Sunday, November 7, 2010


This look at the Tobe Hooper-directed 1981 horror flick The Funhouse
is part of The Final Girl’s Film Club blogathon—check it out to see what others have to say. I’m sure a lot of people like and recommend The Funhouse.
And it is to them you should flock to find reasons to enjoy this Universal Pictures release—

Here, The National Film Board of Ivanlandia did not enjoy, and cannot recommend the viewing of this film.
Personally, I look forward to reading about why people liked it.
Did they see something I didn’t? What specific type of philosophical viewpoint is needed for the viewing, understanding, appreciation and liking of The Funhouse? I gots ta know!

The Short Version:
With the exception of
Kevin Conway’s multiple performances (a concept underutilized in this movie, I feel; Conway, when he’s not doing a poor boogey-man imitation, really brings an honest, emotional depth to his primary character, the mutant’s father);
A nice bit of sick humor during De Palma regular William Finley’s cameo as sideshow magician Marco the Magnificent;
a very creepy, Argento-esque, dialog-free scene in the carnival’s machinery room,
The Funhouse sucks.

The Long Version:
Not only was I not frightened, scared or even startled
(horror movies don’t always have to scare me, but they always have to be able to /get under my skin/ital/--do the French call this “frisson?” Yes, they do.),
I was bored by this paced-like-cold-molasses flick, and never felt drawn into The Funhouse’s world.
For one thing, it just seemed so bogus and un-thought-out.

I get the feeling that Hooper & Co. initially wanted to make an Altman-esque shaggy dog story with multiple weird characters
all centering around the funhouse, but the only way to get financing was to turn the project into a horror flick.
But rather than a flick that’s schizophrenic in temperament,
(which might have been interesting if the tonal shifts were severe enough)
we have a movie that’s
washed out—
suffering from excessive blandification.
For one thing, there are an awful lot of repetitive set-ups in the flick—yeah, we get it, they’re at a carnival.
But it’s 30 loooong minutes before we get there—
Now, it’s not like I demand a murder per minute and gallons of gore,
and I do appreciate attempts to humanize characters—look at Carpenter’s awesome Halloween
it was fun to watch
that film’s three main girls interact (before the mayhem starts), and
putting them into a dormitory, had not two of them been killed, would have made a terrific sitcom!

But The Funhouse’s attempts at humanization are a flop: I could not give a rat’s ass about any of these people—
In most cases, their actions eventually justify the demise of those who get killed.
And they were too damn whitebread!
Lead Elizabeth Berridge is hinted at having some sort of weird Oedipal relationship with her father (or is that another tragic Greek character?), but the flick doesn’t go far enough.
Her brother is an annoyance obsessed with horror movies—only because that seems like something that would be a movie like this.
The boyfriend is Roughhewn Jock, his friend is Shiftless Preppie, and his girlfriend is Generic Blonde Victim-to-Be.

Sure, there are moments in the flick—Sylvia Miles grotesque cameo has a high “ick” quotient; okay that’s #4 (see “The Short Version” above)—but the picture is 20 minutes stretched over 90. This flick should’ve been a short feature, or an episode of The Twilight Zone or Tales From the Darkside.

(And was anyone else disturbed at how young Elizabeth Berridge looked in many scenes? And then how often such a young-looking woman showed off her big-girl dirty pillows?)

And perhaps this film’s greatest crime? It has the perfect opportunity to use The Stooges’ “Fun House” on the end credits, and doesn’t take it!

And while Grandpa Iggy can now charge top dollar for the licensing of his songs, back in 1980, it wasn’t like Iggy was sitting on top of the world. I’m sure Universal could have afforded one of his tunes….

Fun House lyrics
callin' from the fun house with my song.
we been separated baby far too long.
callin' all you whoop-de pretty things.
shinin' in your freedom come and be my rings.
hold me tight -- callin' from the fun house.
hold me tight -- callin' from the fun house.
yeah, i came to play and i mean to play around.
yeah, i came to play and i mean to play real good.
yeah, i came to play.
little baby girlie, little baby boy.
cover me with lovin' in a bundle o' joy.
do i care to show you what i'm dreamin' of.
do i dare to whoop ya with my love.
every little baby knows just what i mean livin' in division in a shiftin' scene.
hold me tight -- callin' from the fun house.
hold me tight -- callin' from the fun house.
yeah, i came to play.
i came to play.
we been separated.
we been separated.
a little too long.
yeah, i came to play.
yeah, fun house boy will steal your heart away.
yeah, fun house boy will steal your heart away.
i came to play.
i came to play.
i came to play... baby.
yeah, i came to play.
i came to play

By The Stooges

During October, The National Film Board of Ivanlandia screened three Tobe Hooper flicks, and combined with the knowledge of his other films that we’ve seen, we have to join the consensus that believes director Hooper is a one-trick pony.

