Tobe Hooper's Funhouse Is Sleazy and Beautiful

Here's a fun debate never to get into: is Tobe Hooper's The Funhouse a slasher film or a monster movie?  I mean, it's less horrible than the "who really directed Poltergeist?" quagmire, but still, you don't want to go there with horror fans.  Suffice to say, it is a sterling modern (well... maybe showing my age by suggesting 1981 qualifies as "modern") example of either.  And now in 2022, it looks more sterling than ever.
I think the fact that it's sleazy is the only think that's kept it off of Top Ten Spooky Halloween Flick lists in the likes of Entertainment Weekly and People Magazine.  I mean, this is coming right on the heels of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Eaten Alive, so this exploration of the underbelly of a traveling carnival was bound to put people off.  But I think the passage of time has eroded the shock value that blinded critics and mainstream audiences of the 80s.  It's still as bleak and uncompromising as ever, but at least we're past the "slasher films are the filthy work of Satan and must be banned" phase.  Now we look back at them with fond nostalgia and the only thing today's kids find truly frightening about them are the dated hairstyles.  And that's left the door to for The Funhouse to receive a proper re-evaluation.
There is a heck of a lot going on in The Funhouse.  Just on the surface, Hooper is weaving a killer, classic cautionary tale of kids sneaking out from their parents supervision to go where they don't belong, only to pay a grueling price.  The production design of not just the funhouse itself, but the entire carnival is gorgeous and grotesque in all the right ways.  The cast, especially all the seedy supporting characters who add so much atmosphere and credence to the proceedings, are wonderful.  But then there are so many fascinating themes to pick apart, like how the real monster behind the classic Universal monster mask mirrors the real threat of murder and sordid mystery behind the superficial horrors of the funhouse.  The two-headed calf and the mutant baby in the freak show forshadowing the tragic figure of the film's killer.  The dual family dysfunctions between that of the monster and of his "bride."  The way the protagonists' traditional horror movie experience is mirrored by the dreamlike "side journey" the little brother goes on.

I could go on and on.  There are so many little details that are fascinating to question, "what is Hooper saying here?"  But at the same time, this movie hits so hard on such a viscerally gut level, even the least analytic viewer will be moved by it.
So The Funhouse debuted on DVD as a barebones, widescreen but nonanamorphic disc from Good Times in 1999.  Universal reissued it anamorphically in 2004.  But it didn't get a proper special edition until it hit blu, in 2011 from Arrow.  In 2012, Scream Factory released their version stateside, with a completely different set of extras.  Since I had already had the Arrow blu, I just bought SF's separate DVD edition for the extras.  But now in 2022, there's no need for it because Scream has issued a new, definitive 4k restoration from the OCN as a BD/ UHD combo pack with even more extras.
1) 2004 Universal DVD; 2) 2011 Arrow BD; 3) 2012 Scream Factory DVD;
4) 2022 Scream Factory BD; 5) 2022 Scream Factory UHD.

I usually start out a comparison by talking about the aspect ratio and framing, but there's enough going on here in that department this time, I could almost make it the whole review.  For starters, all the older transfers are 2.35:1, which the new Scream Factory discs (yes, the included 1080p blu-ray also utilizes the new restoration) widen out to 2.40:1.  But the first thing I noticed was how much more image there was on the right-hand side of the old Universal DVD.  Looking closer, oh I see, that's because the image is squished so everyone is too tall and skinny.  Even the Arrow and Scream Factory releases corrected that.  Consequently, they have less on the right than the Universal, but surprisingly, still more than the new 2022s.  Also, comparing the geometry of all five discs, it looks like Arrow and the old Scream actually over-corrected a bit, stretching the image horizontally so everyone is too fat and wide.  The new restoration seems to have settled on the correct, happy medium.  And the reason it still has less picture on the right is simply because they've also shifted the framing, revealing a little more picture on the left-hand side for the first time.
1) 2004 Universal DVD; 2) 2011 Arrow BD; 3) 2012 Scream Factory DVD;
4) 2022 Scream Factory BD; 5) 2022 Scream Factory UHD.
Besides that, your expectations of the steps between the three generations and formats will be happily met.  The old Universal disc is overcast with a reddish gray, which the 2011/ 2012 releases color correct.  And the colors are even stronger on the new restoration.  The carnival colors really pop in an appropriately garish way.  The old DVD suffers from compression noise that even the 2012 DVD clears away.  And film grain is hinted at on the Arrow blu, but now fully rendered and surprisingly subtle on the UHD (it's better captured on the new blu, too; but there it's still a bit patchy and pixelated).  I said changing times could be leading to better appreciation for this film, but the new heights of this transfer should help with that, too.

Audio-wise, things are a little simpler.  All three discs older include the original stereo mix in lossy audio.  Yes, including Arrow's blu.  The Scream DVD added an additional 5.1 mix if you're into revisionism.  But the new Scream set gets it right (to be fair, their 2012 BD did, too) with lossless 3.0 and 5.1 mixes in DTS-HD.  All five discs offer English subtitles, with additional Spanish and French ones on the old Universal.
Things are at least as interesting in the extras department.  Universal starts us off with just the trailer, but Arrow came up with a load of goodies.  To start with, how about three audio commentaries?  One by producer Derek Power, one by effects artist Craig Reardon and one by experts Justin Kerswell and Calum Waddell.  All three are are surprisingly strong: lively and informative the whole way through.  Then there are good on-camera interviews with Tobe Hooper himself, actor Miles Chapin, Craig Reardon and Mick Garris, who wasn't involved with The Funhouse but is here to speak about Hooper in general.  There's also a very rough (in terms of picture and audio quality) Q&A with Tobe Hooper, an easter egg clip of Hooper talking about Showgirls, a stills gallery and the trailer.  The original 2011 limited edition (it was reissued as a standard release in 2012) came in a slipbox with reversible artwork and a booklet written by Kim Newman.
Scream Factory had none of that, except for the trailer.  But they came with their own extra package which was just as strong.  First off, they got Hooper himself to provide an audio commentary, which is a little slow, but no serious fan will want to miss it.  Then they had nice interviews with actor Kevin Conway, executive producer Mark L. Lester and compose John Beal.  There's also a brief audio interview with actor William Finley and a couple deleted scenes from the television version.  And they added several radio and TV spots.  Their release came in a slipcover with reversible artwork, and a poster if ordered from Shout directly.

So you notice there's not a lot of overlap.  It's not like a lot of dual blu-ray releases, where both companies interview all the same people and get mostly the responses.  But in 2022, Scream has added some new stuff, in addition to all of their previous goodies, which of course they've hung onto.  First, they closed the gap with Arrow by conducting their own interviews with Craig Reardon and Miles Chapin.  And then they've interviewed two more cast members for the first time:  Largo Woodruff and Wayne Doba.  They've also unearthed an amusing television commercial for the novelization, written by Dean Koontz.  This new release also comes in a slipcover with reversible artwork.
So yes, of course Scream's 2022 release is the new definitive edition of The Funhouse.  And since the previous blus predate modern 2 and 4k scans, it's a big improvement.  The new extras are a real treat, too.  But while Scream gained some good ground over Arrow's extras, catching up with some of their previously exclusive interview subjects, they're still the only disc in town that talks to Derek Powers.  So although the new Scream will be enough for most viewers, dedicated fans may still want to pick up a copy of the Arrow for their extras.  But if you decide to, don't make a mistake and get Arrow's 2007 DVD - that one was barebones.

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