Points of Light: Horror Comedy
Welcome back. Last week, I discussed being different as a writer to stand out, and the difficulties involved. In doing so, I mentioned one of my favorite types of films, horror-comedies, and how they stand out by going against the grain to make people alternately laugh and scream. Since these films stand out as excellent examples of being different, I would like to spend today going over a few of my favorites, to show how to blend two very unlikely genres together.
What is it
As you might infer, a horror comedy mixes the premise of a horror film with comedic moments. To be clear, films like Scary Movie don’t count, as they are satirizing the horror genre. Real horror comedies treat both areas with respect, giving both frightening moments and comedy equal footing. This can be a difficult concept, as making horror humoruous can be a disaster in straight horror films (see Nightmare on Elm 6, which involves Freddy Kreuger making oneliners and rolling a bed of spikes out for a falling man to land on, ala’ Bugs Bunny). Small moments can work, such as Jason Voorhees’ sleeping bag kill, but to make an entire film with the two require a lot of planning.
Arguably one of the greatest horror comedies ever made, Tremors is the story of a desolate Nevada town attacked by huge worm like monsters called Graboids that eat anything that causes seismic vibrations. The film is full of frightening buildup, such a man on a telephone who died of dehydration rather then come down and face the monsters. The Graboids attacks are also full of suspense and blood, as every step the characters take could be into a Graboid attack. However, the characters bring a good amount of humor to the mix- the heroes are two handymen that are relatable, sarcastic, and just intelligent enough to fight the monsters. The real comedic gem however, is Burt, a paranoid gun nut that is fully prepared for WWIII and uses his home’s immense firearm supply to fight off a Graboid attack. The scene of Burt and his wife going through at least twenty guns to kill the rampaging monster adds the perfect blend of humor to this monstrous situation.
Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil
A recent entry into the field, this is a film that is deceptively clever, as it reverses the classic scenario of college kids on vacation vs. murderous hillbillies. Here, the two titular hillbillies are genuinely good people, while the college kids are shallow, prejudice and judge solely on appearance. This leads to a long series of misunderstandings, which generally end with the kids being the architects of their own destruction, albeit with ridiculous methods (watch the woodchipper scene. That’s the best way to sum it up). However, the movie still keeps things frightening enough with an insane, murderous college boy, filled with a hatred of hillbillies that goes after the heroes with all the passion of Leatherface.
Fright Night (2011)
Based of a 1980’s horror film, this modern retelling pushes the film into the comedic with a pair of excellent performances. While the main story of a vampire moving in next door is kept, and given much more gore, suspense, and death, the film is balanced thanks to the humor of Christopher Mintz-Plasse as a vampire hunter teenager turned wisecracking bloodsucker, and David Tennant as a David Blaine style Las Vegas goth ‘magician’ that is knowledgeable but drunk on fame, guilt, and initial cowardice. Their work balances the horror aspects and makes the film entertaining and well done on both fronts.
A film that expertly builds on a common fear (spiders) and still manages to add some humor. This films focuses on a doctor moving into a new town that is slowly overrun with hybrid spiders birthed from a deadly South American breed. The townsfolk are slow to deal with the threat but when it becomes overwhelming, it is easy to be creeped out (the queen spider is the size of a baseball mitt). And the scene of spiders swarming over a house is horror enough for most viewers. However, the film is balanced by the light tone of the ‘new doctor’ story and by John Goodman’s performance as a less then intelligent but fully trained exterminator.
Easily the most disgusting film on this list, this is the tale of a space parasite that infects a West Virginia town with brain slugs that turn victims into drooling zombies, or into raw-meat eating breeders for more slugs. The film alternates between moments of extreme gore (a man literally being slit from belly to forehead) and humor (the incompetent mayor ranting about not getting his Mr. Pib soda after a monster attack). Much of this comes from the excellent performance of Nathan Filion as the sheriff, as well as the ungodly makeup used to create the mutated human hosts. There is even a well told love story thrown into the mix, but nothing feels forced and the film flows well, creating a slimy but enjoyably so good time.
In general, horror-comedies are played for entertainment, which is certainly true. However, when done well, they manage to speak to two strong impulses in readers- our desires to be both scared and be made to laugh. These are powerful impulses that require expert care to both be sated. So if you have any sort of genre-mixing story in your head, watch some of these films and see just how much goes into balancing two opposing forces in one story.
On a seperate note, I will be part of an author showcase this week at the Plainfield NJ Public Library from 2-4. Stop by if your in the area to talk and pick up a book.