Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Barkers

"Come inside and see Daisy Mae, our two-headed cow."

Hooper's camera casually glides past the barker, emulating perfectly the POV of any passerby slowing down just enough to listen.

"See a sheep with six legs. Count 'em yourself."

"And these are creatures of God, ladies and gentlemen, not man."

"All authentic, and all alive."

"Inside, behind that lovely tent - "

"You're gonna see some of the most beautiful girls - "

"You've ever seen in your life."

ShockTillYouDrop: Whose idea was it to cast (Kevin Conway) in three parts?

Hooper: It was his request. He had just won the Tony and he read the script during the New York casting session. He said he'd love to do it, but he wanted to play all three parts. I said, if you can pull it off, nothing would be better. And he did. He pulled it off.

"Like my lovely sister, Mona, here."

"Mona, give 'em a show."

"That's a girl."

"That's all. Just a tease."

The familial theme once again simmers under the surface, mixing queasily with the theme of exploitative entertainment. There is, of course, another brother and sister relationship in the film besides the slimy Girl Tent Barker and his lovely sister Mona.

Again the camera moves slowly from right to left, the bobbing heads of other carnival marks giving the barker's pitch a slight verite realism. For the next barker, this movement suddenly ceases.

"Who will dare..."

"To face the challenge..."

"...Of the funhouse?"

"Who is brave enough...?"

"How about you, sir?"

"Who is man enough..."

"...To enter..."

"...That world..."

"...Of darkness?"


John Beal's music strikes a tense chord and holds it. We are witnessing another of Amy's strange trances like her earlier fixation on the Freak Tent barker.

From this new low angle on the Funhouse barker, the camera now begins to back away, cowering as his slow intonation reaches Amy. I love that when he and Amy meet again face to face near the end of the film, he doesn't appear to recognize her. Here, he doesn't really notice her - she's just another mark, despite their attentions catching and holding each other and in this scene. We're attuned to her eerie curiosity in our knowledge as viewers that what this barker says is true - there is something inside which Amy should truly be afraid of. Bruce F. Kawin called Amy the "seer-figure" of the film and that's what her near-psychic interludes with the barkers are about.

I love the reds on the funhouse pavilion behind Kevin Conway, contrasting with the yellow and white behind Amy. It's like he's the devil, beckoning her to hell.

"You will scream with terror..."

"You will beg for release..."

"But there will be no escape..."

"For there is no release..."

"...From the funhouse."


"What about it?"

Oddly, the music crescendos just before Liz comes into frame - subverting the usual loud-music-cue-jump-scare setup.

The first few lines of the Funhouse Barker's pitch were used in the film's theatrical trailer and sort of say it all, really. Who will face the challenge of the funhouse? Well - we the audience, of course. We "pay to get in" to see The Funhouse, even though "that world of darkness" may be so terrifying that we "pray to get out." There is a calculated assumption that we won't; we have seen other horror films and know what to expect. Ever see a child outside a real carnival Spookhouse, begging his mom to take him inside? It's either that or he's terrified at the thought of going inside - with children there is no jaded in-between. After reaching a certain age, most people pay with their own money merely to play the game of being scared, no longer truly expecting they might be shaken to the core - as was first suggested in the previous scene by our young protagonists' cavalier venture into the Freak Tent.

Amy's hypnosis under the barker's spell is one of the film's standout moments. I always remember it as being longer than it is, because of how prominently it sits in the film's hierarchy of ominous moments before the kids enter the funhouse. Much like repeat viewings of The ShiningThe Funhouse only gets creepier upon further examination due to how close in proximity the horrors laying in wait are to their unsuspecting future victims. Sure, the music and Amy's closeup hint that The Barker has something creepy about him, and the movie is called The Funhouse...but who upon first viewing would particularly notice the man behind him in the Frankenstein mask, innocuously doing his job?



"What do you wanna do? It's your choice."

Liz's sarcasm makes me suspect the subversion is intentional.

"Oh, um..."

"What, what?"

"How about the magician?"

"Yeah, good idea."

"Hell, I love magicians."

"I had an uncle once who was a magician."

"I mean it."


"He was bad..."

Dean Koontz Extrapolation Korner:

   "My Uncle Arnold used to be a stage magician," Richie said, pushing his glasses up on his nose to take a closer look at Marco's lurid poster.

   "Did he make stuff disappear and everything?" Buzz asked.
   Liz said, "He was so bad that the made audiences disappear."
Amy was giddy from the spiced-up pot that she had smoked, and Liz's little joke seemed hysterically funny. She laughed, and he laughter infected the others.

   "No, now, really, honestly," Buzz said when they finally got control of themselves. "Did your Uncle Arnold make his living that way? It wasn't just a hobby or something?"
   "No, now, really honestly," Buzz said when they finally got control of themselves. "Did your Uncle Arnold make his living that way? It wasn't just a hobby or something?"
   "No hobby," Richie said. "Uncle Arnold was the real thing. He called himself the Amazing Arnoldo. But I guess he didn't make much of a living at it, and he got to hate it after a while. He's been selling insurance for the past twenty years."
   "I think being a magician would be neat," Amy said. Why did your uncle hate it?"
   "Well," Richie said, "every successful magician has to have a trick that's all his own, a special illusion that makes him stand out in a crowd of other magicians. Uncle Arnold had this gimmick where he made twelve white doves appear, one after the other, out of thin air, in bursts of flame. The audience would applaud politely when the first dove appeared, and then they'd gasp when the second and third ones popped up, and by the time half a dozen birds had materialized, the audience was cheering. When the entire dozen had been brought out of their hiding places in my uncle's clothes, each presented in a little puff of fire, you can imagine the ovation the audience gave him."
   "I don't understand," Buzz said, frowning.
   "Yeah," Amy said. "If your uncle was so great, why'd he quit and start selling insurance?"
   "Sometimes," Richie said, "not often, but about once in every thirty of forty performances, one of the doves would catch fire and burn up alive, right there on stage. It bummed out the audience, and they booed Uncle Arnold."

- The Funhouse by Dean Koontz

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