The Funhouse

The Funhouse ★★★★★

If nothing else, The Funhouse is a perfect love letter to scary movies. From its opener, which beautifully riffs on Psycho and Halloween, while foreshadowing with a bit Bride of Frankenstein, this film wants us to love movies as much as it does.

Tobe Hooper is not deconstructing horror cinema so much as he's deconstructing our relationship with it--which, as much as I love Scream and mostly like The Cabin in the Woods, is much more satisfying. On the surface the carnival at the center of The Funhouse is pretty standard. It's a janky series of attractions that casual patrons won't too seriously; the quartet of teens we follow certainly don't. And that's about half this movie.

To be clear, the first leg of The Funhouse is a decent hangout film that looks amazing. This is seriously one of the best looking horror films you'll ever see. Andrew Laszlo's cinematography is so colorful and texturally rich. I cannot overstate what a joy this thing is just to look at. The carnival is so vibrant and active. It honestly looks like a good time. The characters seem to be having fun. But it's here that Hooper is setting up so many pieces that end up paying off in ways unexpected.

The other half is exactly what great horror does to patient viewers: It's an unbelievable reward. The main teenagers--plus a little brother--find themselves sucked into a horror film. The facade of outlandish macabre and tempered morbid fascination fades and exposes the true nature of a horror film. Cheap thrills reveal unresolved demons. We see the bitterness, traumas, and personal fetishes of a film's architects. After all, behind every good scare is a skeleton in someone's closet. It becomes too real too quickly.

No one does America's grungy underbelly like Tobe Hooper. That's why The Texas Chain Saw Massacre remains an unassailable pillar of horror, and it's why I'd argue Poltergeist is ultimately his film. Hooper is forever preoccupied with the rot of American social structures. Beneath the floorboards of a crummy ride is something so perverse and twisted for an outsider to fully grasp, but true terror is hiding in plain sight. And once you've seen it, it's impossible to look away.

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