The Funhouse Blu-ray Review
Well, folks, Arrow's inconsistency has been quite liberally addressed on many occasions, and not least by myself. But it gives me terrific pleasure to say that their transfer of The Funhouse has none of the issues that have plagued some of their previous releases. In fact, I was very highly satisfied and impressed with how the film looks in this AVC encode. It represents possibly the most faithful and film-like of their releases for quite some time.
Presented with its glorious 2.35:1 aspect intact and with all of its grain properly textured and film-like, though admittedly slight, Hooper's macabre yarn retains that early 80's anamorphic softness (which I like), yet delivers the garish colour scheme, some occasionally startlingly deep shadows and all the detail that you could hope for without any edge enhancement, altered timings, contrast or brightness boosting, aliasing or glitchy digital errors. If DNR has been applied, the resulting image has not been robbed of its integrity. Yes, the picture is soft and smooth, but this is how it was shot. The print is in remarkably good shape, but then it always has been. Every version I have seen of The Funhouse has been without nicks and scratches or wear and tear, except of only the most minimal sort, Universal having treated it well over the years.
Filmed with a Carpenter/Cundey-style widescreen flourish, Andrew Laszlo's sublime photography is not going to look pin-sharp. It just couldn't without excessive tampering being done to it. Definition, therefore, is not something that is going to amaze you. And nor should it with a film like this. Peripheral details are often blurred. Bottom edges of the frame also suffer from time to time. This said, though, there is no doubting that detail is certainly greater than you will have seen it before. There are lots of close-ups that reveal fine resolution of faces and eyes, with the monster, Amy and the weird face of William Finley's Marco The Magnificent offering the most detail to scrutinise. Oh, and that giant eyeball that opens up in the wall of the funhouse, which looks quite stunning!
Black are, for the most part, very stable and thick. The shadows are deep and consistent. I would say that no detail has been compromised within them either, nothing crushed. The image is fantastically enhanced with the reliability of these darker elements, and contrast, which is definitely put to the test with all manner of visual set-ups and strategic lighting once we are inside the funhouse, is well handled and makes no errors at all. I will say, however, that there are some scenes, most noticeably when the barker confronts his son about the killing of the fortune teller whilst the four kids watch from up-above, when some minor fluctuations take place, the shadows become a touch grainer and slightly infiltrated by grey, but this is more down to the source than anything else. Skin-tones are spot-on too. Just look at the gorgeous dancer that one of the three Kevin Conways has showing off her wares outside the naughty tent – now that flesh looks nice and realistic to me. “They jiggle and they darnce!” Quite.
So, how does that vibrant colour scheme hold up? In a word – excellently. We have an image that is frequently suffused with reds and greens in accordance with the Hooper/Laszlo desire to replicate the Chagall paintings and, of course, the vivid saturation of Suspiria. There are no problems with smearing or banding either, and the saturation levels look just fine to me. Liz's red jeans do seem to pop from the screen, as does red lipstick, but this is only the way that these things have always looked – cooked-up with a comic-book zest. And there are a couple of occasions when the monster's eyes seem to shine more than at others, but this is also down to the lighting. As I've already commented, there isn't much blood on offer, and what there is is often muted with shadow, but there are two instances of the stuff running from open mouths when it appears appropriately crimson and livid. Fans of blue will also be happy. The scene of Joey trundling along the road on his way to the carnival and getting hassled by the creep with the shotgun is beautifully painted with blue. So, no complaints about the transfer's fidelity.
Folks, this looks to have been taken from the same master as we saw for the previous R2 (from Arrow, also) and R1 releases but I think the hi-def makeover makes for a very agreeable upgrade. All things considered, I'm awarding The Funhouse an 8 out of 10, soft lenses and all.
When The Funhouse was released theatrically it was quite renowned for its sound design. I have some old reviews in the likes of Starburst Magazine that single out the audio experience as being particularly praiseworthy. I saw the film theatrically, myself, on its second run, coupled with My Bloody Valentine (viciously under-age, of course, but with great contacts at the Phoenix Cinema this was something of a normal practise for me from about nine years onwards!) but I have to say that I obviously cannot recall anything special about the sound design, other than the fact that it scared the bejesus out of me, and frequently. An alarming Dolby stereo surround track was used, which suddenly brought the scenes within the funhouse to life with wraparound effects to catch the viewer off-guard. The track here, folks, appears to replicate these effects and is flagged on this check disc as being encoded in DTS stereo.
