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Why are horror comedies so horrifyingly good?
Horror and comedy.
“Hey, wait”, you say. “That´s something completely different. You´re supposed to feel scared with horror movies. You´re supposed to fear for your life, to look under your bed, to stay awake all night. Comedy is completely different! You´re supposed to have a good time with your friends, to stop worrying about your problems! These two genres are incompatible!”
Well… no. Because the things you´ve said about them are not completely true.
Let´s begin with horror. Yes, there are some genuinely scary movies (no pun intended) like The Omen or The Shining, but they are the least. Causing terror is very difficult because fear resides in the unknown. Lovecraft knew it, and his most celebrated works didn´t reveal their monsters. H.R. Giger knew it, so the alien doesn´t have any eyes to show emotion. We, unconsciously, know it. That´s the reason we immediately detect the same old trick to drag us into the story and that´s why we laugh at them when they miserably fail.
Yes, we laugh. Come on, stop downloading movies and go to the cinema. See? Everybody´s laughing and screaming with joy! No one watches horror films to be scared anymore because they have repeated the same old tropes over and over again, wasting their potential. I was tempted to say that it was a consequence of the exploding bubble of slasher films, but it doesn´t seem to be the case: in the 40´s, Abbot and Costello also mocked the horror genre. In the 60´s, The Munsters did it. It seems to be cyclic: when horror tropes become clichéd, people come up and mock them until a new wave of creators like Carpenter or Cronenberg make new stories to be scared about.
Let´s face it: although there are still good spooky movies on the big screen, there´s no one like them now. So you shouldn´t be surprised that people laugh at horror, creating a mixed product that suits both fans of this genre and comedy enthusiasts. But what about the latter? Why do they search for this products?
Well, comedy is not on its highest point of quality. You should be able to find bad products announced on TV every day. They try to be funny with pop culture references that will grow old in a second, or implying that sex or harmless violence alone will make you laugh. They also try to appeal to all audiences, and that´s why they fail. They will give up any real novelty in favor of overused narrative resources, and will avoid the use of black comedy in order to please all kinds of individuals.
The problem is that some people want to see something new, something brave. Something that makes them laugh but is not afraid to offend them. A film that is willing to use sensitive subjects and gore to entertain its audience. And what kind of comedies uses gore? You guessed it! Horror comedies! Directors like Peter Jackson or Sam Raimi know how to film them both and make you (us) feel contradictory sensations.
Horror comedy, in all kind of media, creates a perfect equilibrium between the two. It also has some advantages, for example, it creates a link with the characters. Your average horror characters, unless they become more familiar and well-defined with the sequels, are not very relatable. They might be the dumb teenager, the scared child, the worried mother… most of the time, they´re living clichés you can´t really care about. When good comedy is in the mix, however, you know how they fail, what they do best and what they do worst, what they love and what they hate… and you have some good experiences with these people that have become as real as you and I.
That´s the reason you´re genuinely scared when they start dying.
Let´s take The Goon for example. It´s a comic book about a mob enforcer with a tragic backstory who fights a zombie invasion with the help of his fists and his friend Franky. He faces werewolves, vampires, unspeakable abominations… but it´s played for laughs. In 21 issues, you get to know a cast of characters that you have a great time with. They might also be clichés, but you get familiar to them and their backstories. They share insubstantial and hilarious conversations, they try to mingle with each other… they could be your neighbor. And then comes The Goon#22. I won´t spoil anything, but it´s the issue where the backstory of the main character finally comes to haunt him, hurting his friends. This story shows perfectly how a taste of comedy can make tragedy and horror more compelling.
By the way, read The Goon. It´s awesome.
Anyway, I hope I have proved you how horror and comedy are actually related, and how one genre can be used to improve another. No, not really. I actually hope that these great creators I´m talking about can prove you that you can feel joy and fear at the same time.