Monday, 30 January 2017

Five Great Horror/Comedy Films

Horror and comedy have always struck me as being an odd mix. The reaction that each clearly wants to elicit from the audience is, after all, directly opposed in a very fundamental way. Horror wants to scare the audience, obviously. And, just as obviously, the aim of comedy is to make the audience laugh.

And, that's where the problem can be found. If you're scared, then you're not laughing. And, if you're laughing, then you're not scared. It's probably for this reason that most films which try to blend 'horror' and 'comedy' ultimately end up feeling more like comedy films which just happen to be set in a context, or situation, typically more strongly associated with 'horror'.

That's not to say that these sorts of films aren't entertaining, though - because, many of them are. Take the classic example of the Evil Dead franchise, for example. Army of Darkness is, in my own opinion, easily the best of the original films - and, it's basically slap-stick comedy with only a touch of horror. The original film, on the other hand, never really interested me.

I've always enjoyed the odd blending of 'horror' and 'comedy', and I've always loved the strange brand of macabre black humour that so often results. I might even be willing to go as far as claiming that I prefer it to straight-forward horror which, more often than not, usually doesn't do anything for me.

Below, I've gathered together a list of five of my own personal favourites. Of course, with so many great examples of horror/comedy films out there, it might be fair to ask what makes these five, in particular, more worthy of mention. Well, the simple answer to that is that there is no reason - these are just the five I decided on for this list.


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 - and, yes, that's the character's name) - 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 the cast and the characters they play.

Fright Night

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, in face, 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 anything else, at first - but, after seeing evidence for himself, he gradually, and 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 more successful attempts to blend 'comedy' and 'horror' - by which I mean that, unlike many other examples, there are points where it does also manage to work as a genuinely tense horror film. The reason for this, I imagine, comes down to the careful separation of comedy and horror within the film. Charley's efforts to convince the world of the existence of vampires are 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 should be.

If you were paying attention, you might also remember is was 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.

Tucker and Dale vs Evil

Tucker (Tyler Labine) and Dale (Alan Tudyk) are two long-time friends hoping to spend a week-end at the run-down cabin they have just purchased. Their plans aren't anything complicated - they just want to spend some time fixing up the cabin, find time to do a bit of fishing, and, of course, 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 if 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.

Evil Dead 2

The Evil Dead franchise is one with a very strange history. Beginning as fairly conventional low budget horror with the original, it turned around and added some surprising moments of comedy with the second. By the time the third film, Army of Darkness, was released the moments of comedy had become so prevalent that it seems to barely even qualify as 'horror', anymore.

Sure, the inclusion of increasingly overt Three Stooges style scenes of slapstick violence made it fairly obvious where things were headed - but, the greatest source of humour in the Evil Dead franchise has always been its 'hero', Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell), himself. While most of the iconic features of this increasingly absurd character were really only evident in Army of Darkness, Evil Dead 2 still marks the important point of transition between the opposed styles of the first and last films of the original trilogy.

When Ash, and his girlfriend Linda (Denise Blixler), visit an isolated cabin deep in the woods, they find tapes left by the previous owner. Their curiosity getting the better of them, they play these recordings only to discover that they actually contain readings of key passages of the Book of the Dead - which includes a spell that releases a horde of demons. Linda is soon possessed, and Ash is forced to kill her.

This all takes place in the first ten minutes, or so - being intended as a recap for the first film (the fact that it had to be re-shot, and that none of the other characters from the first film reappear, is the source of the confusion mentioned above). From here, Ash finds himself trapped and isolated - surrounding by demonic spirits that seem intent on driving him insane. Or, at least, he is at first. It isn't long until the daughter of the Professor who was responsible for all of this, Annie Knowby (Sarah Berry), arrives with her entourage to find out what happened to her father. So, now, Ash and the others are forced to try to survive the night as demonic forces move against them.

As I've already mentioned, it was Ash's gradual development from meek and weary survivor into a hyper-masculine demon-slayer that is the true source of much of the humour in the Evil Dead franchise. Evil Dead 2 is the film where the audience gets to see that happen.

The Comedy of Terrors

The film centres on an Undertaker, Waldo Trumbull (Vincent Price), whose business has fallen on hard times, thanks to the fact that not enough people are dying - resulting in there simply not being enough need for his services. But, Waldo has a plan - 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, as far as Waldo is concerned - though, the fact he only owns a single coffin complicates matters. Still, things 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), doe 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 A 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 wonderfully macabre black comedy.

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