The Funhouse

Wicked Wednesday: Summer horror movie recommendations

In the summertime when the weather is hot
You can stretch right up and touch the sky

Ah. The hot and dusty days of summer. When smelly people are everywhere, and we all feel ashamed for not losing a bit more weight before squeezing back into those old shorts.

I’m not a fan of summer. I think that’s what I get extra-excited about Halloween early every year (August the 1st, thank you very much). That being said, I love summer horror movies. Give me summer camps, dying shrubbery and sweaty people running from things. It’s a very satisying asthetic.

So I’ve gathered up a few of my favourites. There’s certainly a lot missing here…and there’s a lot of “stretches” involved. But my blog, my rules.

1. The Funhouse (1981)

This little Tobe Hooper number exists in god knows what time of the year. Sometimes it feels like autumn, sometimes summer. I think we can narrow it down to Indian summer at best.

The Funhouse follows a group of teenagers who go to a seedy carnival in town. When they decide to spend the night in the funhouse, they soon find themselves being stalked and killed by the carnival workers.

I always recommend this movie to people delving deeper into slashers, as it’s a rare gem in the genre: something you can watch all the way through without getting bored. But I love the visuals as well. It reminds me of staying at the state fair late into the night, bewildered by all the strangess around me.

2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

This is, for me, the ultimate summer classic. Another one of Hooper’s films, Texas Chainsaw Massacre really needs no introduction. It’s truly a masterpiece.

The heat. The sweatiness… It imagery just reeks of summer. It also has a lot of rotting flesh, so I imagine it reeked of that too. We may all have seen it half-a-million times, but who’s to say we can watch it half-a-million more?

3. I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

Right. So this is not my favourite Lois Duncan adaptation by a long shot. This movie actually upset Duncan when she saw it, as the violence reminded her of her own daughter’s tragic murder. It was stripped of its story and turned into a straight-forward slasher film (no hook-handed fisherman in the original).

But we couldn’t talk about summer horror without the one where it’s literally in the title. While I’m being a bit harsh on it, this is actually entertaining pop-corn fair. Sarah Michelle Gellar is an absolute gem in this one, so really just watch for her performance.

“I don’t think we’re that powerful, Julie. You’re giving us way too much credit.”

4. Spider Baby (1967)

This Jack Hill probably isn’t the film that immediately comes to most people’s minds when it comes to summer horror. But hear me out. Spider Baby is one of the brightest, sunniest horror movies I’ve ever seen.

When a couple go to see a family mansion, they find a group of mentally-regressing children in the home. The house is always being watched by people shading their eyes. That’s probably due to the fact that it was mostly shot in August and September in sunny California.

But there’s something very brave about a bright horror movie. It doesn’t need to always hide behind shadows in order to be unnerving. Yes eventually we spiral into the darkness of both the night and the family, but I think that makes the contrast all the more powerful.

5. Gatti rossi in un labirinto di vetro aka Eyeball (1975)

Some movies feel more like a season due to their settings. Is it in Salem? It’s perfect to watch in autumn. Is it Norwegian? Put it on in winter! So when this Italian horror gem puts ‘Americans’ on a tour bus in sunny Spain? It’s a summer movie to me, kids.

Umberto Lenzi’s Eyeball is one of my favourite gialli. It’s really bizarre (I mean really). It has a banging theme tune. And there’s that one grinning guy with the bag of oranges. Watching Eyeball for the first time was an absolute blast, and it’s been a pleasure to keep re-watching it ever since.

If this doesn’t get you in the travelling-for-summer mood, then I really don’t know what will.

6. Slumber Party Massacer II (1987)

What’s that? Another chance to plug my favourite horror movie sequel? Well, I’ll take that opportunity. Again.

This (literally) dreamy movie mostly takes place during the school year, but it still has some definite end-of-the-school-year vibes. The girls walk around in shades, sing Paisley Underground songs and hang out in unfinished houses. They also get killed by a drill/guitar-wielding maniac. Really just usual plans that we all pencil into our summer schedules.

I think because I associate this movie with the word “fun” so much, I immediately relate it to summer. Because that’s ultimately why most of these movies are here: what’s really the point of summer but to enjoy yourself?

7. The Summer of 84 (2018)

There are many coming-of-age classics: Stand by MeGoonies, and new-comers like Stranger Things. They’re all rich with nostalgia. We’re a nostalgic type of species.

Which is why Summer of 84 is great. It reminds you why you loved the classics of the 80s. It has a plot line that’s well-worn, but well-loved: the person next door isn’t who you think they are. Think of The People Under the Stairs and The Burbs.

Only this book has an added punch to the gut with it’s jaw-dropping ending. It’s the end of both summer, and of naive innocence.

