Johnny's Reviews > The Funhouse

The Funhouse by Dean Koontz
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's review
Nov 19, 2010

it was ok
bookshelves: own-it
I own a copy

** spoiler alert ** The first thing you should know when reading this book, is that it isn’t an original idea by Koontz. It’s based on the screenplay of what must have been a type of grind house horror movie (directed by Tobe Hooper by the way, of “Poltergeist” fame). Once you get past that, and you keep in mind the other books with elements of this story Koontz has written, it’s not all that bad. Basically it’s cheap thrills, but the characters are probably better worked out than in said screenplay.

Once upon a time, Ellen maried a carny named Conrad. At first I thought his last name would be Beezo, but turns out I got my clowns mixed up. Well, this Conrad isn’t a clown, but the clown face on his funhouse is made after his image. Conrad has a problem, though. Every child he conceives is heavily deformed. Think “Alien vs Predator”, with a dab of “Species”. Ellen kills their child, is thrown out by Conrad, and starts a new life somewhere else. She remarries, has two normal children. Then, years later, the carnival comes back to town. Conrad has spawned a new demon, which was allowed to grow up this time. When Conrad recognizes Ellen’s kids, revenge seeps up.

I always wonder whether Koontz would ever have written “Twilight Eyes” if he hadn’t first delivered “The Funhouse”; there are so many similarities between the description of carnival life, I think the idea of “Twilight Eyes” was first sparked as Koontz was doing research for “The Funhouse”. So I always consider this an exercise, a dry run, a familiarisation with the setting to later deliver – in my opinion – one of his best novels.

While he hasn’t yet had his own religious epiphany at this time, Koontz does recognize the importance of religion for his characters. After the prologue, Ellen has changed into someone close to the mother in “Carrie”. Conrad has gone the other way, becoming a Satanist. And throughout the last part of the tale, Ellen’s daughter Amy has some experiences which can only be described as divine guidance. Yet it feels like something is missing: the writer believing his own words.

Koontz has always juggled with the origin of evil; either it’s born, or it grows, usually during childhood. “The Voice of the Night” dealt heavily with this subject; we were all led to believe that Roy Borden was born evil, yet the conclusion tells us he became that way because of his parents’ reaction to what was essentially an accident. With “The Funhouse”, we get a very literal, physical manifestation of evil born. Though whether Conrad’s offspring can truly be called evil is up for debate, since they are more like mindless animals, thus having not much of a choice in their behavior.

Even though many people have stated their dislike of this novel, personally it never felt that much out of place. The original screenplay only dealt with the carnival scenes; everything leading up to those scenes, character backgrounds etc. were implemented by Koontz himself, as he explains in the afterword. That afterword actually reads as one huge apology for this book, blaming economic crisis. If you write something like that as a writer, you can’t expect people to take your novel seriously.

Like I said, it’s not half bad. There are probably worse stories. And Koontz probably didn’t have all that much freedom to begin with. Yet so much of the story is being “told” instead of “shown”, it’s like the entire history of these characters was quickly fabricated to work as an excuse for their actions in the original movie. This has the potential of a much better story, maybe in the style of “Life Expectancy”, and should have been revised more extensively upon republication.
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Salimah Laforce I was really disappointed by this book. I generally love Koontz and I figured he wrote this in haste to appease a contractual obligation. It's so incredibly simplistic. But your review has provided me with some reasoning behind the underdeveloped plot. It certainly reads like B horror flick, uncharacteristic of his usually original characters and events.

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