So, although you would expect this audio mix to be really only be spread across the front – and reasonably wide and spacious it is too – it does actually reach around the back to illuminate the various sound effects that the titular carnival ride employs. Things like lightning crackles and wallops of thunder crash out. There's a great sci-fi sizzle that accompanies the giant spider sliding down its web. Doors suddenly opening and machinery clanking and grinding all around have genuine presence. Little subtle thuds and creaks from way off behind us that the onscreen cast hear and react to may lack precise positioning, but the effect is still worthwhile. The demonic cackling from the hooded executioner, and the sinister mechanical chuckle that emanates from behind you when Buzz thunks that axe down at a pivotal moment both work a treat. The previous releases carried surround tracks but they didn't sound as clear as this. But don't go thinking that this is a challenger for the best of modern wraparound mixes, because it certainly isn't. And once you realise that the track has got some juice in it, it becomes clear that the finale in the machine room could probably have been much better utilised across the mix. Most of this stuff sounds quite pedestrian, comparatively speaking … but then it still sounds good and faithful.
I didn't encounter any problems with the dialogue at all. Even the one word uttered by the monster of a terrible, anguished “Father!” from behind the mask comes over well. Hubbub isn't terrifically well prioritised, but then this isn't down to the transfer. It just wasn't a vital part of the original mix, so the carnival doesn't sound as lively or as bustling as it actually looks. But John Beal's awesome score is given some weight, that's for sure. Instrumentation is keen and the orchestra benefits from a full range and plenty of warmth. That sudden stabbing motif of a blood-curdling “buh-yiii” sound comes across with considerable vigour, really shrieking into the soundscape. Cymbal-clashes are rendered with clean, sharp precision too. Bass levels may not be too severe, but there is still plenty of clout to the thudding of bodies, the sudden impact of a ladder hitting the wooden floor, the swirl of the staged wind-machine and the lurching of the score's more aggressive elements.
I had a terrific time with this audio mix, and it appears that the original surround elements seem to have made a fine transition to the Blu-ray. With more oomph and crunch at its disposal, this is far better than many of us possibly expected to hear.
A strong 7 out of 10.
The Funhouse arrives on BD in a typically lavish package from Arrow sporting reversible sleeves, a double-sided poster and a collectible booklet featuring new writing from the great Kim Newman. Sadly, my check disc has none of these … but I can tell that I wouldn't hesitate in picking up the full retail copy.
On to the disc itself … and there's some good stuff here. The disc may be region-free, but the featurettes will not play on a US PS3.
We get some decent interviews with the likes of Tobe Hooper and Craig Reardon, multiple commentaries, a vintage Q & A session with Hooper and his screenwriters from Crocodile and The Toolbox Murders, and even Miles Chapin has been brought in to provide a little featurette reminiscing about his time making The Funhouse.
The commentaries are all good value.
The first with makeup-man Craig Reardon and Jeffrey Reddick, the creator of the popular Final Destination series, is full of trivia and anecdote and very naturally goes into great detail about the creature design and the effects, and gratefully acknowledges both Rick Baker and Tobe Hooper for giving him his big break.
The second pairs up the film's producer Derek Power with genre scholar Howard S. Berger and takes a look at the era in which the film was made and its standing within the slasher pantheon as well as in Hooper's canon. Power brings in some casting details, production design and how the shoot moved to Miami, talks about the ratings system and censorship and about how some of the more possibly salacious elements were conceived and developed.
