Horror and comedy have always felt like an incredibly odd mix. The reaction that each clearly wants to elicit from the audience is, after all, directly opposed to the other. Horror wants the scare the audience, obviously. Its goal is to make the audience feel uncomfortable. Just as obviously, the goal of comedy is always to make the audience laugh. Its intent is to make the audience feel comfortable enough to laugh at whatever situation is taking place within the story.
That's where the problem can be found. When you're scared, you're most likely not going to feel comfortable enough to laugh (unless you're the sort prone to nervous laughter, of course). And, when you're laughing, you're not scared. It's probably for this reason that the majority of films which have tried to blend horror and comedy ultimately end up feeling like comedy films which just happen to be set in a context, or situation, more typically associated with horror.
That's not to say that films which attempt to blend horror and comedy are not entertaining, though—because many of them are. It's really just that the comedic elements of the film will usually override the horror.
Personally, though, I'm absolutely fine with that. I've always enjoyed the odd blend of horror and comedy, and the strange brand of macabre black comedy that so often results. It's something that has always appealed to me. I might even be willing to go as far as stating that I prefer it to more straight-forward horror.
Below, I've gathered together a list of five of my own personal favourite films that have successfully managed to blend elements of horror and comedy.
Tucker & Dale vs Evil
Tucker (Tyler Labine) and Dale (Alan Tudyk) are two long-time friends hoping to spend a weekend at the run-down cabin they have just purchased. Their plans aren't anything complicated. They just want to fix up their cabin, maybe find time to do a little bit of fishing, and drink plenty of beer.
Unfortunately, their plans begin to fall apart when they cross paths with a group of college students who have set up their own camp nearby. When their efforts to save a young woman, Allison (Katrina Bowden), from drowning is misinterpreted by her friends as a kidnapping, the two harmless hillbillies suddenly find themselves being hounded by the group of increasingly vengeful college students. But, of course, the college students ultimately prove to be as much danger to themselves as they are to Tucker and Dale—leaving the two lovable hillbillies caught up in an ever escalating cycle of absurd violence.
Tucker & Dale vs Evil is a film which, obviously, finds much of its humour in the deliberate upending of standard expectations. The various misunderstandings, and the violence that results, are milked for all they are worth throughout the course of the film. And, even when things begin to settle back into familiar 'slasher film' territory toward the end, it still manages to be genuinely hilarious.
You can by Tucker & Dale vs Evil from Amazon.
A film about alien slugs that turn people into cannibalistic mutants doesn't really sound like it has any real business trying to be funny. But then you could probably say the same about the basic premise of many of these sorts of films.
Wheelsy, South Carolina, is a small American town in which nothing much ever happens. But this changes quickly as a meteorite crashes down just outside of town, releasing an alien parasite that goes on to infect the local used car dealer Grant Grant (Michael Rooker)—slowly turning him into a monstrous mutated creature with an overwhelming hunger for fresh meat. Grant Grant goes on to release a horde of alien slugs that swarm through the small town—infecting the townsfolk and turning them into cannibalistic monsters assimilated into the alien's bizarre hive-mind.
It's not long until most of the town is either infected or devoured. And, in the end, it falls to the good-natured local sheriff, Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion), Grant's wife Starla (Elizabeth Banks), and Kylie Strutemyer (Tania Saulnier), a teenager who had managed to escape her infected family's attempts to eat her, to save the day.
Slither is a film that isn't shy about tossing some incredibly gross imagery at the audience. The small alien slugs, on their own, are already bad enough—but what they do to the people they infect is even worse. Despite that, though, Slither is also often genuinely hilarious—thanks, in large part, to a great script and a fantastic cast of characters.
You can buy Slither from Amazon.
Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) is an obsessive fan of classic horror movies—the sort who happily stays up to the early hours watching horror film marathons on the late night TV series, 'Fright Night'. As he stays up late each night, though, he observes increasingly suspicious behavior from his neighbor, Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon), that leads him to suspect that his neighbour may be a real-life vampire.
