Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Funhouse (1981)

Caution: Spoilers Galore

From Master of Horror Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist) comes this frightening tale of teenage hijinx gone horribly wrong. The Funhouse brings together all the essential elements of a great horror film: lusty teens in heat, thrilling suspense, and violent death. The fact that this film boasts murderous carnies, mutated monsters, and a freak show doesn't hurt, either.

The movie opens with a nod to the memorable scene from Halloween in which a young Michael Myers prepares to murder his sister. A figure selects a mask from a wall in a room clearly occupied by a serious horror fan, and the viewer is treated to a stalkers-eye-view as the mysterious figure slowly makes his way down the hall toward the bathroom, where the buxom brunette Amy (Elizabeth Berridge) is taking a shower. Amy screams while her attacker lunges at her, Psycho-style, through the shower curtain, wielding a vicious-looking knife. After a brief struggle, Amy tears off her assailant's mask and discovers that her little brother Joey (Shawn Carson) has just made her the target of a twisted practical joke. The kid can't be blamed for wanting to peep at his sister in the shower, really; she has excellent tits.

Downstairs, Amy's cold, soulless parents are watching The Bride of Frankenstein on television as she prepares for her date. While Amy's mother seems to care about nothing beyond finding her way to the bottom of her glass, her father shows some concern for his daughter. "I don't know where you're going tonight, but I don't want you going to that damn carnival. It's the same one that went through Fairfield last year when they found the bodies of those two little girls... They had to use dental charts to identify the bodies."

Amy lies to her parents, telling them that her date is taking her to the movies. When Buzz (Cooper Huckabee) arrives in front of her house and lays on the horn (the mark of a true gentleman), Amy leaps up anxiously and heads out the door. They pick up their friends, Liz (Largo Woodruff) and Richie (Miles Chapin), which completes the perfectly balanced lineup of potential victims: the good girl, the bad girl, the hunk, and the geek. If the viewer doesn't see a bloodbath coming at this point, the viewer should seek out a reputable opthometrist.

Amy and Buzz don't exactly hit it off right away. Amy is a textbook good girl, while Buzz gives the impression that he is a textbook boneheaded player-type. He must prove himself to his girl following the rules laid forth in The American Way Handbook: he wins her a stuffed panda playing strongman, and henceforth, Amy can't seem to stop undressing him with her eyes. After taking in a few of the carnival's main attractions, someone comes up with a most brilliant idea: let's pull an all-nighter in the funhouse so that we can get it on like wild pigs!


Little Joey, who snuck out of the house and followed his sister to the carnival, watches in confusion when Amey's cart comes back to the funhouse loading station empty. The strange carny in the Frankenstein mask (Wayne Doba) seems to notice something is amiss as well, but he doesn't pay the empty carts much attention. Having just come from the carnival strip show, he has other things on his mind.

He takes the fortune teller, Madame Zena (Sylvia Miles) back to the funhouse after the carnival has closed down for the night. Not knowing that Amy, Buzz, Liz, and Richie are watching from the cracks in the ceiling above, he proceeds to pay the saggy, old woman to perform sexual services on him. He hands the hag $100 from the cash box in exchange for quite possibly the quickest handjob in the history of sex, and gets more than a little worked up when Madame Zena moves to make her exit. "Do you actually think I would let you do it to me, you freak?" she says to him, realizing that he expected more than a few hurried tugs.

At this point, Frankendude blows his top completely, and strangles every last drop out of life out of the screaming hag. The teenagers upstairs become gravely silent as they realize they have just witnessed a murder, and begin searching in vain for a way out. Richie essentially seals their fate, however, when he pockets the rest of the money in the cash box while his friends' backs are turned. Clearly, this is a move destined to come back to bite him - all of them - in the ass later on in the film.

"Relax... Just relax... Oh, too late."

When Frankendude's father, the carnival barker (Kevin Conrad), realizes that his son has killed one of their own, and furthermore, that all of his money is gone, a conflict ensues which reveals Frankendude for what he truly is: a grotesquely deformed monster! He howls, shrieks, and drools while the kids look down in terror. A lighter slips from Richie's fingertips. Their presence has been discovered.

