A half-dozen real-life, asylum-sprung homicidal lunatics take over the haunted-house attraction exploiting their crimes in “The Funhouse Massacre.” Not the cleverest or most original horror comedy, Andy Palmer’s indie feature is nonetheless above average within that subgenre, offering fast-paced fun for fans. It opened theatrically on 21 U.S. screens Nov. 13, but will make principal impact in home formats.
The biggest name here is Freddy Krueger originator Robert Englund, though his participation is limited to the 14-minute prologue. He plays the warden of a secret prison for the criminally insane, where several notorious maniacs have been locked up sans trial for society’s greater good. On Halloween night he allows a comely if suspiciously goth-styled alleged journalist, “Ms. Quinn” (Candice De Visser), to tour the facility.
But their interview takes a lethal turn, as the lady proves to be the daughter of the Jim Jones-like mass-murdering cult leader known as Mental Manny (Jere Burns). Dispatching warden and guards, this visitor frees not just Daddy but also the equally dangerous nutjobs popularly dubbed (for the nature of their deadly deeds) Animal the Cannibal (E.E. Bell), Dr. Suave (Sebastian Siegel), the Taxidermist (Clint Howard) and Rocco the Clown (Mars Crain).
Meanwhile, the jaded young staff of a local diner are preparing to knock off early and enjoy the night by taking themselves to opening night of the Macon County Funhouse. (The film was shot partly at Haunted Scream Park’s Land of Illusion in Middletown, Ohio.) Little do they or anyone else among the hordes of costumed revelers suspect that the attraction’s employees have already met a grim fate at the hands of the very folks who “inspired” each room’s grisly display, and who have now replaced them.
Paying customers start dropping like flies, yet few others notice anything wrong — they assume the violence is staged, and the fresh corpses just actors or dummies. Likewise, dim-bulb police deputy Doyle (scenarist Ben Begley) dismisses several panicked 911 calls from patrons as Halloween pranks. By the time his savvier superior, Sheriff Kate (Scottie Thompson), begins to realize there’s a bloodbath going on, our protagonists have already been winnowed in number, with survival bets probably best placed on nominal romantic leads Laurie (Renee Dorian, credited with Begley for story) and Morgan (Matt Angel), plus workmate Geraldo (Erick Chavarria).
Mostly taking place inside the funhouse, “Massacre” is naturally colorful in a lurid, cartoonish way, and while its humor isn’t particularly sophisticated, neither is it as aggressively lowest-common-denominator as many a low-budget horror comedy. The lively pacing throws in plenty of gore (courtesy of makeup f/x whiz Robert Kurtzman, whose notable horror credits go back 30 years) without ever dwelling overlong on it — or on anything else, for that matter.
If there’s nothing truly memorable here, Palmer & Co. nonetheless deserve credit for crafting a self-conscious genre homage that will be enjoyable for all but the most discriminating fans, and which is brisk enough to be fairly painless for non-fans who aren’t too squeamish. Performances are enthusiastic, tech/design contributions resourcefully pro.