Saturday, November 6, 2010
Four teenagers - the virginal Amy, her first-date Buzz, her friend Liz, and Liz's schmucky boyfriend Richie - take in the attractions at a sleazy traveling carnival. On a dare from Richie the gang decide to spend the night after hours in the carnival's funhouse, but after witnessing a murder find themselves running for their lives through a very dark ride.
Your proprietor wishes more movies were made like this, with a competent but largely unknown cast (peppered with a couple of veterans) doing solid work in a film whose creativity and atmosphere trumps its low budget. There's a good script at the heart of this: the story observes the tropes of the slasher genre that was in full swing when the film was made, but the scope of the film includes a healthy dose of carny life (the family) to flesh out its antagonists, and locates its horror not in a single rampaging killer but more diffusely, throughout a carnival and into the very film itself.
That many of the characters are believable help immeasurably, starting with Amy, a final girl played with complexity, innocence, and just he right amount of knowning sexiness by Elizabeth Berridge. Cooper Huckabee brings a nice curiosity to Buzz (look at his reactions during the freaks-of-nature scene). For all his lower-class manliness ("...works in a filling station," Amy's parents observe), there's a soulfulness and sensitivity to Buzz; you can see why Amy likes him, and there's a nice willingness-but-awkwardness to the start of their date. A number of veterans fill out the carnival's staff, from Kevin Conway's chameleonic performances as three different barkers to the always-game Sylvia Miles' wild turn as a raunchy fortune teller. All of the actors bring their characters' shared histories and little pieces of business to bear, and I suspect that director Tobe Hooper presided over a fair number of solid improvisations.
Unsurprising that Hooper, director of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Salem's Lot before, is as adept at maintaining pace and atmosphere. The carnival is brought to vivid, grimy life, offering any number of experiences both joyful and creepy. The film itself is directed like a darkride, a winding trek through dissociated shocks and weirdness before building to a frenetic finale. From the childish antics of young Joey to the animated dummies that populate the funhouse (vivid, otherworldly characters in their own right) to the final laugh from the funhouse's Laughing Sal-style figurehead, the film leaves us dazed and entertained, and reeling from the touch of something weird and sleazy.
Written for the Final Girl Film Club, presided over by the lively and lovely Stacie Ponder.