels.
- Final Girl: Amy is the only survivor of the four main characters.
- Fortune Teller: Madame Zena. She even has a Crystal Ball.
- Frankenstein's Monster: Gunther is dressed as one to hide deformed features.
- The Freakshow: Gunther's deceased deformed brother is displayed in one.
- Ground by Gears: Gunther dies when he he is caught in the gears of the funhouse after being electrocuted.
- Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Conrad ends up impaled when Buzz pushes him on one of the funhouse exhibits.
- Impending Doom P.O.V.: Mixed with Hand of Death at the beginning as Amy is surprised in the shower. It turns out that this is just a prank played by Amy's brother Joey, however.
- Improbable Infant Survival: There are scenes of Amy's little brother being in potential peril, but he makes it out okay in the end.
- Incest Subtext: Amy's brother plays a prank on her while she takes a shower. Part of this prank involves drawing a fake knife slowly past her bare breasts to her navel, which has very sexually violent overtones. She's annoyed he scared her but isn't too concerned that he just got a lingering view of her naked body. He then sneaks out to trail her on her date, for reasons never explained.
- Jizzed in My Pants: Gunther kills Madame Zena when he comes early and she won't give him a refund.
- Jump Scare: Due to Gunther's thrashing with Zena, the electrics in the funhouse go haywire and start up at random intervals.
- Murder by Mistake: Gunther tricks Buzz to kill Richie.
- Mutants: Gunther. His deceased brother was also one and is on display in the freak show.
- Nerd Glasses: Richie wears them.
- Named by the Adaptation: Conrad and Gunther Straker remain unnamed in the film and the ending credits call them "Funhouse Barker" and "The Monster". Their real names are featured in the novelization.
- Not Quite Dead: After being impaled, Conrad springs back to life and attacks Buzz for one last time.
- Novelization First: Due to the movie's Troubled Production, the novelization written by Dean Koontz (under the name Owen West) came out first.
- People Jars: Gunther's dead infant brother resides in one of the freak show attractions.
- Pet the Dog: Gunther's father Conrad is an asshole most of the time, but we are shown that he does love his deformed son when Conrad convinces Gunther to go after the teens. He apologizes for his recent abusive behavior and promises to take Gunther on a fishing trip.
- Phlegmings: Gunther provides plenty of it as he is hideously deformed.
- Red Eyes, Take Warning: Gunther's eyes are blood red.
- Revenge: After Joey scares Amy in the shower, she vows to get back at him.
- The Scourge of God: The monster is a carnival freak whose father tries to hide from the public, and attacks the teens for stealing the carnival's money.
- Screaming Woman: Amy for most of the time stands and screams at the horrors around her.
- Shower Scene: Amy is taking a shower when her brother comes in to play a prank by invoking Deadly Bath while pretending to attack her with a fake knife, turning the scene into a "Psycho" Shower Murder Parody, complete with "Psycho" Strings.
- Stage Magician: Marco the Magnificent, who the protagonists go see.
- Shout-Out: The opening sequence is meant to be one long ode to previous horror films:
- We see a poster for Universal Studios' Frankenstein in Joey's room.
- Joey's Impending Doom P.O.V. while wearing a mask is a direct homage to Halloween.
- Amy is then surprised in the shower by a shadowy figure holding a knife a la Psycho.
- The black gloves and clown mask of the "killer" seems to emulate Giallo films.
- We follow Amy downstairs after that where we see her parents watching Bride of Frankenstein.
- Taking You with Me: When Gunther is being crushed by the gears, he tries to pull in Amy with him.
- Thicker Than Water: Conrad's reason to protect his son.
- Title Confusion: Legend has it that this film was included on the Video Nasties list due to confusion with Last House on Dead End Street, a far more violent and disturbing film that was also released on video as The Funhouse.
- Trap Door: Liz is caught by one.
- The Unintelligible: Gunther, though he manages to blurt out "father" when Conrad questions him about Zena's death.
- Victoria's Secret Compartment: Madame Zena puts her payment for sex into her cleavage.
- Would Hurt a Child: It is mentioned that Gunther killed two girl scouts when the carnival was visited in Memphis.
The novelization based on the script (written by Dean Koontz under the pseudonym Owen West) was released in 1980. The reason it was released earlier is because the film's production took longer than expected.
It greatly expands the roles of Amy's mother Ellen and Conrad Straker, as it reveals that they were married twenty years ago. Overtly Christian Ellen killed their firstborn son Victor (as she believed that he was evil) and ran away. Conrad vows that he will kill her children if she ever again has any. He then uses his carnival job to lure in kids that he suspects are Ellen's and lets Gunther kill them. Joey also gets an expanded role: Ellen's issues have driven him to run away with the carnival, and he is also hunted through the funhouse.Madame Zenda's role is also expanded, as she is Conrad's second ex-wife and helps Conrad to his targets. She also doesn't have sex with Gunther, as she's his mother.
Within the pages of the novelization there are:
- Action Survivor: Amy becomes this in the novel, improving greatly from 'standing around screaming'
- Hollywood Satanism: Conrad turns out to be a case of this. He was trying to use his then-teenage bride, Ellen, to breed the Antichrist. Twenty-odd years later, Ellen is still fighting paranoia that 'the Devil' could come out in Joey, or Amy's children.
- Downer Ending: Although Amy gets herself and Joey out alive, her best friend and two acquaintances are dead. Not to mention that Conrad has revealed enough hints to Joey about his past relationship with Ellen, that Joey, at least, is going to have some pointed questions for his mother.
- Good Girls Avoid Abortion: inverted. Amy is by all accounts a 'good girl' but has an abortion before the fateful date at the carnival. Ellen, otherwise vehemently Christian, instantly agrees to pay for it (to Amy's surprise) because she's afraid that Amy will give birth to the Antichrist - just like Ellen possibly did, twenty years before.
- Monster Misogyny: Liz's death in the novel, especially compared to the movie. While her death in the movie is brutal (her head gets shoved into an industrial fan, for Pete's sake), she at least goes headfirst. Here in the book, she's literally raped and then dismembered. The boys, on the other hand, just get decapitated and shot.
- Teen Pregnancy: Amy has this problem - briefly. See above.