September 25th, 2014: The Funhouse (1981)

Cast and Crew: Mark L. Lester (Producer); Rick Baker (Special Make-up Design); Kevin Conway, William Finley, Sylvia Miles, Sid Raymond

What It’s About: Amy Harper (Elizabeth Berridge) goes to the carnival that’s arrived in town over her parents objections to her date Buzz Dawson (Cooper Huckabee) and to the carnival itself, which they see as seedy and dangerous.  Amy and buzz meet up with their friends and the group decides to stay the night in the Funhouse.  Amy’s younger brother Joey (Shawn Carson) sneaks out because he, too, wants to go to the forbidden carnival.  Unfortunately for Amy and her friends, the Funhouse just happens to be run by some very, very unpleasant people, and Joey isn’t quite up to the task of getting help when he realizes that his older sister went in but never came out of The Funhouse….

Why Watch it Today?:  When I was a kid, we’d go to a couple of town’s over to the Durham Fair (this years begins today) every year in late September.  The fair was more focused on agriculture and local organizations’ food stands than the carnival in The Funhouse, but when we went at night some of the stranger people selling homemade goods and junk (I still remember the biker  who sold Nazi memorabilia) would creep me out.  I also feared separation from my family in the commotion.  My parents (probably for monetary reasons) never wanted me to go to the midway area, with its games of chance and rides, but I could see it as we walked by.  Especially fascinating was the fun house, with monsters painted on the side, and the sideshow attraction which usually featured the world’s largest pig and smallest horse.  In its best moments The Funhouse captures the feeling I had as a kid at that Fair, the mix of hokey, temporary and quickly thrown together and soon to depart cheap fun mixed with a little danger and wonder about what might go on in that fun house and the sideshow that I was never allowed to go into.

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