The Hooper movies screened were The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (for a slumber party The Missus was having with some friends!), The Funhouse (in conjecture with the aforementioned Final Girl Film Club blogathon, sponsored by Stacy Ponder—say that 10 times fast), and Lifeforce, which I had seen on its original release in 1985 and not since.

In the past, I’ve also seen Hooper’s Invaders From Mars remake (bad), Poltergeist (whether directed by Hooper or Spielberg, I still didn’t like it), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (nope, I’m not a fan—there’s parts I appreciate, but…) and Salem’s Lot, which I’d seen when it was first broadcast, and really liked it, so I’ll give Hooper that one—although with television, it’s really the producer who’s in charge….

Was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre—which I consider to be a perfect movie—a fluke? Or am I too harsh on his other projects?

Unlike Carpenter and Dante—whose tastes tend to run counter to that of the consensus popular culture, thereby condemning them to their current career limbos (but they’ll be back—I know it!)—Hooper hasn’t done anything good.

Carpenter and Dante have made movies that have been completely misunderstood and vilified on initial release, only to have them regarded as classics later.

That ain’t happening with Hooper, no matter how many complicated mental gymnastics you put yourself through.

Back in 1983, in the RE/Search: Industrial Culture Handbook (pages 31-32), Mark Pauline of the incredible Survival Research Labs, had this to say about Tobe Hooper:

“You look at people who were supposed to be unconventional; when they got a lot of money they became conventional. Because they just got too close to the people with money--you get too close to those people and they will destroy you.
But it’s not the money that made people change, it’s their association with people who are really conservative who are handling this money. That’s what makes people change.
Look at the movie industry; look what happens when somebody like Tobe Hooper or Wes Craven start to get money—then they make these really stupid movies.
And they even say in print, ‘Well, this is the kind of movie I’ve always wanted to make.’ They become like zombies, you know; they just get influenced too much by those people.”

While I think Craven has quasi-redeemed himself since then with the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, New Nightmare and the first Scream (and despite his current seemingly dry spell, I have faith that Craven has at least one more top-notch horror flick up his sleeve), I think Mark Pauline is correct about Hooper.

As for Lifeforce, knowing it is absurd helps in the viewing experience.

Excellent John Dykstra & Co. special effects prop up a story about a naked space girl spreading a zombie plague in London to gather enough souls to refuel her 100-mile-long spaceship inside Halley’s Comet, and the astronaut she infected with telepathic powers because he’s her soulmate. Whew! Like I said, it’s bonkers.

The film feels like what would have happened if Ken Russell had been contracted by Hammer Films: while certain elements, like the actors performances, would be standard issue Hammer/Masterpiece Theater stand-around-and-jabber, the other elements would be off the rails.

But it’s often infuriating how disconnected the flick is: it’s really distracting. (And Steve Railsback is miscast; I think he was great as Manson because he’s an intense maniac in actuality, but when he’s not playing psychos, this intensity works against him. Anyway…)

Lifeforce is absolutely worth a watch, although in no way does it exhibit any sort of progression of Hooper’s talent from the promise of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

In an insightful-to-the-point-of-mad-genius essay that highlights some of Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s greatness—which Hooper has never recaptured, I feel,
the great
John Kenneth Muir writes,
In Chainsaw, learning literally and metaphorically gets bonked on the head with a sledgehammer a third-of-the-way through...and then a steel door gets slammed on it.

The film's structure -- essentially repetitious -- blocks every attempt for us to learn more; for the protagonists to learn more about their terrifying plight. This structure subverts our expectations and literally makes us feel endangered in theater. The movie's young cast -- and by extension the audience -- feel like it has no chance. Madness reigns.

Indeed, even at film's end, order is not restored. Leatherface just keeps on spinning. The world around him may be out of gas, but he's still sputtering, twirling and dancing in unending insanity and blood lust.

[Make sure to regularly check out Mr. Muir’s site John Kenneth Muir’s Reflections on Film & Television—it is always great reading.]

(And did you know: back when Film Comment magazine was routinely getting directors to offer essays on their cinematic “guilty pleasures,” director John Milius—in addition to biker movies and the Gary Cooper flick Return to Paradise—listed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Milius praised the film’s intensity and said its conclusion was Leatherface’s mad dance to an Aztec sun god who demanded blood sacrifices (or something to that effect). I just like thinking about Big John M. settling in to catch Texas Chainsaw Massacre for the first time, preferably at some grindhouse or drive-in, and not in a studio screening room. I can see him really digging the flick….

Getting back to Lifeforce:
It’s stylish, exciting madness that’s practically incomprehensible—and I’ve read the source novel!
Speaking of which, Lifeforce is based on the science fiction book The Space Vampires by Colin Wilson.

