Posts Tagged ‘thief

21
Nov
15

The Funhouse (1981): The Reality of Horror

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a Primal Root written review

“Who will dare to face the challenge of the Funhouse? Who is mad enough to enter that world of darkness? How about you, sir…?” -Funhouse Barker, The Funhouse (1981)

 

Who doesn’t love a night amongst the neon lights, swirling machinery, salt of the earth carnies and deep fried delicacies of the fair? As The Primal Root and lifetime admirer of all things filthy, the North Florida Fair is a true thing of beauty. The aroma of artery clogging treats like cotton candy, loaded cheese fries, funnel cakes and deep fried Oreos co mingle with the unmistakable stench of fresh vomit, Carny B.O. and still warm shit straight from the occupants of the livestock pavilions assholes. It’s the smell of a fine, trashy adventure ready to be had! The sound of screaming patrons as they are spun at incredibly unsafe speeds on rides older than their grandparents and just as rickety as the Bacon Blast they just ate moments ago churns within their stomachs threatening to become a technicolor projectile of half digested nastiness! Because. let’s face it, fun is only bolstered when there’s a constant threat of either being puked on or a fate worse than death. These are simple truths.

Case in point, Tobe Hooper often overlooked 1981 low rent, down and dirty slasher shit kicker, The Funhouse! It’s the kind of film that did fairly well when it came out but never created a sustainable franchise and got forgotten about by the mainstream horror aficionados. Which is a shame, really, because The Funhouse is actually a pretty great slice of the old Trash Cinema Grade B meatloaf.

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The story is about a young, very pretty, VERY healthy young lady named Amy (played by the criminally underrated actress, Elizabeth Berridge). She is set up on a date by her two buddies  Liz (Largo Woodruff) and Richie (Miles Chapin) with a young stud and gas station attendant, Buzz Dawson (Cooper Huckabee). Against the advice of her parents, Amy and her friends attend the traveling fair that’s in town. Things get off to a rocky start as Buz insults Amy’s Father…but he soon amps up the charm and before you know it, he’s wrapping his arm around her, she’s resting her head on his shoulder and discussing letting Buzz ram his prize winning cock through her fresh harvest cherry with Liz while the hang out in an alarmingly grotesque carnival shit house. That’s right, Amy’s a virgin, Buzz is a”pistol” and Amy’s been saving it for someone special. I mean, this guy DID play that strong man carnival game, ring the bell and win her a stuffed panda, so the least she can do is spread her legs and let him ring her bell, too! Right? Right? Well, that’s how it sorta works in slasher flick logic anyway.  And what better place to lose it than by trespassing into the carnival’s FUNHOUSE and staying the night in there? Honestly, it is kind of a romantic notion to lose one’s virginity in there. Imagine, those things are NEVER cleaned so the drippings of your busted cherry will be all over The Funhouse floor FOREVER! So, one day when the carnival comes to town you can share a ride with the grand kids, point to an old brown stain on the floor and say “That’s where I treated a distant memory named “Buzz” to my unspoiled cooter! No, not Buzz Aldrin. This guy worked a gas pump…” But, I digress.

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Before you can say,  “dead whore”, the kids witness the creepy Funhouse attendant killing a fortune teller by the name of Madame Zena (Oscar nominated actress and Andy Warhol Factory regular, Sylvia Miles) who also doesn’t mind fucking for money on the side. See, Madame Zena simply touches the guy’s dick and he shoots his wad. She keeps the money, says a deal’s a  deal, but the Carny who just blew his load doesn’t see it this way. He yanks her tits out and strangles/electrocutes her to death. It;s a pretty horrifying/awesome scene.  The Carny is soon joined by his Father affectionately known as Funhouse Barker (Kevin Conway, who happens to play all the other Carnival Barkers in the film) and it is revealed that his son is hardly human at all, and is in fact, some kind of red eyed, sharp clawed, protruding fanged, drooling, screeching albino mutant deformity. It’s a pretty amazing reveal and one that puts a huge shit eating grin on my face every time. As Father and son discuss their plan for covering up Madame Zena’s murder we soon discover that this is far from the first time The Funhouse Barker has had to cover for his son’s murderous ways. In fact, it is even mentioned that his son killed two little Girl Scouts once. Yeah, this twosome is pretty vile. There are several shots in the move that linger on what a general ride goer at The Funhouse would consider fake rotten corpse props hanging from the walls of the ride. But the shots last for quite a while after we are made aware of this Father and Son’s past and you start to wonder how many of those crumbling dead bodies might actually be the real thing?

