Sunday, September 16, 2012

Horror & comedy = oil & water

Plans are still being mooted for October (don't think I'm doing the 31 thing this year, everyone else apparently is, so that ground will be covered, but something else is going to happen).  In the meantime, enjoy this philosophical post about genre-mixing!  Be sure to print it out and put it into your scrapbook with all the other not-funny articles about comedy.

Listen, when you mix horror and comedy, you are playing with fucking fire and I hate you.  Nothing rustles my jimmies faster than sitting down to a scare flick only to find it festooned with poorly-executed Hee-Haw-level "hilarity".  Effective horror-comedies are as rare as Siberian tigers, if not Tasmanian ones.  Why?  Fundamentally, horror and comedy are different machines.  I have heard people (Sam Raimi) say that they are two sides of the same coin, which works if you think of comedy as bunny-hopping away from the agonies of life and horror as shoving it in your face.  But so what?  "Two sides of the same coin" generally means that you're talking about opposites and trying to unify opposites into a whole is mostly an exercise in futility.  

Most horror-comedy only succeeds at being bad comedy with a horror overcoat.  Quick, think of a "horror-comedy" that is both funny and frightening!  Did you say STAN HELSING?  If so, get fucked by an AIDS bear.  Look at this list from the source of all knowledge.  How many of these caused you to shudder once?  From fear, not from angst at terrible humor.  Even things that any reasonable person loves, like GHOSTBUSTERS and THANKSKILLING, are hardly what I'd call real horror-comedy.  Remember, just because a thing has monsters in it doesn't mean it's really horror.  Proof:

The monster in this case being the person who wants a cold, dead penis inside her.  

Of the Wiki list, I declare that the very best horror-comedy (in terms of eliciting both laughs and gasps) is easily this:

Because it's A) legitimately funny, since Dan O'Bannon was a really witty writer, and B) it gets seriously frightening right around the time "It hurts to be dead!" is spoken.  No matter how goofy some of the preceding scenes have been, when RETURN tells you that you can look forward to "THE PAIN OF BEING DEAD", those chuckles are gonna die in your throat.  A great horror-comedy is going to amuse AND unsettle you.  Here's another good example of that:

Comedy???  Yep, remember the scenes with the bumbling policemen and the lady with the truckload of chickens?  If you don't, it's because they were sandwiched between vignettes of horrible torture in the woods!  No sane person would call LAST HOUSE a horror-comedy, but it does use comedy in the right way—to get the viewer all set to giggle, then punch him or her right in the stomach or throat.  If a horror-comedy doesn't do that, it's not a HORROR-comedy.

So do that, aspiring horror-comedians!  And don't do this:

1) Fill your horror-comedy with comedy that isn't funny.  Lots of "funny" people aren't witty, they've basically just compiled a set of 12-15 things to say that work, so they seem witty at first.  People laugh and reinforce the behavior.  But after a while, you realize that those 12-15 things sure get repeated an awful lot, then you realize that said "funny" person is essentially just a robot with 16KB of memory set on "random".  Then they try to augment their routine with the most shallow and obvious pop-culture references.  I am just saying.

2) Make fun of the thing that you are currently trying to do!  I have bitched on here about people who make a bad movie "on purpose" and how pointless and lazy it is.  Like you are undercutting just criticism just by talking about how "campy" your piece of trash is!  Camp is something magical that just happens, like pregnancy, you can't really beat it into existence with a cudgel.  PLUS I guarantee that there is far, far more entertainment in horror films that were intended as serious ventures (and ended up as SBIG, best-worst movies, accidentally-incredible, whatever) than "hilarious" genre-upending crapfests.

It's definitely possible to mix comedy and horror in the right setting—PLEASE look at Night of the Living Podcast, Final Girl, etc.—but the path to good horror-comedy in film is so exceedingly narrow and parlous.  Only people who are sure that they can get a good result (and have verified this with multiple other people who are not friends or stupid) should undertake it.

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