It's all zing-zang action from here on in. First, Richie is torn away from the group, and is later nailed in the face with an axe by Buzz, who thinks Richie is an approaching attacker. Liz joins him on The Other Side shortly after, when she falls through a trap door and is menaced by the drooling beast. This scene is particularly dazzling to the eye, as it takes place in front of a whirling fan, which creates a wonderfully-spooky strobe effect as the beautiful Liz pleads for her life. "I know you like girls," she says to the monster. "I can be nice to you... I can make you feel good." With the monster on top of her, groping her, she raises up a weapon and plunges it into his back, but it's of no use. Monsters never give up the ghost on the first try. Never.

Yet another fan technique is employed when Amy spots her parents on the carnival grounds outside, who had been called by a kindly worker who had discovered poor Joey in a catatonic state of shock. Like in so many other great horror films (most notably, Wes Craven's Last House on the Left), Amy can almost reach out and touch her salvation. However, no matter how much she screams, her voice is lost in the whir of the exhaust fan, and her parents drive away without the awareness that their daughter is about to be clawed to bits by an unspeakable beast.

Amy clings to Buzz, who appears to be her only hope in getting out of the funhouse alive. Not only is he sexy, but he is muscular and agile. If anyone can save her, Buzz can. He works in a filling station, after all. In the end, he succeeds in two very crucial tasks: 1) cutting the danger in half by impaling the carnival barker on a sword; and 2) multiplying the danger by ten when the monster realizes his father has been killed, and thus becomes (understandably) even more pissed off. Oh, baby! It's on, now!

Buzz eats it. It was a given. Unimaginable sounds spill out of Amy's throat as her man is carried across the floor, slain, by a mechanical clown. The way his body is draped over the clown is actually rather festive, while the other mechanisms inside the funhouse begin to come to life, creaking and groaning in a most unsettling way. Amy is a smart girl (who suffered a momentary lapse of reason when she allowed the tingling sensation in her bathing suit areas to override common sense), so she decides not to continue standing there, lamenting her dead hunk any longer. She goes off in search of some place to hide, for she knows it will only be a matter of time before the monster comes looking for her.

Amy takes an eerie walk through the funhouse before finally setting inside the nerve centre of place. Massive gears churn noisily about her, a mess of wires running everywhere while she searches for a place to curl up out of sight and wait for the monster to make his next move. He does not disappoint her, appearing suddenly in all his freakish glory. The climactic struggle between Amy and the Monster is decadent, violently erupting when the monster becomes caught on a hook, and is pulled into the giant gears which power the funhouse. His manic screams of pain almost overpower the eerie musical score (composed by John Beal) as he writhes, pulling Amey ever-closer to the churning mechanism.

Amy manages to pull away, and can only look on, mesmerized with terror, as the monster lets out his final wails of tortured agony. At last, the beast is dead, and Amy begins to make her way out of the funhouse, no doubt pondering how she will manage to get her mental state back in order in time for Prom.

The Funhouse is a gripping, thrill ride of a movie because it capitalizes on the suspicions many people harbour about carnival folk: that they are a bunch of drunken, criminal drifters to be avoided at all costs. In this movie, all of our worst fears about the seedy underbelly of carnival life are confirmed - and then some! Tobe Hooper proves with this film why he is one of the Masters, creating an atmosphere of spine-tingling suspense, peppered with gruesome, fear-inspiring imagery. The special effects are acceptable, leaving more to the imagination than many of the horror films that studios are barfing out today. The monster's makeup is outstanding, and leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination, right down to the thick, sticky drool that oozes consistently from the his mouth.

As for the film's casting, I cannot say enough about Elizabeth Berridge's performance in the role of Amy. I found her to be very believeable, which is a rarity in the genre. Not only does the lovely brunette scream well, but she actually acts well, too. Those who have spent a lifetime watching entirely too much television may recognize Ms. Berridge from The John Larroquette Show, in which she played the dowdy, decidedly unattractive officer Eve Eggers. The first time I watched this movie, I thought to myself: "Hey... isn't that? No, it can't be!" After a brief stopover at the Internet Movie Database, I was amused to discover that, in fact, it was!

