Maniacal Laughter: The Rise of the Horror Comedy

Horror has the ability to surprise, but it is also a genre that is known to fall back on tropes and stereotypes.  The most effective horror humour today toes that fine line between full-blown parody and a love letter to all horror fans out there.  Here is a look at how horror humour is creating a sub-genre that is kicking ass and creating something new and fresh that is rewarding the fans.

Sooooooooo…..remember when Scary Movie came out?  Hilarious, right?  We can make fun of it now all we want, but we all laughed our asses off at the time.  It was something new and felt subversive.  But who was it appealing to?  As a horror fan, a little part of me felt like I was being subtly mocked.  I felt a little bit like I was sitting in a theater full of people who were laughing at how something that I loved could be so ridiculous.  The difference was that I was in love with the ridiculous aspects of horror movies, and Scary Movie fans were laughing at how ridiculous it was that anyone could enjoy anything that seemed that ridiculous.

(Sorry for the ridiculous number of times I just used ‘ridiculous,’ but it really does feel like the most appropriate word).

Parodies like Scary Movie are funny, but the bottom line is that they appeal to comedy fans.  I found this really interesting when I stopped to think about it, because it’s actually hard to tell whether the people making the parodies are horror fans or not.  They’ve clearly done their homework, but they are pulling from the more popular scenes from very infamous films to appeal to the broadest possible audience.  They also tend to focus on what is very popular at the time that the parody is made.  What horror comedy is doing differently is that it is appealing directly to horror fans rather than just to comedy fans; in this new and exciting sub-genre we are seeing love letters to movies that have built the foundation of modern horror.

This is not to say that if you are a comedy fan, you can’t be a horror fan, or vice versa, but I feel that to truly appreciate a good horror comedy you need to be a horror fan first, or at least enough of a horror fan that you can appreciate what dedicated fans see in it.  In fact, if you’re not a hardcore horror fan these movies are actually a good toe in the water; it gives you an idea of what is so great about horror without as much of the intensity.  For me, they are a great way to introduce people to the genre without scaring them away (pun intended).  We as horror fans are seeing ourselves reflected in the filmmakers, who are clearly not just researching the genre – they are  enamoured with it, and want the viewer to love it as much as they do.

The best horror comedy that has emerged is proving that just because the movie is funny doesn’t mean it can’t also scare the pants off of you.  A classic cult example of this is one that I only discovered recently, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon.  This mockumentary depicts a news crew as they follow Leslie Vernon, a man determined to become the next supernatural serial murderer a la Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger.  I actually choked on some potato chips laughing so hard at Leslie’s patented technique for a “fly by” and “brick slide” (I have witnesses).  I cried and giggled simultaneously at his lament about having to perform cardio in order to keep up with people who are booking it away from you while appearing to be walking.  His professed delight over having enough status to achieve an “Ahab” figure that would take him down (played by none other than Robert Englund) was so hilarious that I walked around casually slipping “We’ve got an Ahab!” into conversations.

But at some point, the fun took a turn.  The movie does such a great job at making you laugh, but never loses the subtle dread of its endgame – at some point, the crew is going to have to decide whether they stay and become accomplices by saying nothing about Leslie’s plan, or if they dare to go against him.

And that’s where the brilliance of horror comedy kicks in.  It’s one thing to have a parody, it’s another to make us laugh without losing sight of the fact that, as horror fans, we crave a good scare!

Since Leslie Vernon, there have been some amazing additions to this exciting category.  Some of the more popular ones such as Shaun of the Dead have struck a chord with audiences, but recent indie movies like The Final Girls, Lost After Dark, and What We Do in the Shadows are really setting the bar for what horror comedies can do.  If you haven’t already checked them out, they are a great place to start!  I mean, seriously….where, other than in a Jemaine Clement vampire movie, are you going to see vampire roommates argue about their chore wheel?  Sold!

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