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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

The Funhouse Massacre  (2015)

Reviewed for by Dustin Putman

The Film
2 Stars
(Release Date: June 7, 2016) – Amusement parks and carnivals have been used as the central locale for a great many horror movies due to their curious mix of merriment and mystery. As customers, we instantaneously put our safety in the hands of carnies and inexperienced ride attendants with little thought to the consequences if something were to go wrong. Dark rides and funhouses, in particular, are often spooky and visually phantasmagoric to begin with, but what is lurking in the darkness remains an unknown constant. With rubbery ghouls and dummies designed to pop out and startle around every corner, it would be mighty easy for a real psychopath to find his or her way into the bowels of the ride. Worse yet, no one would be the wiser if said unhinged individual began to knock off passengers, their real dead bodies intermingling with the props. Add the holiday of All Hallows' Eve to the mix, and all bets are off.

If 1981's high-tension, Tobe Hooper-directed slasher gem "The Funhouse" represents one of the pinnacles of the subgenre, "The Funhouse Massacre" is, shall we say, of a lesser brethren. Director Andy Palmer and screenwriters Ben Begley and Renee Dorian prove they know their stuff when it comes to sly movie tributes—everything from 1985's "The Goonies" to 1988's "Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers" are subtly referenced—but they have not quite mastered their tone. Do they want this to be a laugh riot? A scare-per-minute thriller? By trying to do both, they lessen the effectiveness of the screwball humor and the legitimate would-be jolts. The film, then, is more ambitious than successful, underusing its villains while juggling thinly developed, run-of-the-mill protagonists.

Horror icon Robert Englund (1984's "A Nightmare on Elm Street") brightens up the opening scenes, playing the warden of Statesville Mental Hospital, home to some of the most dangerous serial killers still living. When visiting journalist Ms. Quinn (Candice De Visser) reveals herself to not be who she says she is, the lunatic inmates are promptly unleashed upon the town just as Halloween night gets underway. Making their way into the funhouse of a local scare park, evangelist cult leader Mental Manny (Jere Burns), chef-turned-cannibal Animal (E.E. Bell), psycho clown Rocco (Mars Crain), homicidally good-looking Dr. Suave (Sebastian Siegel), and the master of human taxidermy (Clint Howard) prepare to paint the attraction's clientele in grisly shades of crimson. This is especially unfortunate for a group of college-aged restaurant workers (Renee Dorian, Matt Angel, Chasty Ballesteros, Sterling Sulieman) looking to party at the scare park. Meanwhile, two police officers (Ben Begley, Scottie Thompson) investigating a gruesome motel-room murder edge closer to the truth about the maniacal culprits responsible.

"The Funhouse Massacre" makes one eerily true observation about how easy it might be for murderous activities to be grievously misconstrued on the one night of the year—Halloween—when all bets are off. How can one tell the difference between a costume-wearing reveler playing a part and someone who is genuinely begging for his or her life? It is a disquieting notion, one this otherwise knowingly silly film probably doesn't earn. Director Andy Palmer brings a certain vibrant "Killer Klowns from Outer Space"-esque style to the proceedings, even as the script isn't quite in final shooting order. It wants to be a fun party movie, and achieves this off and on when the ploys to amuse aren't strained. A stronger recent dark horror-comedy of which this one somewhat reminds is another Scream Factory release, 2015's underrated "Gravy." "The Funhouse Massacre" holds a low-budget charm, but there is a better film—one that's cleverer, creepier, and more imaginatively utilizes its setting—just out of reach.

Read Dustin's Theatrical Review

Blu-ray Picture/Sound

"The Funhouse Massacre" stalks its way to a satisfying 1080p presentation. The picture stumbles out of the gate with a rather severe pop-up of black crush as Ms. Quinn climbs the steps outside the Statesville Mental Hospital, her dark hair and suit entirely bleeding together into a single black blob. Fortunately, the image improves substantially thereafter, its occasional softness appearing to be accurate to its digital source. Detail is solid overall, while the moonlight blues particularly stand out in exterior shots. As one would hope, the copious blood and guts on display pop with pronouncement. Two audio options are offered: 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks. The 5.1 mix includes nice surrounds, especially as the real and fictional screams of the funhouse encroach up the protagonists. Central dialogue sticks predominately to the front channels. There are a few minor instances where the spoken words threaten to get drowned out by the music score and sound effects, but these are few and far between. This is a low-budget movie and, to be sure, isn't a demo-worthy track, but it gets the job done.

Blu-ray Features
  • Audio Commentary with director Andy Palmer, producer Warner Davis, and actors Clint Howard and Courtney Gains
  • "Popcorn Talk Watchalong" Video Audio Commentary with director Andy Palmer, and co-writers/co-stars Ben Begley and Renee Dorian (1:33:34, HD)
  • Production Diaries (5:35, HD)
  • "A Day on Set" Featurette (3:15, HD)
  • Trailer (2:20, HD)
Bottom Line
"The Funhouse Massacre" isn't sure whether it wants to be scary or funny, the tonal tug and pull lessening the impact of both its horror and its sometimes too-broad comedy. What I cannot resist, however, is a funhouse-set slasher flick. This isn't one of the better entries in this super-specialized subgenre—those expecting the second coming of Tobe Hooper's atmospheric early-'80s opus "The Funhouse" will be sorely disappointed—but it is diverting enough and will best be enjoyed by undiscriminating viewers looking for something silly, disposable and gruesome on a Friday night. Scream Factory goes all out with a great Blu-ray treatment that includes two commentary tracks (one of them a high-spirited picture-in-picture video commentary). For slasher fans and Scream Factory enthusiasts, "The Funhouse Massacre" comes recommended.

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© 2016 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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