The other player of note in The Funhouse is Kevin Conrad, who portrayed the carnival barker. This guy looks like he actually could be a carny, and his creepy gaze is frightfully penetrating. As for the other actors, they weren't fantastic, but they also didn't blow the whole film with their inability. "Tolerably mediochre" would be an appropriate description of the supporting cast.

If nothing else, The Funhouse will have you wondering what lurks behind the scenes in every tent and trailer the next time you're riding The Cobra with your pals at the local fair.

5/5 Kitty Skulls = Pick of the litter!


The Elizabeth Berridge Website features some groovy Funhouse lobby cards, as well as more pictures and information about Ms. Berridge.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Rue Morgue Festival of Fear: Guest List Update

I was poking around on the Rue Morgue website this morning, and erupted with glee when I read that horror royalty Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Funhouse, Poltergeist), and Linnea Quigley (Return of the Living Dead, Night of the Demons, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers) will be joining the already fantastic lineup of special guests at this years' Rue Morgue Festival of Fear, which will be taking over the Metro Toronto Convention Centre August 22-24.

As previously posted, other guests of note include: guest of honour Wes Craven (Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street), Sid Haig (Spiderbaby, House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil's Rejects), Tura Satana (Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Astro Zombies), Lloyd Kaufman (The Toxic Avenger, Tromeo & Juliet, Terror Firmer), and Brad Dourif (the Child's Play series, Exorcist III, Graveyard Shift, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest).

This looks like a good one, folks, and should go a long way toward making up for the fact that I have missed out on the last two festivals. To coin a phrase immortalized by Ms. Quigley in Return of the Living Dead: "I just wanna party!"


The Official Website of Tobe Hooper is up, but not exactly running. Set your bookmarks, apparently full access is "coming soon." is mostly operational (a few spots still in development), and full of goodies related to "The Original Scream Queen*."


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Heavy MTL Festival (2008)

I stood out in the blazing sun for two days, subsisting on a diet limited to beer and special herbs, and all I got was this not-so-lousy feeling that I had been reborn. I honestly can't think of a better place to have done those things than the grand, old city of Montreal.

Farewell, sweet lady. I will always remember the time we spent together this past weekend. Rest assured that I am (quite literally) counting the days until next summer, when we'll meet again for more Heavy MTL.

Peter Steele of Type O Negative still dyes 'em Black, Black, Black, Black No. 1.
I still love you, baby, which is why I want to recommend some MenScience Cream
for those liver spots on your arm.

I dumped a bunch more photos into a Flickr Album, including some shots of Mastodon, Priestess, Voivod, and lastly but not leastly, Iron Maiden (aka The Greatest Metal Band of All Time). Be warned: most of the Maiden shots came out looking more than a little like art prints, due to the fact that I had to use a night setting with a really low shutter speed.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Monster Man (2003)

Caution: Spoilers Galore

A few years back, a friend of mine brought over a DVD for me to watch. After peeping the front and back cover of Monster Man, my heart fluttered a little. A bunch of youngens being chased by a monster truck driven by an honest-to-goodness monster seemed like a premise that was simply too ridiculous to work, and too good to be true. However, my friend and I share the same taste for over-the-top horror-comedy, so I decided to watch the movie and hope for the best.

Besides a gritty opening scene which smacked of foreshadowing, the first twenty minutes or so of this movie caused serious doubts to spring up. It essentially begins by introducing the viewer to Adam (Eric Jungmann) and Harley (Justin Urich), a pair of twenty-something boys on a road trip. Actually, Adam is on his way to stop the love of his life from marrying another man, and Harley is stowing away in Adam's back seat. The two boys were once the best of friends, and Harley is determined to repair their relationship as they cruise the open road. Unfortunately for Adam, Harley is a Grade A Asshole, and the banter between the two of them resembles that of many other teeny-bopper horror films which have annoyed me in the past.

