The Funhouse (1981)

R | 93 mins | 13 March 1981

Director:

Tobe Hooper

Writer:

Larry Block

Cinematographer:

Andrew Laszlo

Editor:

Jack Hofstra

Production Designer:

Morton Rabinowitz
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HISTORY

       Onscreen credits say “introducing Elizabeth Berridge.” Berridge, however, had appeared in the independent film Natural Enemies (1979, see entry), which opened in New York City on 1 Nov 1979 and in Los Angeles, CA, on 6 Dec 1979. Onscreen credits list the character name “Marco the Magnificent,” however signage in the film spells the name “Marko the Magnificent.”
       Production notes in AMPAS library files credited producer Derek Power with assembling the “creative team” of The Funhouse and bringing the filmmakers to executive producer Mace Neufeld. The “team” included director Tobe Hooper, who rose to fame with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974, see entry). Although the Apr 1981 Box review reported the film marked Hooper’s first theatrical feature film since The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, he previously directed the independent film Eaten Alive! (1977, see entry).
       As stated in production notes, the script described the monster as a “troll,” however special makeup designer, Rick Baker, advanced the design from a deformed person to a type of mythological creature. His goal was, in his words, to create something “overwhelmingly ugly, but strangely sympathetic.” The latex mask was molded to the features of actor Wayne Doba, who was formerly a Berkeley, CA, street mime and was performing at a Miami, FL, restaurant when he was discovered by Power and Hooper.
       A period carnival, with a freak show and rides dating to the 1940s and 1950s, was discovered in Akron, OH, and moved to Norin Studios in Miami, FL, where it was reassembled for the production. Production designer Morton Rabinowitz also ... More Less

       Onscreen credits say “introducing Elizabeth Berridge.” Berridge, however, had appeared in the independent film Natural Enemies (1979, see entry), which opened in New York City on 1 Nov 1979 and in Los Angeles, CA, on 6 Dec 1979. Onscreen credits list the character name “Marco the Magnificent,” however signage in the film spells the name “Marko the Magnificent.”
       Production notes in AMPAS library files credited producer Derek Power with assembling the “creative team” of The Funhouse and bringing the filmmakers to executive producer Mace Neufeld. The “team” included director Tobe Hooper, who rose to fame with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974, see entry). Although the Apr 1981 Box review reported the film marked Hooper’s first theatrical feature film since The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, he previously directed the independent film Eaten Alive! (1977, see entry).
       As stated in production notes, the script described the monster as a “troll,” however special makeup designer, Rick Baker, advanced the design from a deformed person to a type of mythological creature. His goal was, in his words, to create something “overwhelmingly ugly, but strangely sympathetic.” The latex mask was molded to the features of actor Wayne Doba, who was formerly a Berkeley, CA, street mime and was performing at a Miami, FL, restaurant when he was discovered by Power and Hooper.
       A period carnival, with a freak show and rides dating to the 1940s and 1950s, was discovered in Akron, OH, and moved to Norin Studios in Miami, FL, where it was reassembled for the production. Production designer Morton Rabinowitz also built the funhouse set on the studio backlot.
       According to an item in 29 Feb 1980 DV, filming was scheduled to begin 10 Mar 1980. To create heightened intensity, director of photography Andrew Lazlo chose to film exterior night scenes with existing light. Some of the interior funhouse shots were filmed with flashlights as the only light source.
       The 7 May 1980 HR noted that filming had just completed on the independently financed film, and Universal Pictures had obtained worldwide distribution rights. The review in the 14 Mar 1981 NYT reported the film opened on Friday, 13 Mar 1981.
       Author Dean Koontz, using the pseudonym “Owen West,” wrote the novelization, also titled The Funhouse (New York, 1980).

      End credits include the following written statements: “Special thanks to Bob Megerle and his family of Megerle shows; Dummy courtesy of Shari Lewis; Bride of Frankenstein courtesy of Universal Pictures; Animated figures in Funhouse by Animated Display Creations, Ltd.; The producers wish to acknowledge the contributions of the Dade County Film Commission, Mary Lee Lander and the Florida Film Commission”; and, “Filmed entirely on location in North Miami, Florida at Norin Studios.”
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
Apr 1981.
---
Daily Variety
29 Feb 1980.
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 May 1980.
---
New York Times
14 Mar 1981
p. 11.
Variety
18 Mar 1981
p. 133.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Mace Neufeld production
In association with Derek Power
A Tobe Hooper film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr/1st asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
1st asst cam
Gaffer
Key grip
Best boy
Still photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Loc editing
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Const coord
Prop master
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus
Mus supv
Mus ed
SOUND
Sd ed, Sound FX, Inc.
Sd ed, Sound FX, Inc.
Sd mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Main title des
Titles and opticals by
MAKEUP
Spec make-up des
Spec make-up execution
Make-up
Hair stylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Casting
Post prod supv
Post prod asst
Scr supv
Prod coord
Prod coord
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Asst to Mr. Hooper
Miami casting
Miami casting
Miami casting
Prod accountant
DETAILS
Release Date:
13 March 1981
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 13 March 1981
Production Date:
10 March--early May 1980 in Miami, FL
Copyright Claimant:
Universal City Studios, Inc.
Copyright Date:
8 May 1981
Copyright Number:
PA103549
Physical Properties:
Sound
Re-recorded in Dolby Stereo
Color
Lenses/Prints
Lenses and Panaflex Camera by Panavision®; prints by Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
93
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
26232
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

