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Book Review: The Funhouse

G D Penman By G D Penman Published on October 24, 2016

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I have talked a little bit about the “big” horror authors over the course of these reviews but up until now I have neglected Mr Koontz. This isn’t because he is a bad author by any means, it is just that his stories are a little bit difficult to qualify. They are “horror” stories, but they are so unique in tone and content that it is difficult to say exactly what kind. The other problem is that while his books are in the genre of horror, they aren’t necessarily particularly frightening. Reading the books of the other horror authors that I have discussed, even those that I haven’t been terribly impressed with, tends to create an immediate emotional reaction, even if it is only revulsion.

The particular Koontz book that I am talking about today is actually a novelisation of a horror film. One that has been more or less lost to the recesses of time, while this book remains. From the author’s own description it seems that the film itself lacked all of the depth that makes this book interesting.

The Funhouse revolves around two generations of a Catholic family dealing with their conflicting human desires and religious beliefs. By contrast it also revolves around the hairy mutant rapist children of a carnival funhouse owner, another family with its own crises. There is a vague reference to Satanism thrown in for an additional thematic contrast between the two dysfunctional families but it doesn’t have much depth beyond a few throwaway lines.

The real meat of the book is the repeating multi-generational relationships between the mothers and daughters of the story’s two main threads, the secrets that they keep from each other out of shame, and the way that rebelling against guilt and parental authority drives them to do things that go well beyond their own desires.

Thanks to the time period in which the story is set, and the elements adopted from the film, the book now has a nice fun retro-horror feel to it. However the depth that has been added to the characters moves it beyond the pulpy enjoyment that you could expect from a cheesy scary movie into a more serious emotional connection.

I started off this review talking about the lack of emotional reaction provoked by this book, and everything Dean Koontz writes. The lack of horror that I feel, reading his horror stories. As I was reading this story, that remained absolutely true, I could appreciate the quality of the writing and I could engage with the elements of the story that were not meant to provoke fear without any trouble. However, the tension just slipped away for me every time the characters were in fear for their lives. I could feel the guilt and the fear during the family situations right in my gut but the moment giant monsters started scampering around I lost that connection. It was still enjoyable, the story was still good but everything that I was feeling for the characters was reduced to an abstract interest.

After the book was finished, I settled into bed and turned out the light. I was just starting to drift off when a cat brushed past my hand where it was dangling off the bed. The bristles of fur on my fingertips in the pitch black combined with the story I had just finished reading were enough to create that missing emotional response. This story, like the rest of Koontz’s work, is a time bomb. A predatory thought that nestles itself in the back of your mind until you think that you are safe before it pounces out at you. These are the kind of stories that become nightmares.

    G.D. Penman writes about queer monsters for a living. He is the author of Call Your Steel, The Year of the Knife, Heart of Winter, Apocrypha and many other books. He is also a full-time freelance ... Show More

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