With no one else to turn to, Charley seeks out the aid of his icon, Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), the star of some of Charley's favourite films, and the host of 'Fright Night'. Peter is no more convinced than anyone else, at first. After seeing evidence for himself, though, he very reluctantly allows himself to be drawn into Charley's desperate quest.
Fright Night, as well as being a genuinely entertaining film, may also be one of the few examples where the horror isn't entirely overridden by the comedy. By this I mean that, unlike many other examples, there are points where Fright Night actually manages to work as a genuinely tense horror film. The reason for this comes down to the careful separation of comedy and horror elements within the film. Charley's efforts to convince the world of the existence of vampires is played for comedy—as is the idea of a burned out veteran actor, famous for his role in horror films, suddenly being confronted by the real thing. But the vampires themselves are not played for laughs—they are allowed to be the genuinely threatening figures that they always should be.
If you were paying attention, you might also remember that there was also a relatively recent remake of Fright Night—starring Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrel, and David Tennant in the lead roles. While I am normally pretty ambivalent about the whole concept of remaking and rebooting older films I do have to admit that, at least in this case, it actually turned out quite well. The remake might not have been the most successful film back when it was released in 2011, but, at least as far as I'm concerned, it does actually deserve to stand alongside the original.
You can buy Fright Night from Amazon.
Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn
The Evil Dead franchise is one with a very strange history. Beginning as a fairly conventional, though admittedly very low budget, horror film released in 1981, the follow-up film turned things around and added some surprising moments of comedy in the form of almost cartoonish scenes of slapstick violence. These comedy elements became even more overt in the third film, Army of Darkness, before things took a sudden turn back to straightforward horror with the 2013 reboot. Finally, the series Ash vs Evil Dead spent three seasons balancing black comedy with some rather extreme violence and gore before being cancelled in 2018.
What makes the Evil Dead franchise particularly interesting, though, is that the source of so much of the comedy arguably comes from a single character—the franchise's hero, Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell). Beginning as a meek and weary survivor in the first film, Ash gradually transitions into the hyper-masculine, catchphrase-spouting figure that fans of the franchise know and love—and, as he does so, the franchise as a whole becomes increasingly comedic in nature. While the most iconic features of this increasingly absurd character were most evident in the third film (and later in the series), Evil Dead 2 still marks the important point of transition between what the franchise began as and what it eventually became famous for.
The Comedy of Terrors
The Comedy of Terrors is the story of an an undertaker, Waldo Trumbull (Vincent Price), whose business has fallen on hard times. People simply aren't dying often enough to provide him with the steady stream of customers that he needs. Waldo has a plan, though. If people aren't going to have the courtesy to die naturally, then he'll help speed up the process by killing them himself. So, with the aid of his loyal assistant Felix (Peter Lorre), Waldo sets out to do just that.
It's a fool-proof plan, at least as far as Waldo is concerned. Although, the fact Waldo only owns a single coffin does complicates matters somewhat. Still, things do start to look up as Waldo sets about creating his own business—and it proves easy enough to simply dump the bodies into their graves so that the sole coffin can be reused.
But Waldo encounters further complications when the family of his latest victim insist that, rather than being buried, the coffin should be put on display in the family's crypt—meaning that he is suddenly at risk of losing access to his only coffin. And, to make matters worse, his latest victim, one Mr John F. Black (Basil Rathbone), does not seem all that willing to actually stay dead.
While the chance to see old-school horror icons like Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Boris Karloff together on screen must have made up a great deal of this film's appeal, it is far from the only thing that The Comedy of Terrors has to offer. It may not be as gory as some of the other films on the list, but it really doesn't need to be—it still works quite admirably as a very entertaining black comedy.
You can buy The Comedy of Terrors from Amazon.
© 2019 Dallas Matier