Thursday, February 04, 2016

THE FUNHOUSE by Dean Koontz

The Funhouse is a movie tie-in published as a paperback original in 1980 as by Owen West. A nom de plume Dean Koontz used especially for this tie-in and again for The Mask (1981). The screenplay that inspired it was written by Larry Block, and to stop any confusion, it was not the suspense writer responsible for Matt Scudder, Bernie Rhodenbarr, Chip Harrison, and Keller. It was another Larry Block altogether. The film version was a bust. It was directed by Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), and, three months after the novel’s release, the film opened and disappeared without notice. The novel, however, did the opposite. It went through eight printings and sold more than a million copies while making an appearance on The New York Times bestseller list.

The Funhouse is, as far as I know, Mr. Koontz’s only media tie-in novel (unless we consider his Frankenstein series a tie-in, which I’m unwilling to do). It is a straight horror story, another oddity for Mr. Koontz, and very good. Ellen Harper is young and beautiful. She married a carny, Conrad Straker, to escape her domineering mother and quickly became pregnant. Her child is born less than normal. Its growth rate phenomenal, and ugly beyond Ellen’s comprehension. She believes the infant is trying to kill her, and on a stormy August night she kills it in self-defense. Conrad is mad with grief, and sends Ellen away with an oath of revenge—

“I’ll find you. I swear I will. I’ll find you, and I’ll take your children just like you took my little boy. I’ll kill them.”

The years pass, Ellen remarries and has two more children. A girl, Amy, who is a senior in high school and a young son named Joey. It has been more than two decades since Conrad sent Ellen away, but he is still seeking revenge. A revenge coming close as his circus moves into Ellen’s new hometown.

The Funhouse is pure carny fun. It is simple by Mr. Koontz’s more recent novels, the plot has fewer complications and the characters are a tad more generic, but the deceptively simple narrative is burning with life—

“…but Mama held her down, held her even harder than before, squeezing the back of her neck, and Mama wailed and whined and shouted and beat the floor with her free hand and thrashed about and shuddered with religious passion, begged and wheedled and whimpered for mercy, mercy for herself and her wayward daughter, howled and wept and pleaded in a fashion that Catholics usually disdained, in a devout frenzy that was more suited to the fundamental Christianity for the Church of the Nazarene, flailed and babbled fervently, until she was finally prayed out, hoarse, exhausted, limp.”

The plot is linear and fast, but, even twenty-five years after its initial release, it boasts a few nicely executed and surprising twists. There is also a sizable helping of carny lore, including the carny marriage ceremony—riding the carousel forwards as man and woman—and divorce ceremony—riding the carousel backwards, alone. If every tie-in novel were as well developed and executed as The Funhouse, I would read nothing else.

Purchase a copy of The Funhouse at Amazon.


Unknown said...

Joe Lansdale told me about this one not long after it came out, and I read it then. I thought it was great. I know that Koontz has gone on to fame and fortune, but I prefer his old books like this one to the big bestsellers that he's writing now.

Ben Boulden said...

I actually prefer his older work, too. I'm very fond of some of his big bestsellers published in the 1980s, LIGHTNING, COLD FIRE, WATCHERS, etc., but my favorite Koontz's novels are the thin little thrillers he was writing in the 1970s. AFTER THE LAST RACE, CHASE, SHATTERED, etc. I've never understood why he won't let more of them back in print.