Horror and Comedy are More Alike Than You Think

Watch a video essay that breaks down the horror-comedy genre.
Evil Dead II
Anchor Bay Entertainment
By  · Published on October 31st, 2018

So, I’m going to level with you guys: I can’t stand horror movies. I’m too much of a scaredy-cat. Fortunately, the horror-comedy is a fun little genre hybrid that lets even a wimp like me participate in the festivities of the spooky-scary Halloween season.

There’s a new video essay from The Discarded Image, part of an ongoing series analyzing comedy, that breaks down the wonderful subgenre that combines two separate primary genres. The video explores how filmmakers juxtapose genre quirks and tropes to create movies that can be both funny and scary. It also details how using the same filmmaking techniques and style are employed in both horror and comedy, and how elements of the two genres can accentuate each other when placed side by side.

Watch the video essay, titled “Deconstructing Funny: Horror Comedy,” here:

It’s interesting to look back and realize how many similarities the two genres have and how many classics have exploited those similarities. A lot of old creature flicks rely on moments of comedy to lighten the tension and are more memorable and interesting for it. The levity also makes these films easier for the squeamish, like myself, to watch, and thus tend to be a bit more family-friendly.

Horror films eventually moved away from having comedic moments, preferring to create an atmosphere with a lot of tension. Horror-comedy then took on a position of being its own subgenre. But I think there’s still room in modern horror movies for a bit of weirdness and fun on occasion. The constant tension present in serious horror movies is something I find exhausting, and relieving that tension through humor can be a useful tool.

Let’s be fair. All this stuff about comedy in horror is mostly about Gremlins, which is just one of the excellent examples cited in the video essay. Most of the other films cited weigh more on the comedy side, such as What We Do in the Shadows and Shaun of the Dead. For them, the atmosphere of tension is part of the joke. Typically, in a horror movie, we are introduced to the world in its default state, which is a terrifying hellscape of some sort. There is something keeping the ensemble cast together, usually for the purposes of killing them off. By contrast, What We Do in the Shadows and Evil Dead II imply a world outside this by asking the reasonable question “now what?”

The films point out the many contrivances that a normal horror movie scenario requires to make sense. They acknowledge the need for the contrivance and, by asking you to believe their answer, implicitly ask you to acknowledge the absurdity of the scenario. Thus, some of that tension present in a more serious horror film is relieved in horror-comedy — and that helps to keep me in the room when such a movie is playing.

Horror-comedies can then go on to actually be quite tense and scary. After all, the scenario is exactly that of a normal horror movie. But this leaves the “undercut” technique, as noted by the video, available at any time. The movies can always stop being super scary to go back to being funny, and usually do, which lets those of us who can’t stand horror movies experience those fun moments of terror that horror movie buffs enjoy so much, while also being sure we’re not going to have nightmares.

After all, we can always think about “what happens next,” or “how did we get in this scenario,” and there’s typically a joke at the end of this fridge logic, built into the world of the film’s broader “undercut” to defuse any lingering scares before they can interrupt our sleep.

Not all horror movies need an element of comedy, but I think that some could benefit from a little more. Certainly it would help in getting weak stomachs like mine into seats.

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Hans Qu is an animator with Strong Opinions about animation. Along with said opinions, his art and animation can be found on his Bird App account: @NerdyChineseBoy