The Funhouse

The Funhouse (also released as Carnival of Terror)[1] is a 1981 American slasher film directed by Tobe Hooper, written by Larry Block and starring Elizabeth Berridge, Kevin Conway, William Finley, Cooper Huckabee, Miles Chapin, and Sylvia Miles. The film's plot concerns four teenagers who become trapped in a dark ride at a local carnival and are stalked by a deformed killer inside, played by actor Wayne Doba.[2]

The Funhouse
Original United States theatrical release poster; a parody of The Rocky Horror Picture Show theatrical release poster
Directed byTobe Hooper
Written byLarry Block
Produced by
CinematographyAndrew Laszlo
Edited byJack Hofstra
Music byJohn Beal
Mace Neufeld Productions
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • March 13, 1981 (1981-03-13)
Running time
96 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$3 million
Box office$7.8 million

Released by Universal Pictures, the film was director Hooper's first major studio production after Eaten Alive (1977) and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). Upon its release on March 13, 1981, it grossed $7.8 million and received mixed to positive reviews from critics.


A masked intruder attacks teenager Amy as she showers (resembling the opening scene of Halloween and the shower scene from Psycho). The attacker turns out to be her younger brother Joey, a horror film fan, and his weapon is a fake rubber prop knife.

Against her father's wishes, Amy visits a sleazy traveling carnival with her new boyfriend Buzz, her best friend Liz, and Liz's irresponsible boyfriend Richie. At the carnival, the four teens smoke marijuana, peep into a 21-and-over strip show, heckle fortune teller Madame Zena, visit the freaks-of-nature exhibit, and view a magic show.

Richie dares the group to spend the night in "The Funhouse", which is actually a dark ride. After the park closes, the teenagers settle down inside the funhouse, at which point they witness the ride assistant, a silent man in a Frankenstein's Monster mask, engage Zena as a prostitute. He experiences premature ejaculation, but despite his request, Zena will not return her $100 fee. He murders her in a violent rage.

The teenagers try to leave, but find themselves locked inside the funhouse. As they attempt to escape, Richie secretly steals the money from the safe from which the masked assistant took Zena's fee. The funhouse's barker, Conrad Straker, discovers what his son Gunther Twibunt (the masked assistant) has done to Zena. Conrad also realizes that the money is missing. Thinking Gunther took it, he attacks him. Gunther's face is revealed to be gruesomely deformed with sharp protruding teeth, long white thinning hair, and red eyes.

The teens see this, and Conrad realizes someone is watching after Richie's lighter falls on the floor from the ceiling he and the others were hiding in. Buzz concludes that Richie has the money. Richie insists that he would have split the money with the others. Despite Liz wanting to return the money, Buzz knows it's too late since they are now in danger. Conrad stalks the funhouse to eliminate any witnesses and heckles Gunther into a murderous rage. The teens arm themselves with the various funhouse props as weapons.

Richie is hanged with a rope by Conrad, and the remaining three witness his corpse riding through on a cart. Liz, hysterical, falls through a trap door and is confronted by Gunther. She stabs him with a dagger, and he kills her by pushing her head through an industrial exhaust fan. Buzz stabs Conrad to death when he confronts him and Amy, but is then killed by Gunther. During a showdown between Amy and Gunther in the funhouse's maintenance area, Gunther is electrocuted and crushed to death between two spinning gears.

As dawn breaks, a traumatized Amy emerges from the funhouse and heads home as the animatronic fat lady perched atop the entrance laughs.



The Funhouse was written by Larry Block, and the script was purchased by Universal Pictures, who were looking to produce a teen-aimed horror film after the success of Paramount's Friday the 13th (1980).[3]

The film was shot on location in Miami, Florida.[4]


The Funhouse opened in 814 theaters in the United States on March 13, 1981. It earned $2,765,456 in its opening weekend and grossed $7,886,857 in total.[5]

Critical responseEdit

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, The Funhouse holds a 67% approval rating based on 18 critic reviews, with an average rating of 5.96/10.[6] Tobe Hooper was specifically praised for bringing style and suspense to what could have been a standard early-1980s blood and gore-focused horror film, and his work here was largely responsible for him getting the job of directing the original Poltergeist. Film critic Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune liked the film and gave it a positive review.[7]

John Corry of The New York Times gave the film a middling review, noting: "At times, in fact, Mr. Hooper almost persuades us that he is up to more than just gore, creepiness and trauma. He has photographed a carnival - freak show, girly show, grifters and geeks -with a sense of style. The carnival is a small vision of middle-America gone sour, reveling in mean gaiety, and it is not bad while it lasts. Then the monster comes in and drools."[8] Variety's review of the film was similarly mixed: "For all the elegance of photography, [the] pic has nothing in particular up its sleeves, and devotees of director Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre will be particularly disappointed with the almost total lack of shocks and mayhem."[9]