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Father and son decide they will ditch Madame Zena’s body in the woods and then blame her murder on “The Locals.”  As if Columbo couldn’t figure this shit out…ANYHOO, Richie drops his lighter, the Gruesome Twosome get wise to the fact that there are witnesses to the murder and the hunt is on!

The Funhouse is in many way a horror movie about horror movies. At the film’s very beginning, as we are treated to a lovely glimpse at Amy’s beautiful boobs, there are blatant and calculated homages to our horror film heritage represented by blatantly by  John Carpenter’s Halloween in the form of that film’s killer POV shots, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho as Amy showers and is menaced by an unknown assailant with a knife. As a viewer, we are well aware of all these tropes. We’ve seen them and we know where it is going. The young, naked, nubile woman in the shower is going to get sliced and diced. That’s how these things work. HOWEVER, in The Funhouse, the sense of menace is soon turned upside down as the masked killer is revealed to be Amy’s little brother Joey pulling a prank and scaring the shit out of his big sis. This is meant to represent the horror film experience. Something scary is seen, but it is at the end of the day, harmless. What is frightening and thrilling on the screen isn’t going to actually harm us. James Whale’s The Bride of Frankenstein is repeatedly mentioned in one form or another. In Joey’s room there is a poster of Frankenstein’s Monster on this wall above his bed, Amy and Joey’s parent’s are seen watching Bride of Frankenstein on cable TV safe in their living room and even The Killer Carny Creature wears a Frankenstein mask through most of the film to cover his terrifying true appearance. The fictional face of a homogenized, harmless, well loved fictional monster is used to cover up the real terror just under the thin layer of latex.  It is a theme throughout The Funhouse. The kids go on carnival rides, scream are thrilled and have a blast. The ride stops and they step off unscathed. They witness a magician, Marco the Magnificent (played by legendary character actor and The Phantom of the Paradise himself, William Finley) drive a stake into a young girl’s heart. She spews up blood as she screams in agony. The crowd is horrified! But then the lights come up and the young girl is shown to be unharmed, and in fact, Marco’s lovely daughter and assistance. It was all an illusion, a trick, and order is restored. Again and again, the teens face things that outside the carnival would be truly horrendous, but here, it’s all an illusion. They are safe.

Safety

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Reality

                                                                                  Reality

That is, until they witness reality. In one of my favorite sequences in The Funhouse, the teens have snuck into The Funhouse to stay the night. The camera cranes back to show the lights of the traveling carnival shutting off, the rides shutting down, and inside The Funhouse the animatronic figures that populate it wind down to a halt. The notion of being alone, in the dark with all these creepy figures is the stuff of nightmares and is terrifying to contemplate. The camera steadily, slowly pulls back from the traveling carnival as the crowds leave pour out, the rides stop, and the lights shut down. The camera pulls all the way out to the parking lot. The veneer of amusement and fun are now gone and we are alone. Trapped in the dark. And evil is lurking.  Just like the horror film itself. You watch it, you have fun at the thrill of make believe monsters and mayhem. But when the movie is over, the credits roll and you go home…the real world awaits.