Their bickering is finally interrupted by a crazy-ass monster truck that seems to come out of nowhere to ride their tail as their car travels the lonely highway. The truck succeeds in bumping them off the road before taking off again, and the boys are forced to help themselves to some gas from an abandoned camper after they discover that the chase has depleted their fuel. What Adam and Harley don't know is that the camper isn't exactly abandoned, and that they have just stumbled across something far more sinister than an out-of-control redneck in a truck on 'roids.

Their terror is subdued momentarily when they encounter a sexy hitch-hiker (Aimee Brooks) who looks like she's just come from a goth club, and could use a box of Crest WhiteStrips. They blow right past her, though, and stop off at a rest stop where Adam heads to the bathroom to relieve himself. Pulling a pair of galoshes out of his trusty fanny pack, he wades through inches of sludge on the floor and settles into a filthy stall, complete with a glory hole, which he dutifully plugs with a wad of toilet paper.

While Adam is busy dropping the kids off at the pool, and Harley is passed out in the car, the wacko in the monster truck pulls into the rest stop alongside them. Adam is mortified as the slow, heavy footsteps come into the bathroom, and a hulking figure begins rattling the door of his stall. The growling menace enters the stall next to Adam, and he watches in horror as the makeshift plug he has made for the glory hole is popped out from the other side. He slowly inches closer to the opening, daring to get a glimpse.

Holy hideous freakitude, Batman! What Adam sees on the other side of the bathroom stall looks only vaguely human. He loses it and runs outside, only to find Harley taking a fuck you leak in the monster's monster truck (how often does a person get to say that in a lifetime?). The two of them manage to scramble away and decide to spend the night in a hotel and get their car off the road in case Mr. Monster came looking for them, and the fact that the A-Hole pissed in his truck was all but a guarantee that he would.

Adam is understandably restless, and feeling paranoid by the time they are ready to turn in for the night. He awakens from dreamland to a strange, oddly sexual sensation, and discovers that he is knuckle-deep in a piece of roadkill that he had passed on the highway earlier in the day. He tosses the dead kitty in fear and disgust, and when it lands on the A-Hole's chest, I don't think I have to tell you that frat boy-approved merriment ensues. Let's just say the guy loves to eat pussy.

The boys leave the hotel, screaming and freaking, without even bothering to change out of their pyjamas (such as they are). Their terror reaches a climax when a shadowy figure pops up from the backseat. It's the sexy, hitch-hiking goth girl!! Now this is a roadie!! The girl introduces herself as Sarah, but is otherwise secretive about who she is and where she is going. Aren't all gothy types mysterious? They let her ride along with them, mostly so that they can touch her boobs while she is passed out in the back seat.

Sweet, suave, darling little Adam is somehow able to win Sarah's affections, and the two of them make wild, motel love (dry-humping, actually) while she expresses her desire for him Yoda-style.

Adam and Sarah are torn from their post-coitus bliss by the sound of screaming outside their motel room. The three friends witness the violent murder of a man who had been hassling Sarah at a redneck bar they had stopped in earlier. Mr. Monster plows over the ugly hillbilly in plaid a number of times before revealing his fucked-up face (henceforth, he is actually referred to as "Fuckface" in the movie) to the threesome, causing them to run away, shrieking in terror.

On the run again, the merry three stop at the sketchiest of roadside eateries to fuel up for the inevitable final showdown with Fuckface. Seriously, the place is gnarly -- it's literally a barn that sells questionable-looking chili to road-weary travellers, hoping none of them will notice the special bonuses included with each meal. You guessed it: it's made of people!!!! People!!!!!

The merry three again run off, shrieking in terror, and Fuckface comes barrelling out after them in his truck yet again. The ensuing chase scene is well worth the wait, especially given the fact that Sarah is running in platform goth boots. The scenes were shot with the truck moving slowly for technical and safety reasons, and then sped up to create the action-packed romp through the desolate countryside. I must say, it was actually very difficult for me to capture an image of the chase scene in which Sarah actually looked scared, as Aimee Brooks seems to have been smiling with glee the entire time. Eventually, I gave up and settled on a more distant shot.

