Saturday, July 10, 2010

Opening Titles

Without any further placement of the Universal logo itself within The Funhouse, this 1963 - 1990 logo carries greater thematic resonance to the film today than in 1981, through the evocation of formal Hollywood classicism. This is the same reason Quentin Tarantino used this particular logo in Inglourious Basterds.

I like this subtly carnivalesque font, its very particular to The Funhouse because it hasn't been used anywhere else I could name.

The sliding door reveals of these authentic carnival puppets are an excellent introduction, establishing immediate emotional resonance to the chosen subject matter of the grey area between fear and fun, dreaded by any child who ever felt odd about a clown or the herky-jerky "life" of dead, soulless automatons.

On repeat viewings the figures assigned to certain actors take on obvious significance as avatars. Some are not so obvious. Given that Miles Chapin's character Ritchie is the teen whose appetite for kicks is responsible for getting the others trapped in the funhouse, I'm willing to bet this eternally gluttonous doll was chosen for him specifically.

An ironic touch: the promiscuous teen Liz, played by Largo Woodruff, ironically presented as an old maid. One with a knife, which will come into play for her later in the film.

A little more obvious and mean spirited: Sylvia Miles the fortune telling Madame Zena, here as cackling old hag.

One of Hooper's few regular actors, Finley can also be seen in Eaten Alive and Night Terrors.

The delicate flower. Beautiful, yet the doll's damage foretells her fate.

Playing three barkers actually. That might have been too confusing to fit into a single onscreen title.

The "children" of the film - one literally and the other in mental capacity - are given one figurehead to share.

A casting team about to become very successful. Coincidentally, their only casting experience prior to The Funhouse was for Fade To Black, a horror film about a young man obsessed with horror films who starts re-enacting the movies to murder his tormentors. Most of Champion & Basker's work in the 1980s would consist of casting teen meat for Friday the 13th sequels and doofblerps for Police Academy sequels.

Note the piano player and axe-wielding executioner in their proper roles.

Morton Rabinowitz also production designed the amazing and criminally overlooked 1969 film, They Shoot Horses Don't They? - a period piece of the 1930s with directed stylistic ties to the carnivalesque.

"I wanted to work with Laszlo because of his use of color. Immediately, I wanted him for an extremely colorful movie."

- Tobe Hooper

Remarkably, this is the same Mark L. Lester who'd make the trash exploitation classic Class of 1984 one year later, and direct the epochal Schwarzenegger vehicle Commando in 1985.

The scribe with his pen.

This laughing guy was featured heavily in the Hooper-directed music video for Billy Idol's "Dancing With Myself."

"The question (The Funhouse and The Howling) both address is how to deal with real horrors when one has been encouraged, particularly by horror films, to expect any danger to be imaginary, to be fun, to be presented within the frame of an institution (the carnival in The Funhouse) or genre (the Disney cartoon and The Wolf Man in The Howling). In both cases the institution turns out to be the danger. In The Funhouse this boils down to 'you get what you pay for' and 'you pay for what you get': the audience wants to have fun being scared in the "funhouse" of the genre, and the director (who surrogate, as the credits make explicit, is an overweight, chuckling doll) has the last laugh."

- Bruce F. Kawin
"The Funhouse and The Howling"
Film Quarterly, Fall 1981

"He wishes he had never entered the funhouse. But he has. Then he wishes he were dead. But he's not. Therefore he will construct funhouses for others and be their secret operator - though he would rather be among the lovers for whom funhouses are designed."

- John Barth
"Lost In The Funhouse"

In one last gentle breach of the third wall, the fat lady doll dissolves into a poster advertising the place both the characters in the film and members of the audience pay to get into. The door on which the poster hangs opens as a final sliding door through which we glide into the main attraction: the movie The Funhouse. This is about as perfect as opening title sequences get.


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  2. "ironically presented as an old maid"

    thats her true self.

  3. Happy 40th anniversary of the funhouse !
    2 days ago marked 40 years since this classic came out !