A big problem with modern horror films is that they all too often confuse being unpleasant with being creepy or scary. Though films with that approach can make for good horror, filmmakers often forget that the genre can have a fun, rollercoaster vibe to it. Even the balls-to-the-wall variety of horror filmmaking can be fun: The Funhouse Massacre is an entertaining throwback to an ’80s style of horror, where buckets of blood are mixed with a zippy pace and a cheeky tone that give the proceedings a demented cheerfulness.
The Funhouse Massacre begins with a gang of colorful serial killers escaping from a mental institution, a group that includes ex-cult leader Mental Manny (Jere Burns), psycho dentist Dr. Suave (Sebastian Siegel), cannibal chef Animal (E.E. Bell) and baby doll psycho Dollface (Candice De Visser). Instead of running for the hills, they take over a “chamber of horrors” style Halloween attraction, taking the place of the actors to commit real killings of the unwitting patrons. The only hope in stopping them lies in a group of restaurant employees attending the attraction, including nice girl Laurie (Renee Dorian) and her would-be suitor Morgan (Matt Angel), and a female sheriff (Scottie Thompson) who has an unexpected connection to the mayhem.
The Funhouse Massacre is more horror comedy than purebred horror but it’s a romp that is clearly aimed at the horror devotees. There are plentiful gore FX, most of them practical in nature and crafted by Robert Kurtzman of KNB-EFX fame. The ranks of the killers include cult fave Clint Howard and the supporting cast includes ex-Children Of The Corn star Courtney Gains and Robert Englund in a pivotal first-act role as the asylum warden who introduces us to the killers. It’s also packed to the rafters with in-jokes, including a pair of horror addicts who compare the mayhem to vintage horror.
On the downside, the script for The Funhouse Massacre isn’t as clever or sharply-crafted as it would like to be: it’s nicely paced but has a few too many characters on both the hero and villain sides and breaks down into a series of vignettes as it nears its finale instead of ramping up to a multi-layered finale. It also toys with a theme of people being too desensitized to recognize real mayhem right under their noses but never fully commits to that theme and uses it more as a springboard for gruesome gags.
However, The Funhouse Massacre is at heart designed to be a good time for those with a macabre sense of humor and on that level, it delivers nicely. The cast is into their work and all bring the proper level of commitment: Burns in particular is great in a low-key turn as a creepy Jim Jones type and Thompson brings a surprise gravitas to a role that gets more serious as the film goes along. Director Andy Palmer keeps the pacing snappy and gives the film a nifty “horror comic book” look full of primary colored lighting and smoky nighttime exteriors.
In short, The Funhouse Massacre might be more or a programmer than a classic but it has a sense of wicked fun that the modern horror film world could use more of.
Blu-Ray Notes: Scream Factory picked this title up for blu-ray release and the results will make modern horror fans happy. The transfer is vibrant, with a nice level of detail and an impressive primary color palette. The lossless 5.1 stereo track is skillfully mixed and boasts some periodic surround-speaker effects that hit the target nicely.
This disc also has a decent package of extras. The first is a commentary track featuring Palmer, Gains and Howard. Palmer leads the chat as he lays out the challenges of the film’s 20-day shoot and the joys of working with his cast, with Gains and Howard offering their take from the actor’s perspective. There is another commentary track, done via picture-in-picture video that brings back Palmer to join co-writers/actors Dorian and Begley. There’s more give-and-take here, with a nice balance of details about the script and the production. The extras are rounded out by two brief on-set video segments and a trailer.