So what is your favourite horror movie to watch in the summer? I bet it’s Friday the 13th. It is, isn’t it?

Wicked Wednesday: The Funhouse (1981)


Much of what terrifies us in horror is up to story, direction and acting. But what would a scare be if it wasn’t really something that terrifies you? For me, I hate clowns. Since I was a child, I had a an awful time with that lot. So for me, I can’t even stand to watch clown-related movies. I’ve been the TV film of IT, Killer Klowns From Outer Space(barely made it) and made it about five minutes into Stitches.

So if I’m looking for a watchable good fright, I stick with fairs and carnivals. All the terror of a circus, but with notably less clowns and a whole lot of freaky.

I usually don’t write about movies I’ve already seen for Wicked Wednesday, let alone a film I’ve seen at least half a dozen times. And I really would make and exception for The Funhouse. Tobe Hooper’s 1981 slasher is one of the more quality films from the era: it’s stylish, suspenseful and full of creepy bits.

Amy is a typical final-girl with an obnoxious brother and over-bearing parents. I imagine she gets pretty decent grades as well, despite how awfully bizarre her home is (because decorating a room with weapons and monster movie posters is normal – I guess). She is off to the carnival on a first date against her parents’ wishes – claiming to be going to the movies. They remind Amy that there was trouble at the travelling carnival the year before and warn her to stay away.

Not able to talk her date Buzz out of it, Amy and Buzz meet up with Amy’s best friend Liz and her obnoxious boyfriend Richie. At the carnival, the couples get up to the usual shenanigans: they ride rides, smoke weed, win teddy bears, talk about losing their virginity and look at double-headed cows. You know, raising havoc like teenagers do.

While roaming the tents, Amy fixes her attention on a dark ride-style funhouse. The barker calls out, “Who is mad enough to enter that world of darkness?” And, well, it’s going to be our four teens. They watch a slightly-gruesome magic show and harass a fortune teller, it’s obvious that nothing will bode well for them.

Unbeknownst to Amy, as she gallivants around on rides, her younger brother Joey sneaks out of their house after she refuses to take him to the carnival after he played a prank on her. He also has a nice time. So good for him.

(I never understood the point of this subplot)

As the carnival closes, Richie dares his friends to stay the night in the Funhouse. For some reason, the other three agree. They enter the ride and hop off before their cars exit. Poor Joey watches on, waiting for his sister that never comes back out.

While he waits, Joey is frightened off by an old lady who was earlier harassing his sister and Liz in the bathrooms. He then spends more time running around the carnival alone.

The two couples spend much of their night making out until they hear a noise they decide to investigate. Through the cracks in the wooden boars, the four watch Zena the fortuneteller engage in prostitution with a Frankenstein mask-wearing man who handles the carts at the funhouse. But the man is, er, finished rather quickly and is upset when Zena refuses to refund her money (which I don’t blame her, sounds like she did a decent enough job). In anger, the man murders Zena by throwing her into a breaker panel.

Unsurprisingly, after what the kids witness, they decide it’s probably time to leave.

But while they attempt to find their way out, they become lost and find the room they were looking into earlier instead.  Richie, being the fool he is, decides to take the money in the nearby open cash box.

The teens become increasingly lost in the funhouse and end up exactly where they were originally. They decide to sit and watch the room from above. They watch as the Frankenstein masked man shows the funhouse barker the corpse. They realise that they are in trouble once the barker realises that all of his money has been stolen.

In another rage, the man throws off his mask, revealing his true face – which is just a bit freakish to say the least. Unfortunately for the teens, they are given away when Richie’s lighter falls through the crack in the floorboards.

This is where the film really puts the “fun” in funhouse. Richie is picked off first when a trap is trigger and he is hung by a noose. The girls and Buzz quickly realise that they are being toyed with when Richie’s body is sent down to them in a cart.

Joey is caught running around the carnival, scared shitless by seeing Gunther’s (the monster) real face. His parents are called, and in a particularly exasperating scene, Amy sees her parents arrive and they are unable to hear her screams for help.

The night doesn’t really bode well for anyone else trapped in the funhouse. Poor Liz eats it when she falls through a trap door. While the suspense is really well built up in the second half of the film, it really reaches a shiver-inducing ending.

Those hooks. Ergh.

I really love The Funhouse. Hooper really takes his time building up the carnival, plus it’s really helped out by the performances of Elizabeth Berridge and Largo Woodruff (Amy and Liz, respectively). The weird scenes before they enter the funhouse. The seediness of the workers and the carnival. It’s all so strange and dark. Hooper even attempts to make these kids multi-dimensional which is really rather something different for a slasher. Despite this not being one of Hooper’s most gory or iconic films, there’s something rather great about it. And this one will always remain a strong favourite.