As teenager Amy Harper prepares for her first date with Buzz, her younger brother, Joey, a horror aficionado, scares her by reenacting the shower scene from the film Psycho. Furious, Amy vows to get even. Although Amy’s parents warn her to stay away from the traveling carnival because two children died near the carnival grounds in another town, Buzz convinces her that it will be fun. They double date with Richie and Liz, who are equally excited to see the carnival. Joey sneaks out of the house and also heads for the fairgrounds. There, the four teenagers smoke marijuana cigarettes, enjoy several rides, see a magic act, peep into the strip show, check out the side show freaks, and tease Madame Zena, a fortune teller. When Richie convinces them to spend the night in the funhouse, Amy calls her parents to say she is sleeping over at Liz’s house, and the four climb into the funhouse cars. Joey sees them go into the funhouse, but the cars come out empty. Seeing Buzz’s car in the parking lot, Joey decides to stay. Meanwhile, inside the funhouse, the four teenagers walk amongst the spooky mechanical characters before settling down for romance. They are disturbed by a sound, and see lights go on in a room beneath the funhouse. The teenagers watch through the floorboards as a carnival worker wearing a “Frankenstein” mask takes $100 from a cashbox and pays Madame Zena for sex. The “monster,” however, is prematurely excited and Madame Zena laughs. He wants his money back ... +


As teenager Amy Harper prepares for her first date with Buzz, her younger brother, Joey, a horror aficionado, scares her by reenacting the shower scene from the film Psycho. Furious, Amy vows to get even. Although Amy’s parents warn her to stay away from the traveling carnival because two children died near the carnival grounds in another town, Buzz convinces her that it will be fun. They double date with Richie and Liz, who are equally excited to see the carnival. Joey sneaks out of the house and also heads for the fairgrounds. There, the four teenagers smoke marijuana cigarettes, enjoy several rides, see a magic act, peep into the strip show, check out the side show freaks, and tease Madame Zena, a fortune teller. When Richie convinces them to spend the night in the funhouse, Amy calls her parents to say she is sleeping over at Liz’s house, and the four climb into the funhouse cars. Joey sees them go into the funhouse, but the cars come out empty. Seeing Buzz’s car in the parking lot, Joey decides to stay. Meanwhile, inside the funhouse, the four teenagers walk amongst the spooky mechanical characters before settling down for romance. They are disturbed by a sound, and see lights go on in a room beneath the funhouse. The teenagers watch through the floorboards as a carnival worker wearing a “Frankenstein” mask takes $100 from a cashbox and pays Madame Zena for sex. The “monster,” however, is prematurely excited and Madame Zena laughs. He wants his money back and, when she refuses, he slams her into an electrical panel and the lights go out. The masked “monster” murders Madame Zena and leaves as the teens panic and look for a way out. When they reach the room below, Richie insists on going inside alone to verify that Madame Zena is dead. The teens reach the outer door, but it is locked and cannot be opened. They find the front door is also locked, and search for another escape. Meanwhile, the “monster” returns to his room with his father, the freak show announcer, or “barker,” who says he had no problem covering up his son’s previous murders, but is furious that his son killed a member of the carnival. The teens watch from above as the barker decides to bury Madame Zena and blame the death on the locals. As the barker yells at his son for paying so much money to Madame Zena, he opens the cashbox to return the cash, but finds it is empty. The barker screams at his son for stealing the money and yanks off the Frankenstein mask, revealing a hideously deformed face beneath. The “monster” can barely speak, but he manages to communicate that he did not steal the money. Buzz realizes that Richie stole the money when he was supposedly checking on Madame Zena. As Richie admits the theft and offers to share the money, he accidentally drops his lighter through the floorboards and the barker realizes others are in the funhouse. The barker tries to cajole them into revealing themselves, but the teens remain mum, knowing they are in danger. Meanwhile, Joey approaches the funhouse and looks beneath the front entryway for a way in. At that moment, the “monster” reaches out to grab him, but Joey barely manages to get away and collapses into the arms of a friendly carnival worker. Inside the funhouse, the power comes back on. It is still dark, but lightning flashes and the mechanical creatures move. Realizing the barker and the “monster” plan to kill them, the teens pull axes and knives from wall displays. Suddenly, a noose slips around Richie’s neck and pulls him up and out of sight. A short time later, Joey is asleep in the carnival worker’s trailer when Mr. and Mrs. Harper arrive to pick up their son. Back in the funhouse, Amy, Buzz and Liz are frightened as someone rides through the shadows toward them. As the car nears, Buzz assumes it is the “monster” and buries his axe in the person’s head, only to discover it is Richie. When Liz falls through a trap door that slams shut behind her, Buzz and Amy unsuccessfully try to open the hatch. As Amy looks outside through a fan vent and sees her parents carrying Joey to their car, she screams for help, but her parents cannot hear her over the fan’s motor. Joey, still in shock, stares at the funhouse and remembers his sister’s threat to get even with him. Amy keeps screaming, but her parents drive away. On the floor below, the “monster” approaches Liz as she reaches for her knife. She offers to have sex with the “monster” and when he grabs her, she stabs him in the back. However, the “monster” kills Liz as he struggles to yank the knife out. Meanwhile, on the funhouse floor, the barker holds Amy and Buzz at gunpoint, but Buzz attacks him. They fight until Buzz shoves the barker into a knight’s lance and shoots him with the gun. When the “monster” arrives and sees his father dead, Buzz yells for Amy to run, then turns to fight the monster alone. Amy races through the funhouse and, moments later, Buzz’s dead body moves through the ride toward her. She runs to the floor beneath the funhouse and hides among the machinery. The “monster” stalks Amy until she trips, grabs an iron pole and shoves him against an electrical panel. Although he is electrocuted, the “monster” does not die. As a hook latches into his clothing and pulls him toward two large gears, the “monster” grabs Amy, but she struggles to free herself as they are pulled into the machinery, breaking away just as the “monster” is killed between two grinding gears. Amy staggers out of the funhouse in the early morning light. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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