The carnival has come to town!
Four teens (Amy, Buzz, Richie and Liz) are having a double date and decide to visit the travelling 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 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.
Enter the funhouse, and you'll find:
- Achilles' Heel: Women are this to Gunther.
- 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.
- An Axe to Grind: Buzz steals one from an executioner doll to defend himself.
- 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 Albino: Gunther has bone-white skin.
- Evil Laugh: Done by some of the dolls in the funhouse, some even to Narmy levels.
- Fanservice: The movies starts off with Amy in the shower. Later, the kids stumble on a peep show.
- 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.
- Giant Eye of Doom: Found in the funhouse.
- Giant Spider: Ditto.
- Gory Discretion Shot: Used on Liz's death.
- 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, however.
- 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.
- In Mysterious Ways: Said by Gunther's father.
- Infant Immortality: There are scenes of Amy's little brother being in potential peril, but he makes it out okay in the end.
- 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 calls 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 attack Buzz for one last time.
- People Jars: Gunther's dead infant brother resides in one in the freak show attraction.
- 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 convinces Gunther to go after the teens.
- Phlegmings: Gunther provides a plenty of it as he is hideously deformed.
- The Place
- 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 form the public.
- 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.
- Stage Magician: Marco the Magnificent, whose 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' Frankensteinin Joey's room.
- Joey's POV 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.
- The "The" Title
- 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 visiting 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 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 suspect are Ellen's and lets Gunther to kill them.Madame Zenda's role is also expanded, as she helps Conrad to his targets.
Within the pages of the novelization there are:
- Downer Ending
- Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Ellen
- Henpecked Husband
- My Beloved Smother
- Teen Pregnancy: Amy has this problem.