Studio: Scream Factory
Director: Andy Palmer
Writer: Ben Begley, Renee Dorian
Producer: Warner Davis
Stars: Jere Burns, Scottie Thompson, Matt Angel, Chasty Ballesteros, Clint Howard, Courtney Gains, Sebastian Siegel, E.E. Bell, Mars Crain, Erick Chavarria, Sterling Sulieman, Robert Englund
Six serial killers escape an insane asylum and take over a Halloween haunt themed around their macabre crimes.
Animal the Cannibal, Dr. Suave, The Taxidermist, Rocco the Clown, Mental Manny, and The Stitch Face Killer are six of the most psychotic serial murderers Macon County has ever seen. Funhouse proprietor Dennis dreams of dollar signs when a secretive seductress convinces him to theme his entire scream park around the sinister sextet’s brutal crimes. After an organized asylum escape brings that same horrible half-dozen to the attraction on opening night, Dennis’ frightfully fun fairground turns into a macabre midway of gruesome mayhem.
Real killers on the loose in a Halloween haunt is a promising premise, though the weird way “The Funhouse Massacre” tries realizing professional ambitions through amateur aesthetics leaves it with a half-baked identity. The movie’s defenders can contend this criticism is my failure for not figuring it out, but I don’t think so. I simply cannot tell what “The Funhouse Massacre” wants to be exactly, if it even knows, and I pin that fault on the film for not being clear about its motivations or intentions to entertain.
“The Funhouse Massacre” is a horror-comedy, yes. But it can’t commit to how far it wishes to take deliberate absurdity while balancing horror with the occasional dramatic beat for a feel befitting the film. You can see a muted personality of bloody fun futilely insisting on existing through screenplay alone, yet uneven directing results in a morass of mismatched moods.
“The Funhouse Massacre” doesn’t wink about certain references so much as it simply screams, “this is stolen!” Candice De Visser, giving a performance strangely uncredited in end title cards, plays a person so obviously mirroring DC Comics’ Harley Quinn that her character is outright named Ms. Quinn. Her first name Eileen even sounds like Harleen. This is the movie admitting its influence and making no mistake about it.
At the same time, the film has another character, “Animal the Cannibal,” who is a serial killing celebrity chef. His last name is Ramses, so perhaps this is/was intended to be a Gordon Ramsey reference. Except little is done with that connection and the actor resembles Dom DeLuise more than the “Hell’s Kitchen” host, so I don’t understand what, if any, the parody angle might be here.
This is what I mean about “The Funhouse Massacre” being confused in its comedy. Is it supposed to be satirizing something or is it fine being aimlessly silly?
Inherent opportunities for irreverent humor exist in concept and characterizations, yet the movie either doesn’t take them or squanders potential by going for lowest common denominator appeal. Multiple moments stray in disparate directions including schlocky gore, family drama, unnecessary nudity, “aw, shucks” romantic interlude, and so on, with none of it tied together through a consistent tone.
“The Funhouse Massacre” is what an indie horror film looks like when the lion’s share of a low budget goes to notable names while the rest of the production starves on table scraps. Stricken with tunnel vision over securing someone such as Robert Englund or Jere Burns, genre films at this level lose sight of the notion that marquee value diminishes significantly when nothing else measures up or looks even poorer by comparison.
If Robert Englund is your main draw, you can exit at the 10-minute mark, because that’s what Englund does. Jere Burns sticks out like a sore thumb of misspent star power since he too is relegated to a role requiring more meat on its bones.
Might as well lump in Clint Howard with Englund and Burns. Howard’s screen time is also minimal, and his character is conspicuously absent when all of the other murderers assemble on the carnival drag for a battle royal with panicking patrons. It’s clear that top-billed talent had limited availability (affordability), and they play parts needing more presence for the movie to hit memorable notes.
I’m not sure if Howard’s taxidermist killer even stuffs a single victim. Another part of the problem is “The Funhouse Massacre” creates villains who are colorful in name only, with few actual antics adhering to a clever modus operandi resulting in creative kills. Most murders are committed by Rocco the Clown, who is just a brutish man-beast repeatedly crushing people to death. Following one or two-line introductions from Englund, the killers merge into an indistinguishable carnage cloud lacking true variety.
I was puzzled why the script instead spends time on go-nowhere scenes featuring secondary players such as the core victims’ coworker waiting in the parking lot or a bumbling deputy playing “Hogan’s Alley” on his NES. Then I discovered the bumbling deputy is screenwriter Ben Begley, perhaps giving himself more time onscreen than the film really requires.
It’s not necessarily a bad tactic to take. Begley is actually one of the more, if not the only, entertaining/endearing characters on the good guy side. The issue is that such needless inclusions disrupt the main arc’s flow, and there isn’t enough gas in the narrative to keep momentum from stalling when detoured on unnecessary side trips.
If “The Funhouse Massacre” were a Gallagher performance, you would definitely need a poncho. Blood gushes by the barrel, although several overly rubbery prosthetics look like they came off the shelf of a discount Halloween store. Once again, there’s no telling how much of anything in the movie is intended to read as over-the-top. Also once again, the fact that the film doesn’t pick a definitive path between goofy and realistic means it wanders between both in what looks like a drunken daze.
Desperate to find something funny, I forced out one laugh when two dimwitted deejays announced “six two-liter bottles of Shasta gets five dollars off your entry fee.” (“That is not a good deal, Bob.”) Other than that, much of the movie misfires on misplaced emotional moments involving hollow characters or twist reveals of no consequence failing to fit into a discernible overall theme or purpose.
An okay-enough script is a reasonable starting point taking “The Funhouse Massacre” as far as it can initially go. But no one in the cast is around long enough to move it further and flat directing doesn’t have the style to add layers not on the page.
Certain audiences may find plenty to hoot and howl about in the intentionally brainless insanity and blood-drenched scenery, though I don’t envision even those fans salivating at the prospect of a second trip inside “The Funhouse Massacre.” I’m not entirely thrilled I took a first.
NOTE: There is a post-credits scene.
Review Score: 45