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I fucking adore The Funhouse. No other movie captures the sleazy, greasy nastiness of the traveling carnival quite like it. Hooper populates the movie with some great, memorable, believable characters…and some that are a bit cartoonish and over the top, but it all plays into the carnival atmosphere and it pays off exceptionally well. Sure, on the surface it looks just like another one of the popular dead teenager movies that came down the conveyer belt of the 1980’s, replete with plenty of death, destruction and nudity, but if you just pull back that mask, if you dare to look beneath the surface, The Funhouse is a much more thoughtful, much more intelligent horror film than you initially thought.

I award Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse 4 1/2 out of 5 Dumpster Nuggets. Taking a trip through The Funhouse is well worth it, Gang.

Stay Trashy!

-Root

30
Sep
13

The Return of the Living Dead Part 2 (1988) Should Have Stayed Dead

If only this movie were half as cool as it's poster.

If only this movie were half as cool as it’s poster.

a Primal Root written review

“I feel like we’ve been here before. You… Me… Them!” – Thom Mathews as Joey in “Return of the Living Dead Part 2”

1985’s “Return of the Living Dead”  was a cynical, bleak, hilarious gory, nihilistic balls to the wall reinvention of the living dead zombie tropes,  “Return of the Living Dead part 2” is not a step back in regards to quality and creativity, but a disastrous leap backwards over a cliff onto a landfill full of busted whiskey bottles and used up ideas .  “The Return of the Living Dead’s” horror began with a shambling, rotten, corpse pleading for “More Brains!”, which is exactly what the film delivered. An intelligent, fresh and uncompromising vision of what the living dead could be when you break free from all the steadfast rules and restraint set in place by George Romero in his  1968 classic “Night of the Living Dead.”  Return of the Living Dead is fierce, brilliant and everything you could ever want from a horror film of it’s breed. It’s a one of a kind and to make a sequel would be pretty goddamn tough…especially with the ending it delivered.

Never in my wildest dreams could I have envisioned such a horrendously bad, wet fart of a sequel than “The Return of the Living Dead Part 2.” Rarely has a cinematic follow up missed the mark so widely, it’s pretty astounding. Long gone is the wit and dark sense of humor that poured forth from the original, in it’s place are lame jokes, Three Stooges Gags and cast members from the previous film, James Karen and Thom Mathews, returning  as grave robbers with nothing to do but recite their funniest lines from the original film and literally succumb to the same fate they did on the first go round. These jokes were great and worked the first time we heard them, but when you lift the best material from the first movie and reuse it line for line, it’s stale and depressing.

That's what the original "Return of the Living Dead" was missing! A plucky pre-teen protagonist!

That’s what the original “Return of the Living Dead” was missing! A plucky pre-teen protagonist!

Here’s the low down, there’s a little ginger kid named Jesse (Michael Kenworthy who also appeared in the excellent 1988 remake of “The Blob”) who lives in a developing suburb that looks eerily similar to Questa Verde from Tobe Hooper’s “Poltergeist” or that suburb where Elliot lived in Speilberg’s “E.T.” Anyhoo, the kid is chock full of quips and one liners which he unleashes on some neighborhood bullies who he ends up getting picked on by and, eventually, discovers one of those  “corpse in a can” barrels the military likes to lose all over this great nation of ours., which has come to rest in a sewage runoff near the local cemetery. Noticing a decomposing body through the barrels glass lid initially has the kids running for their lives, but as you and I both know from “Stand By Me” young boys cannot stay away from dead bodies and the lure of this corpse barrel proves to be the undoing of the two bullies picking on Jesse. Two head back later that day, bang on the barrel a little bit, and for their efforts are greeted with a nice juicy blast of 2-4-5 Trioxin, the reanimation juice introduced in the original, when the canister opens spraying the boys right in the kisser. hold on to your brains, ’cause we all know just where that leads, don’t we?