But the third is the one that I enjoyed the most, although I hadn't actually expected to. This one brings in Arrow Video/High Rising alumnus Calum Waddell and slasher authority and author Justin Kerswell who attempt to provide the fanboy and genre-aficionado take on not just The Funhouse and Tobe Hooper but on the whole stalk 'n' slash trend as well. Highly detailed and with rarely a let-up, these two work extremely well together and provide a great overview of the films, the styles, the actors and the directors that have helped to steer this blood-soaked genre from the heyday to the present run of lamentable remakes. Both are very likeable and interesting to listen to, with some considered opinion and insight into the themes and subtexts that run rampant throughout the slasher-flick as an socio-Freudian entity. They discuss the banning of the film, but I mentioned my opinions on this matter in the main review. Rarely scene-specific, and with some ground covered elsewhere by the others involved with this release, this is a great buddy to the more production orientated discussions in the first two tracks. I've commented in the past about Waddell's insistence on being at the forefront of interviews and Q & A sessions seen in previous releases, but I really warmed to the guy throughout this chat-track and certainly look forward to hearing more from him.
The Q & A Session hails from San Francisco and is in poor shape. High Rising place an apology for this at the start, explaining that the material has only just surfaced. The piece is actually quite good fun. Hooper and co are in town to promote his remake of The Toolbox Murders (check out my reviews of both this on SD and the original on BD) and they clearly enjoy sending up their somewhat less-than-successful collaborations too.
In Carnage at the Carnival, Tobe Hooper remembers making The Funhouse and provides some good, though often rambling and mumbled information and personal recollection. Craig Reardon gets to discuss his work on the film, and how he first started with Tobe Hooper on Eaten Alive and then proceeded to Poltergeist in his own very interesting and somewhat humorous interview section entitled The Make-up Madness of Craig Reardon. We are also treated to quite a number of behind the scenes photographs and stills from Reardon's own collection, many of which have never been seen before. And then Miles Chopin, who plays the idiotic Ritchie, opens up about his time being stalked in the funhouse in a light-hearted little interview called Miles of Mayhem – which I'd initially thought would be about Sylvia Miles and still sort of wish had been.
In Master Class of Horror, director Mick Garris talks us through the career of Tobe Hooper, but pays a lot of attention to how the director behaves, his mannerisms, his quirks and his style. This is also a good little featurette that takes a more personal approach … but Garris is sitting in the middle of some truly awful décor!
The package is then finished off with the original trailer for The Funhouse.
A good assortment of material and opinion and insight all round. Fans of the film and of Tobe Hooper will certainly feel satisfied with this lot.
Well there's a lot of Arrow-bashers out there and I've had cause to knock the label over certain issues, myself, but I think that they've played a blinder with this release of Tobe Hooper's classic, though often overlooked early 80's gem. The image for The Funhouse looks just fine to me, retaining its vintage allure without any overt tinkering and the sound captures the old dynamism of the film's once alarming Dolby audio mix. Good solid extras for a film that has maintained a devoted cult following mean that the die-hard fans are more than catered-for. Insightful commentaries, not least by High Rising's own Calum Waddell, add weight and fascinating production trivia, not to mention a sound overview of the genre as it stood at the time of the film's release.
Although I only have the check disc at the moment, sans packaging, artwork and collector-booklet, I can heartily recommend this package without any qualms. I, myself, will definitely be picking up the full retail copy.
Strictly speaking, The Funhouse is only a borderline slasher film. It only really fits the criteria by having promiscuous teenagers getting murdered one by one. But I will concede that it was designed and released with the stalk 'n' slash trend firmly in mind and, as a result, compares very favourably against the tidal wave of bloody massacres that swept across the cultural landscape during this halcyon, live and let die period. The monster creation is marvellous – both in its gruesome look and in the way that Wayne Doba performs it with a combination that produces in us feelings of sympathy, revulsion and terror. The cast are much better than the usual cyphers and caricatures that have dominated this sort of film right up to the present day, and the characters are actually people that you care about. Tobe Hooper uses his magnificent setting with bravura style and the film is a visual delight that brilliantly recalls the lurid and hypnotic aesthetics of both Bava and Argento at their giddy height.
Really, this is a great horror film and I am pleased to say that Arrow have done it justice with a faithful transfer and more supplementals than most fans could have expected.
Definitely recommended, so step right up and enter The Funhouse … if you dare!
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