Sunday, December 2, 2012

Joey Gets Caught

As the teenagers nervously tread forward, John Beal’s score reprises the haunting motif previously heard during other moments of ominous contemplation: smoking the joint before Madame Zena, observing the pickled punk at the Freak Tent, and the godlike crane shot of the carnival shutting down. The Funhouse has several repeated musical themes and this is the one used to forewarn. It’s also the last time we’ll hear it because the anticipation of violence against the teens is all but over. The point of no return was passed the moment Richie’s lighter dropped.

BUZZ: Come on. Stay together.

I love when Buzz looks at the mummy as if it's going to spring to life. With the doll placed so prominently in the foreground at the beginning of the shot, it's half-expected from us as well - however improbably.


Joey, ever the little shit even when he doesn’t mean to be, gives the group a jump by rattling the doors outside.

His helpless pacing around the veranda and prying at the entrances is probably my least favorite minute in the entire film because it’s so uneventful. However, it does give time for the irony to sink in that Joey wants nothing more than to get inside where he suspects his sister and her friends are, while Amy and company, ignorant of Joey, want nothing more than to get out of this death trap.

This is also all done in one shot, characteristic of Tobe Hooper's love of long takes.

Hilariously, the 1999 Joe Bob Briggs Monstervision edit of The Funhouse that aired on TNT considers this minute such a waste of time that they simply cross-dissolve from the faraway shot of Joey on the veranda to his close-up, granting him the power of teleportation.


Joey’s denouement is fast approaching. What happens next is pure poetic justice for what happened all the way back in the shower with Amy, right down to the curtains. In this case they're like the fabled curtains of showbiz that wizards are always warning you not to look behind. Usually it's because what's behind them is less than impressive, but sometimes it's also because what's behind them is an ugly secret.


Perfectly - and I would never have noticed such perfection if not for repeat viewings of the film - John Beal's music strikes up and reprises the same Bernard Herrmann cue used when Joey pretends to attack Amy in the shower.


Joey’s near-miss with the Monster reminds me of when JR and I saw The Funhouse at the Aero Theater back in 2010 and had the misfortune to sit next to a Mark David Chapman-type who was apparently a big fan of the film. He initiated conversation, and while casually discussing the film I brought up the rather languorous pace of Joey’s snooping around the carnival while all the action happens inside the funhouse, and idly wondered if the original script hadn’t originally brought him inside for a late reunion with his sister.

This goon started talking about a supposed scene in the original draft in which Amy finds Joey dead in the funhouse, dangling from chains. This gruesome idea sounded a lot like the product of a child’s imagination the way children will make up scenes from movies that don’t exist to one another. Incredulously, I asked if the guy had read the original script, and oh yeah, sure - sure he had.

While killing Joey would’ve been a line too mean for Tobe to cross, bringing him into the funhouse could have made for a great scene or two. But had he wound up inside with Amy, we wouldn’t have the sublime beauty of what DOES end up being his final scene in the film, shortly after this one.

Dean Koontz’s novel does get Joey inside the funhouse, as a matter of fact - as I outlined in my review, Koontz turns the duel between Amy and The Barker into a family feud spanning decades, making Amy and The Monster half-siblings and her entrapment in the funhouse a deliberate plot for bloody revenge against Amy’s mother. In Koontz’s scenario, when The Barker finds out that Joey is Amy’s little brother he lures him inside and h
olds him captive, although Joey still survives the ordeal.


As the above shot ends, so does the music cue that originally ended when Amy tore off Joey's clown mask. His comeuppance has had a delayed release all the way up until now. You’ve got the face-to-face with Mister Monsterface; an extremely brief moment which exposes the little Famous Monsters of Filmland subscriber to what he thought existed only in movies. Frankenstein and The Wolf Man look like Debbie Reynolds and Doris Day next to this real life creature.

In the arms of the Carnival Manager (whom we probably don’t remember smoking outside the food tent) Joey’s scream – a squeal, really, like a baby crying – is the aural summation of all the traumas accumulated throughout this harrowing night. We might assume the worst is over for him now since he's narrowly missed the clutches of The Monster, but considering what a bad guy The Barker turned out to be, who’s to say what this Carnival Manager will do to him?


BUZZ: Amy...Amy!

From one scared sibling to the other, Amy takes center stage again for the first time since the group entered the funhouse. Hooper lingers on her looking around and drinking in the fear of the trapped, rather than her trappings - emphasizing the intimidatingly undefined dimensions of the funhouse itself. As the seer-figure, Amy’s gaze is always the most important and the mounting despair in her face gauges everyone else's.

BUZZ: Amy!

This shot is something of a joke, cutting back ten feet or so in front of Amy and revealing her surroundings as nothing particularly awe-inspiring. There are, however, plenty of humanoid dolls standing around and with both The Monster and The Barker on the prowl, any of them could potentially conceal an attack.


Buzz spots the executioner doll’s axe and grabs it, blurring the line between the make-believe enclave of the ride and the life-or-death situation happening within.




BUZZ: You take this.

RICHIE: I don't want it!

BUZZ: Take it, God damn it!

RICHIE: I just wanna get the hell out of here!

BUZZ: You listen to me!

BUZZ: We just witnessed a murder, man, they're gonna try to kill us! Understand?

BUZZ: You got it??

LIZ: I'm scared!!

BUZZ: Listen, you just calm down now, Liz!

BUZZ: I don't know what that thing is! But we're gonna
be a hell of a lot safer if we just stay together, okay??

When the ride springs to life – thunder crashing, lightning flashing, dummies engaged in their herky jerky dances – the nightmare has revealed itself in full. Bad enough that these kids should be forced to adopt defensive positions against what lurks in the shadows, but to have unwanted distractions mocking them as well? Distractions designed to parody the idea of real danger?

Underscoring the dark magic held by the power of an ON/OFF switch, Tobe – and his surrogate, The Barker – revert the funhouse's cacophony of cheesy sound effects to silence, and the teens’ momentary panic seems all the more pitiable. Imagine being in a movie theater with the lights out, alone, and knowing that somewhere in those rows a killer was drawing closer. If the film projector suddenly sputtered to life and threw a horror film up onscreen, how long would you be transfixed before pulling your attention back to the danger at hand?