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By Kevin Nelson · October 25, 2021
Although at different ends of the moviegoing experience, horror and comedy are more closely related than one might initially think. One triggers fear and anxiety while the other provokes joy and comfort. How could they possibly work together?
For the most part, horror-comedies are self-referential and pay homage to the horror subgenres that they are satirizing, parodying, or spoofing. Being self-aware — these films successfully play up and subvert the subgenre’s conventions and tropes, providing a rollercoaster of emotional interaction.
Here are some of the best horror-comedies that you can read and watch this spooky season to better understand how horror and comedy are related. They will make you laugh…as long as you are not alone.
Jennifer’s Body is a film that’s both way ahead of its time and couldn’t have come sooner. One of the most common horror tropes of all is the depiction of women as victims to men, monsters, or both. Screenwriter Diablo Cody knew that there has always been a feminist angle to horror, it just usually comes through the exploitive lens of a male perspective.
Diablo Cody stated:
“We wanted to subvert the classic horror model of women being terrorized. I want to write roles that serve women. I want to tell stories from a female perspective. I want to create good parts for actresses where they’re not just accessories to men.”
Initially, Cody intended the screenplay to be darker and more akin to a straightforward slasher, though her macabre sense of humor kept creeping in. She feels that the link between horror and comedy lies in audience participation.
Cody told MoviesOnline:
“They’re laughing, they’re screaming — it’s not a passive experience.”
Screenwriters can take a lesson from Cody here when approaching their stories. Don’t be afraid to broach difficult subjects. Horror has always been a great vehicle for that. Adding comedy to the mix eases the hard pill that needs to be swallowed like a glass of water.DOWNLOAD THE SCRIPT
After the success of Saw, a new subgenre was born. Torture horror. Various films of this subgenre were produced and distributed en masse in an attempt to cash in on the craze. A Cabin in the Woods was a satire that sought to be the exclamation mark to end them once and for all.
In the film, engineers manipulate events from a remote location and spectate the very real deaths with glee — even going so far as to make bets. There’s something to be said about our interest in watching death as a spectator sport. Audiences have hungered for this form of entertainment for centuries. This bloodlust has proven to be insatiable, with each sequel of a torture franchise needing newer and crazier ways to inflict pain and death — and audiences continue to eat it up.
Cabin in the Woods examines this morbid fascination by poking fun at the subgenre’s conventions and trappings. Sometimes, the only way to make sense of something is through satire.DOWNLOAD THE SCRIPT
Here is an example of a classic body swap tale taken from the public domain. The basic premise has been adapted many times for literature, film, and television — so what sets this version apart from the rest? It’s never been done in the framework of a horror film — a slasher flick to be exact. They say there are no new stories, only new ways to tell old ones.
When two characters switch bodies, they are generally on opposite ends of the personality spectrum. Rebellious daughter and uptight mother (Freaky Friday). Rich white broker and poor black hustler (Trading Places). In Freaky’s case, it’s innocent teenager, Millie, and the serial killer who tried to murder her.
The premise has a long history of comedy adaptations, so the film relies heavily on its humor to deliver a rollercoaster of laughs and scares. It also leads to moral judgments that challenges an innocent young woman to commit the worst offense of all. Having a moral dilemma where it’s a lose/lose scenario causes the character to dig deep in order to make some tough decisions. This kind of character depth is what elevates cookie cutter premises into a word of mouth surprise hit.DOWNLOAD THE SCRIPT
The 1980s were a wild time. As censorship bodies began to hold less power over distribution, filmmakers were given relatively free reign to explore the darkest corners of their wildest imaginations. New technologies and practical effect capabilities opened the door for some outrageously creative and gory kill scenes.
The Evil Dead proved that quality horror can be made on a shoestring budget and still be wildly successful and funny. The Evil Dead wasn’t bashful with the gore and revved up the craziness — a model that would go on to become a franchise and produce countless imitators.
This is a classic “F it” script before the term was ever uttered, paving the way for writers to let their imaginations run wild with nothing holding them back. If the ride is wildly entertaining and fun, then the audience won’t want it to end. Decades later, maybe your vision will live on in a new form if you abandon all your inhibitions and let loose.DOWNLOAD THE SCRIPT
What We Do In the Shadows is a mockumentary-style comedy horror written and directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi. It includes all the hallmarks of their dry enigmatic humor as a documentary crew gains unprecedented access to a flat occupied by vampires.
Mockumentaries often take themselves so seriously that they’re ridiculous. That’s partly because documentaries are often considered more scholarly and serious than their fictional counterparts. After all, these are real people. A mockumentary follows the same model almost sarcastically. The characters and all their strange weirdness become the butt of the joke.
Best In Show, American Vandal, even The Office, all tackle their subjects with candid hyperrealism. This is part of the charm and hilarity of What We Do In the Shadows. It approaches an absurd premise within the rigid framework of a documentary.DOWNLOAD THE SCRIPT
Shaun of the Dead is a parody film filled with referential jokes that are ultra-aware of the source material. Beyond that, it offers a hilarious depiction of what an actual zombie outbreak might actually look like. Take for instance the scene where the main character Shaun wakes up and groggily heads to the store.
