If there’s one subgenre that is either Pass/Fail with very little wiggle room it’s the horror comedy. You either get it right or you fail miserably.
If you lean too much to one side and not the other everything can get derailed.
Too funny, then it’s seen as a comedy.
Too scary and it’s not seen as funny.
You have to find that narrow sweet spot that movies like AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON occupy where they are scary and horrifying but also funny.
There aren’t a lot of great horror comedies, let’s be honest –
AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON
RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD
DETENTION (I am putting it in and don’t care what you say!)
TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2
CABIN IN THE WOODS
EVIL DEAD 2
SHAUN OF THE DEAD
And those are just a few!
It can go on and on and depending on how wide you want to cast the net it can encompass films that are a little more comedy than horror but usually those miss that sweetest of spots.
Let’s face it.
And a lot of fans just can’t buy them.
They don’t want to laugh during a horror film and others don’t want to be scared during a comedy.
It’s a tightrope act but one, when done well, is so, so powerful.
The perfect horror comedy is genuine in its interest to be horrifying and funny.
The stakes are real but so too are the laughs.
The laughs come as releases from the tension.
All of us, when faced with something scary, have moments of strange delirium where we feel almost manic and laugh because we need to vent the terror. I remember being in a car accident when I was 18 and I started laughing with another driver and a woman that was also in the accident was outraged that we were laughing.
The thing was though, we needed it.
Accident was my fault, a rear end at pretty decent speed after some cars went full stop on the highway.
It was a mess but we were all alive.
And we were still scared, that fear subsiding but present.
But we were alive.
And we needed to laugh.
That’s what makes horror work with comedy.
They are so close to one another, the set up, delivery, and pay off, that black comedy became the monstrous offspring of the two. The sort of gallows humor necessary to get through an often cruel world.
Man alive is it hard to do though.
You can’t make the horror ridiculous or you skew towards full comedy.
You can’t make the comedy too horrific or it just canters towards gross out.
You have to walk that line.
Someone is walking on a sidewalk late at night.
The lights aren’t all working.
They see something up ahead.
They stop, worried.
They see then that it’s just a dog.
Then the dog comes closer and in the light the person sees that it has two heads and one of them is human.
You can dance back and forth but you have to be serious about the comedy and horror.
You have to take both seriously.
EVIL DEAD 2 is so classic because while it’s campy and over the top, there is terror there as well. It wavers through the whole film where it could fall into one genre or the other but it pulls off the tightrope walk perfectly.
Ash fighting his severed hand is ridiculous but when he is dealing with the Henrietta in the basement, and looking for the book down there it’s scary.
It walks the line.
Not every horror comedy works.
Some overplay their hand and, as I mentioned above, end up toppling over to one side or the other.
Humor too, can be used as a weapon, such as in films like FUNNY GAMES, where the humor is at the cost of the victims.
These movies though certainly don’t work for everyone.
And like good horror and good comedy, it won’t.
That’s not a bad thing.
Comedy and horror hit us each differently. Heck, I guarantee that while some folks PURPORTEDLY barfed during TERRIFER 2 some laughed as well.
It’s just how people are.
It’s how we’re built.
The great ones though, man alive, those are rare beauties that those of us that appreciate them will return to time and again.
They transcend their individual genres and become something else.
Something dark and lovely.
The google eyes that someone is wearing look ridiculous at first until one pops out and we see that they aren’t wearing fake google eyes, and that one of their eyes just flopped gorily from its socket and they are still looking at us.
For me, I will always seek out the good horror comedies.
The ones that earn the laughs and the screams equally.
I will seek them out because they are rare and beautiful and works of art.
I write horror stories and weird books and all manner of things in between. Head to my haunted library and check something out.
3 thoughts on “So Funny That It’s Scary – horror comedies”
There are some really cringeworthy horror comedies. I did like gremlins though. Thanks for the article 🙂
SO many cringers.
They come into fashion once in a while and you get the likes of SCARY MOVIE, which is a comedy pretending to be a horror comedy. Some solid ones out there though, for sure. Thanks for reading!
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Very welcome and agreed 👻