As night falls in our little hamlet, the Trioxin makes it’s way to the nearby cemetery and, as if Mother Nature is in on the joke, the sky opens up and a downpour begins soaking the soil and the corpses it contains, priming these cadavers for a night of brain skull cracking and brain slurping. Also in the cemetery are, as I mentioned before, a couple of grave robbers who happen to be the two very talented character actors, James Karen and Thom Mathews, who are for the most part just going through the motions and spouting their greatest hits for the run time and earning their paychecks for appearing in such lazy bullshit. Well, the dead come back to unlife right on cue, but this time they rise from their tombs to a goofy, Looney Tunes style score and are prone to slapstick and pratfalls as they try to pull themselves out of their graves. It’s all painfully unfunny, uninspired, and far from exciting.

Stay in school if you want Brains! Wokka, Wokka, Wokka!

Stay in school if you want Brains! Wokka, Wokka, Wokka!

Soon the movie gets into the scream-a-thon where in place of the originals frantic, insane pace and sense of panic, director Ken Wiederhorn decides to just have the characters scream nonstop for about thirty minutes. Again, this is tedious and boring. As the core cast goes on screaming and wailing, on and on and on, as they run around the suburbs, peel out in a cherry red convertible and freak out as a disembodied hand wiggles around in the back seat is enough to make you start wondering just where in the Hell you put your handgun. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a lobotomy and the epitome of shitty film making.

As you can guess, Thom Mathews and James Karen both turn into zombies and Thom manages to seduce his girlfriend into letting him eat her brains in an awkward scene where she appears to get some kind of sexual gratification as her boyfriend’s teeth crunch open her skull…Just as this occurs and ROTLDp2 dangles the possibility of getting interesting in our face, it unceremoniously yanks it away from us and we find ourselves stuck with Jesse, his sister (whose bouncing breasts during her workout routine early on hypnotized me when I was in third grade) and the dashing cable repair man (played by Dana Ashbrook from TV’s Twin Peaks) as Jesse solves every problem and saves the day…that’s right, an 8 year old kid halts the zombie apocalypse.  In a matter of hours. By luring them into a power station and then simply electrocuting them all…Ooooh, I don’t know…

A visual representation of how I am affected by allergy season.

A visual representation of how I am affected by allergy season.

I cannot express enough just how unfunny and uninspired this shitty Speilberg wannabe hunk of shit is. Replacing bold social satire, dark humor and genre innovation with claptrap kid’s movie nonsense  is a disgrace to the former film. It’s pointless, dull and only succeeds in being exceedingly forgettable. This series is, as of 2013, five films long and every single sequel manages to completely miss the point of what made the original so special. I understand that ROTLDp2 has a kind of cult following, but for the life of me, I cannot find a single person who genuinely likes this movie. If you do, I would honestly love to hear what it’s appeal is because I just can’t figure it out.

The acting is serviceable (Everyone, scream a lot! Little kid, say something sarcastic and obvious that sounds like a screenwriter wrote it as opposed to a child speaking naturally!) , the punk soundtrack and excellent score has been replaced by bargain basement hair metal and a score that would not be out of place in a Woody Woodpecker short, the set pieces are fittingly cheesy and crafted to be as comical and none threatening as possible, and the film and the story itself are lacking any teeth whatsoever which is truly saddening when considering the source material.  At the end of the day, trying to follow up “The Return of the Living Dead” with a worthy sequel is a fool’s errand. Still, to see it spawn something so half hearted, unimaginative and shockingly boring really left this fan of Trash Cinema feeling disappointed and frustrated.

Life Imitates Art: I made this exact same gesture to the television screen as soon as "Return of the Living Dead Part 2" ended!  Woooooah...

Life Imitates Art: I made this exact same gesture to the television screen as soon as “Return of the Living Dead Part 2” ended! Woooooah…

If “The Return of the Living Dead” is lightening in a bottle,   “Return of the Living Dead Part 2” is more like poop in your pants.

I give this shit smear 1/2 out of Five Dumpster Nuggets.  Approach with caution.

Stay Trashy!

-Root




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