In a world where everyone is already living as zoned-out zombies, Shaun doesn’t notice that London has descended into chaos overnight. It’s clear that things are amiss around him, yet he goes about his daily routine completely oblivious of his surroundings — even slipping on blood and telling a zombie he doesn’t have change. Zombie films emerged as a social commentary on consumerism, so it’s only fitting that the humor in this scene pays homage to that tradition.
Shaun of the Dead approaches zombies in an ironic, realistic fashion. A large part of the overall joke is how non-threatening zombies actually are — unless they arrive in large numbers of course.DOWNLOAD THE SCRIPT
The original is more horror than comedy, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t chock full of sharp, wicked humor. Black Christmas is the godmother of slasher tropes as well as a major influence and inspiration for every slasher to follow. Horror films reflect the social anxieties of the time in which they’re made, so perhaps the popularity of the slasher subgenre coincides with the rise in serial killers in the mid to late 1970s.
The humor is often found in small personal quirks of the characters, like the bumbling officer who means well but can’t do anything right, or when a character wearing a Santa costume cusses in front of some kids, or a father’s disapproving glance at the vulgar poster that his missing daughter has been allowed to hang in her room, or even the house mother’s propensity to hide liquor throughout the house in order to deal with the sorority girls. Humor is used throughout to
Many slasher tropes were born here. There’s the final woman going upstairs to investigate a noise, the killer hiding in the closet watching, taunting phone calls from the killer, the killer’s POV as he stalks his victim (predating Halloween), the Final Girl (predated by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre by two months), misdirection on the identity of the killer, and not to mention the ambiguous ending. Subsequent slasher films built on these tropes and eventually codified them into simple formulaic offerings.DOWNLOAD THE SCRIPT
Existing in your nightmares, A Nightmare on Elm Street’s big bad Freddy Krueger is powered by his victim’s fears. The child killer’s sick sense of humor makes the audience cringe in disgust instead of laugh.
This makes laughing at the humor create conflict within the viewer. Should they be laughing? It’s kind of sick. As the franchise expanded, Freddy’s antics became more comical and less rooted in fear. He became a clown with a burnt face. In the early iterations, he’d attack his victims with what they feared most.DOWNLOAD THE SCRIPT
Written by the infamous John Landis, An American Werewolf in London is widely considered to be the first mainstream hit that crossed horror and comedy genres and one of the greatest horror comedies of all time.
The film is centered around two brash Americans as they backpack through Europe. They arrive at a tavern and the Englishman regales them with jokes and laughter, failing to properly convince them to stay put for the night because a werewolf is ravaging the land. At first, the comedy is centered around Landis’s witty dialogue. After the horrifying and haunting werewolf attack, it dips into the bizarre.
Nightmares of mutant zombies, his dead friend showing up for a little comedic relief. An American Werewolf in London certainly doesn’t stray too far into full-fledged horror.DOWNLOAD THE SCRIPT
Written by Chris Columbus and directed by Joe Dante, this classic proved that a horror-comedy could reach a wide audience AND also be a Christmas movie. There is no niche too small to exploit.
Columbus had a knack for writing films that appeal to both children and their parents. There’s a playfulness to Gremlins in the cute creatures who turn to monsters if you neglect your guardianship responsibilities. It’s a great allegory to having kids or pets and how things can quickly get out of control if you’re not paying attention.
The antics of the gremlins and the death scenes they’re responsible for are rooted in silliness — they aren’t too graphic for kids but still have enough of an edge to be considered horror.DOWNLOAD THE SCRIPT
For all of the conventions and tropes that Black Christmas invented, Scream found innovative ways to subvert them. One of the supporting characters is a clerk in a video store and knows all of the rules of scary movies. It’s a film where the rules are made clear yet it still finds ways to deliver the unexpected.
Wes Craven kicked it all off with the opening scene. He sets the audience up with a load of expectations going in. The biggest star of the movie, Drew Barrymore, is all over the promotional material. Her face is not only the centerpiece for the poster, but her character is out in front of the others. Audiences expect her to be the protagonist.
So when she was killed in the first fifteen minutes of the movie, audiences were stunned. This scene is clever in how it patiently builds suspense while paying homage to scary movies while using the creepy phone call trope from Black Christmas. It ends with a graphic hook that sets up the rest of the film for the unexpected. Everything the viewer has come to expect about the film has been pulled out from under them. They’re grasping for stable ground but the story never allows them to get settled again. It’s a masterclass in setup and delivery.
The same is true for the tropes Scream subverts in the text. Screenwriter Kevin Williamson’s knowledge of the conventions and tropes of slasher horror films is delivered to the reader on a platter through the video shop clerk, Randy. This sets up the reader’s expectations. It’s a classic example of diverting the reader’s attention in one direction so that you can sneak up behind them and scare the living crap out of them. A sleight of hand, an illusion, a magic trick. Scream is a horror screenplay for lifelong fans of the genre for this very reason.DOWNLOAD THE SCRIPT
Both horror and comedy genres deliver visceral reactions from the audience. Readers and viewers participate in and interact with the action by lending screams or laughs — sometimes both in the same breath.
It’s no wonder that combining these two genres can create a powerful impact on audiences. After all, horror-comedies welcome audiences to laugh at their own fears through dark humor. Who better to laugh at than ourselves?