Wilson is a philosopher who uses the medium of pulp fiction to get across his ideas to a wider range of readers, as well as giving concrete examples of his worldview.

Perfect examples of this are The Space Vampires and The Mind Parasites—many people don’t get it and deride Wilson for having such pedestrian and grotesque titles, but that’s the point.

Wilson isn’t one for the upper classes and vica versa, especially with his systems towards increasing a human’s “peak experiences” and pushing yourself to become better, superior to what you were.

So remaining in your place and being a slave all your working life isn’t for Big Colin W. and I can’t blame him.

All that may not make any sense to someone unfamiliar with Wilson’s work (I got him to write a personalized autograph on my copy of The Outsider! So you KNOW I’m a fan…), but I cannot recommend his writings enough.
If you’re interested, follow the various links, and his novel The Philosopher’s Stone is a good place to start.

In a previous post, we mentioned catching up with some DVD MIAs via the Gray Economy, and that’s how we caught Michael Mann’s long-missing The Keep.
Lemme tell ya,
Mann’s second film is as far away from his first, Thief, as possible—

The Keep makes Lifeforce seem like the epitome of logic.
After seeing The Keep, now I know why it’s DVD-MIA.

It’s embarrassingly uneven. There are rumors of studio recutting and interference, but that doesn’t explain why some stuff was in there in the first place: for example, what the fuck is the meaning of Scott Glenn’s character?

And while Tangerine Dream’s music sounds good, it’s routinely completely out of place when used in The Keep: jaunty music during scenes that are supposed to be tense, loud bombasticness when low-key is called for.

There are a handful of cool scenes (the first reveal of the hidden cave! Ian McKellen conversing with the demon!), and some impressive effects (is that backwards smoke?), but these are outweighed by a heaping load of horseshit: Mann’s taken a potentially blockbusting high concept—Nazis vs. vampiric demon—and completely overcomplicates it.

If you told me that this film production had been plague by rampant cocaine abuse, I would believe you.
More than any horror movie, The Keep felt more like such drug-addled incomprehensibilities as The Last Movie, Lisztomania or The Holy Mountain—except that The Keep was also boring.

Because a movie’s being incomprehensible isn’t a negative value—a lack of logic only becomes annoying when the flick in question is dull or poorly-paced.


  1. I have to agree on "The Keep". I've seen it just to be a Mann completist, but boy is it boring. And even though it features some kinda weird plastic suit monster, it isn't even fun with that. Huge disappointment. Tangerine Dream can score anything as far as I'm concerned tho. Best part.

  2. Speaking of TG, when the heck is a letterboxed version of Sorcerer going to show up?

  3. Whoops! I meant "TD." "TG" is Throbbing Gristle.

  4. Wonderful review. I love that you preface things with a "short" version. I enjoy your choices of photos and thank you for bringing up Iggy Pop.

    Thank you again!
    Lazarus Lupin
    art and review

  5. LL: Thanks, and welcome aboard!

  6. Thank God for your review. With so many positive takes out of The Film Club I was beginning to feel like I had taken crazy pills.

  7. Bryce:
    Thanks for your comment! I'm not one to criticize people's choices for the flicks they like (today at least), but I am surprised at the outpouring of love for The Funhouse, a flick that was a CHORE to get through.

  8. Damn, the Hoop really killed it with "Texas", and i defy anyone to make a movie as good as that, but i see your point. The guy came out of the gate with ferocity and then his balls shriveled and he sucked the big movie dick of failure.

    But remember, "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is not just a movie, it's a benchmark for horror, an iconic classic. How many people can claim to that?

  9. Arto Otto Farto Zanax:
    You, sir, are correct: Texas Chainsaw Massacre IS a benchmark for horror. Which is why The Hoop's subsequent flicks are all so disappointing. An example: While The Great Orson W. hit it out of the park with Citizen Kane, and some critics and grumblepants gripe that OW never reclaimed that greatness, the fact is that everyone can find something of interest in his later movies (no matter their budget or "quality"), from Mr. Arkadin to Touch of Evil to Chimes at Midnight to F for Fake. In fact, Hooper's lack of post-TCM output makes me wonder if he was the one actually behind that classic!

  10. damn, there's one bitch pictured here that has the phoniest stupidest tits ever seen. those tits should be chainsawed off in tribute to the great TCMassacre, and worn on the chest of Ed Gein's corpse.

  11. Farto:
    Time to up your dosage of happy pills.

  12. love your blog... pretty hot stuff. You have a new fan!

  13. Myra:
    Thanks, and welcome aboard! With all these comments and new "followers," I better start posting more often!
    And your site is pretty darn nifty, too--Keep up the good work!