Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Horror Genres: Horror Comedy

I think we can agree that horror films are about catharsis to a certain degree. Engaging yourself and bringing on stress followed by (hopefully) a release of some of that pent-up energy is one of the elements that brings me back to the genre time and again. When it works, it's amazing. When it doesn't, it's frustrating. These are similar problems you'll find in the horror-porn genre. But this is a family friendly blog (-ish), so let's stay on topic of the horror comedy, the next best thing to horror-porn.

Now, we can't talk about horror comedies without talking about Gallows Humour, which is essentially a situation that is funny in the face of a hopeless situation. The term and theory was created by Freud of all people in his 1927 essay Humour (Der Humor) in which he states: "The ego refuses to be distressed by the provocations of reality, to let itself be compelled to suffer. It insists that it cannot be affected by the traumas of the external world; it shows, in fact, that such traumas are no more than occasions for it to gain pleasure." Essentially Gallows Humour aims to deflate the power of the aggressor and give power back to the victim. It is commonly thought of as originating in Europe and took root in North America after World War II. It is a coping mechanism that is dealt out by those who must face uncertainty or probable death and what better place to employ that feeling than in a horror movie? If you can make an audience cower in fear and laugh out loud you're doing more than a little right.

We can trace Horror Comdies back to the 1920s but probably the most famous example from the black and white days is Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. While it involves a ridiculously complex plot it is a great example of subverting the genre by attempting to make two normalized, pre-established characters and mashing them up. As you can see in the tag-line below "It's a grand new idea for FUN" the emphasis is clearly on mocking what the terror is and circumventing its traditional role.

In the 60s and 70s you had films like Rocky Horror Picture Show, Young Frankenstein, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and Fearless Vampire Killers which followed the Abbott & Costello model of placing the emphasis on comedy. One of the first films to truly marry the concepts of horror and comedy was An American Werewolf in London (I know this is conjecture but it's my blog and I'm always right). Fucking John Landis scared the bejesus out of me when I was a kid with this movie and Rick Baker's make-up effect are groundbreaking AND traumatizing which is no easy feat. I saw this movie waaaaaaaaaay too young and am therefore hard pressed to really believe it's a comedy. But a Wikipedia page can't be wrong.

In An American Werewolf in Paris he wears a barrett 
Now we're going to talk about the all time great film series, The Evil Dead. Words cannot express how much I love this movie and I can't count how many times I've seen it. It was made for nothing. It deeply distrubing but also goddamn funny. It hits the head on the horror-comedy nail. It is a mixture of low-budget shlock combined with in depth knowledge of the genre and a perfect leading man.

A group of friends go up to a secluded cabin and uncover the Necromonmicon. After playing a translation of the book trickster spirits come after them leaving only Ash (Bruce Campbell) standing. The film it's the heights of insanity but because of constraints of budget, location etc it never goes too crazy. The first two film essentially use the same plot (due to rights restrictions which prevented director Sam Rami from using footage from the first film for recap purposes) which leads right into Army of Darkness. Army of Darkness definitely fits into the comedy label but is a great addition to the series. I think the Evil Dead series is the gold standard of horror comedy because it combines the two genres fully and nothing can beat "The name's Ash. Housewares."

Well, we're almost at the end of the Horror Genre series. To check out the original and subsequent posts click here.

1 comment:

  1. Cool post! "Zombeavers" is an hilariously badass horror / comedy film hitting theatres & video on demand on March 20, 2015. You can hear all about it & more on our comedic variety show podcast Rock N Roll Cheeseburger this week! Episode 24 with Jordan Rubin, the writer / director! Check us out at!