In a review published in People, the film was praised: "While the director, Tobe (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) Hooper, ought to have moved on to better things, he is the master of this gore-and-sadism genre... The film features an excruciatingly tense final confrontation.[10] Alex Keneas of Newsday also gave the film a positive review: "The Funhouse doesn't trade on gratuitous and graphic gore, but it doesn't have to. In little ways and using the traditional tried and true devices of the genre ... it skillfully heightens expectations [and] nicely evokes the chiller of a bygone era as it pays respect to Hitchcock and James Whale."[citation needed]

Composer John Beal's mostly orchestral score was praised by critics, and the soundtrack CD later became a collector's item.[11][12]

Home mediaEdit

As a "video nasty"Edit

The film was unsuccessfully prosecuted as a video nasty in the UK a few years after its release. Some commentators have questioned its attempted banning, given that the film is fairly tame in comparison to other entries on the list, leading some to suggest it was mistakenly chosen instead of the infamous Last House on Dead End Street,[13] which was released under an alternative title The Fun House and oddly did not appear on the list. It was released uncut on VHS in 1987 and later on DVD in 1999.[citation needed]

Later releasesEdit

On July 18, 2011, Arrow Video released a new special edition Blu-ray disc in the UK, with the following special features: an audio commentary with The Funhouse special effects artists Craig Reardon and Jeffrey Reddick (creator of the Final Destination series), an audio commentary with producer Derek Power and genre scholar Howard S. Berger, an audio commentary with Justin Kerswell, author of Teenage Wasteland and host of the slasher cinema website Hysteria Lives, and author Calum Waddell, Carnage at the Carnival: Tobe Hooper Remembers "The Funhouse" , Miles of Mayhem: Acting in Tobe's Funhouse with star Miles Chapin, A Trilogy of Terror: The Make-up Madness of Craig Reardon, in which the S/FX wizard recollects his collaborations with Tobe Hooper; Eaten Alive, Poltergeist and The Funhouse, Master Class of Horror: Mick Garris, in which the director of Sleepwalkers and the miniseries adaptation of The Shining reflects on the crimson-covered career of his longtime colleague Tobe Hooper, a live Q&A with Tobe Hooper from San Francisco, never-before-seen behind the scenes photographs from the collection of Craig Reardon, the film's trailer, a brand new transfer of the film in high definition (1080p), a four-panel reversible sleeve option with original and newly commissioned artwork, a double-sided fold-out artwork poster, and a collector's booklet featuring brand-new writing on the film by critic and author Kim Newman.[citation needed]

January 30, 2012, also saw a UK release of The Funhouse by Arrowdrome DVD.[citation needed]

Arrow Video released a special edition of The Funhouse on Blu-ray on November 26, 2012.[citation needed]

Universal Home Entertainment released the film to DVD in the US on September 7, 2004. Shout! Factory released the film on Blu-ray and DVD in October 2012 under their horror sub-label, Scream Factory.[14] Universal also released The Funhouse in a four-film set, including Phantasm II, Sssssss, and The Serpent and the Rainbow.[citation needed]

Also noted that Gunther was meant to appear in the Boogeymen: The Killer Compilation;[citation needed] however, Gunther did not make the list. He did appear in the TV commercials of Boogeymen.[citation needed]


A novelization of the screenplay was written by Dean Koontz, under the pseudonym Owen West.[citation needed] As the film production took longer than expected, the book was released before the film. The novel contains a great deal of backstory and characterization which was not used in the film.[citation needed]

Representation in other mediaEdit

In Halloween Kills, the characters Sondra and Phil are watching The Funhouse on TV while playing with a drone.


  1. ^ Muir 2012, p. 168.
  2. ^ "AFI|Catalog". Retrieved 2021-01-07.
  3. ^ Nowell 2010, p. 174.
  4. ^ Burkart, Gregory (February 16, 2016). "Slashback! Something Not Quite Human is Waiting in THE FUNHOUSE (1981)". Blumhouse Productions. Archived from the original on September 18, 2016. Retrieved July 3, 2018.
  5. ^ "The Funhouse". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved December 22, 2016.
  6. ^ "The Funhouse (1981)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 3, 2018.
  7. ^ Interview with Gene Siskel in Fangoria #15 (1981)
  8. ^ Corry, John (March 14, 1981). "'Funhouse' by Tobe Hooper". The New York Times. p. 11. Retrieved March 14, 2017.
  9. ^ Variety Staff (March 18, 1981). "Review: 'The Funhouse'". Variety. p. 133. Retrieved July 3, 2018.
  10. ^ People Staff (April 27, 1981). "Picks and Pans Review: The Funhouse". People. Retrieved July 3, 2018. Also quoted in Muir 2012, p. 167.
  11. ^ Goldwasser, Dan (June 23, 2001). "The Funhouse". Soundtrack.Net. Retrieved March 9, 2017.
  12. ^ Hunter, Dan; Knowles, Jason. "The Funhouse". The Terror Trap. Retrieved March 14, 2017.
  13. ^ Sam (September 25, 2011). "Video Nasties: The Funhouse". Archived from the original on April 22, 2016. Retrieved July 3, 2018.
  14. ^ "The Funhouse (Collector's Edition)". Shout! Factory. Retrieved December 24, 2016.

Works citedEdit

External linksEdit