Tobe Hooper is one of those horror icons, like Joe Dante and Don Coscarelli, that never quite had the success of their peers. After the unexpected success of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the critically acclaimed TV-movie version of Stephen King's Salem's Lot, Hooper was offered this film from screenwriter Larry Block. It was well received and made a good profit, but unfortunately it would be the last major movie Hooper was involved in before the Poltergeist controversy all but ruined his career in Hollywood.
After a great opening sequence homage to both Halloween and Psycho (and barely legal nudity) the film jumps right into the plot: four teenagers smoke some weed and crash the local carnival. They ride some rides, sneak into a peep show and then head for the titular attraction. Unbeknown to them, the carnie freaks have more than just scares waiting in the dark.
This movie hits all the right notes for a horror movie. The cinematography and set design capture the creepy old carnival atmosphere perfectly. It's a setting that would seem to lend itself to horror movies more often, but it's seldom used (or used well, for that matter). When the carnie freaks finally show up, the makeup effects are scary and realistic; one can only hope that Eli Roth will stay away from CGI in his proposed remake.
Despite, or maybe because of, the lack of any name actors, the performances are spot on and convincing. The kids are a little more 3-dimensional than the usual stalk 'n slash fare, but this isn't Carrie. The pacing is tight and the camerawork is almost reminiscent of The Shining with the utilization of wide angles and Steadicam shots. Definitely check this one out.