"I'm a corpse burrito, dude!"

Ultimately, the merry three are unable to escape the awesome force that is Fuckface, and the loudmouth A-Hole is roughly introduced to a tree trunk, thus ending his undoubtedly rich life. Sarah tries to make a run for it while Adam takes a brave stand against the brooding Mr. Monster.

Adam narrowly escapes the encounter, and goes off in search of his ladylove after he hears her screaming in the distance. He finds Fuckface's crib (it's the one with the really messed-up looking dude standing out in front), gets inside, and uncovers a situation more horrifying than he could ever have imagined. The place is dank, and cluttered with serious-looking medical equipment in both used and unused states. There are bloody pentagrams adorning the walls (how quaint), and an unbelievably fucked-up (yes, even more so than Fuckface), pasty guy lying stretched out on a gurney while a Betty Boop cartoon plays innocently in the background.

Adam quickly finds Sarah tied up in another room, but not before the gutted-out dude wakes up and starts making a fuss, calling for Fuckface to take care of the bothersome boy with the fanny pack. Unfortunately for poor Adam, Sarah is a heartless tramp, and has fallen out of love with him. She cracks him in the face with a shovel, and the movie's underplot begins to unfurl.

Sarah is a Satanist, and the gruesome twosome are her brothers. Brother Bob/Fuckface (Michael Bailey Smith) mowed over Brother Fred (Joe Goodrich) one night in his monster truck, and then promptly hit a tree. Luckily, Sarah's knowledge of the dark arts saved both of their lives, but Brother Fred would eventually require a new body if he wanted to achieve true longevity. Unfortunately for Adam, this is where he fits into the plan.

"My brother is getting your body, Adam."

The following preparations had to be completed in order to perform the body-switching ritual:

The subject must voluntarily step inside a pentagram with a decapitated body (the camper).
The subject must sleep with road kill (the pussy).
The subject's virginity must be taken (did I forget to mention that Adam was a virgin?).
The subject's blood must be tasted (included in the dry-humping/virginity-taking scene).
The subject must eat the dead (the tasty chili).The subject must be scared to death (check, please!).

As Sarah prepares to start cutting into Adam, Brother Fred asks a rather poignant question: "You diddled my sister with that body, so when I get your body, does that mean I fucked my own sister?" Hey-oh!

At this point, Adam decides that he ain't going out like no punk bitch in some ritual. His trusty fanny pack saves his ass once again (the irony!), and he is able to cut through his restraints with a razor blade, catching Sister Sarah (who now speaks in a decidedly bad, southern accent to match her brothers' drawl) in the throat on the upswing.

Then, in a flurry of terrific makeup and special effects, Adam uses his newly-found bravery and his wit to cut through the brothers like a plough through a hayfield. He forgets to make double-sure that he's finished the job (they always forget), and Brother Bob limps up silently behind him in a classic, drawn-out "look out behind you!!!" moment that seasoned horror fans will see coming from 25 miles away.

Not to worry, Adam! It's your good buddy Harley to the rescue! The A-Hole comes bombing through in Fuckface's monster truck, slamming the ugly bastard into the ground once and for all. Adam takes his turn behind the wheel of the beastly vehicle, backing over the jellified corpse again and again until sunrise. It's good to be young, recently-laid, and covered in blood.

Although I've been making fun, Monster Man was actually a very enjoyable flick. The pace was good once it got going, the plot twists were refreshing, the acting was not-terrible, and the gore effects were fantastic. Written and directed by Michael Davis (who was involved with animation before he started making movies about monsters who drive monster trucks), I found it to be an thoroughly entertaining comedy with some murder, Satanism, and gore thrown in for good measure. Moreover, I felt that Davis intended it to come across as a horror film for actual horror fans, rather than an attempt at cashing in on a genre growing in popularity.

Lots and lots of fun!

4/5 Kitty Skulls = Video cocaine!