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Friday, November 7, 2014

Horror and Comedy: Why They Pair So Nicely

The horror genre has never been for the light of heart. Movies and books in this genre were made to invoke feelings of dread in readers and viewers. That being said, directors and producers have spent uncountable hours balancing the tension between horror and humor. A humorous touch here and there can pay off big when it ‘s time to bring in the gore and horror in the following scene. These two elements, when played together, can result in a work of art that leads viewers along through otherwise unpalatable scenes of violence and mayhem.

This farce about a murder-gone-wrong uses comedy as a backdrop for the horrible acts that the characters are engaged in. In a memorable scene, the protagonist stabs his erstwhile brother with a fork in several places, to no effect. In the next scene, viewers are led into the real web of violence that the other brother intends to reap upon his own family members. The levity of Cary Grant attempting a few stabs at his brother’s leg underscores the gravity of the situation and contrasts starkly with the characters’ actions.

The character of Frankenstein’s monster has held a grip on popular culture for over a hundred years in the West (which is why this 1974 film is still widely available to stream, and frequently airs on select TV channels). The character of Frankenstein lends itself to humor, and Mel Brooks and company took advantage of that aspect. The Vaudevillian song and dance act near the end of the movie offsets the seriousness of the monster’s problem with its creator and with modern life. The song underscores the actions of society as a whole just as much as it does those of the monster.

Army of Darkness takes viewers through a ridiculously epic quest to get the Necronomicon. Over the course of the film, the protagonist manages to bungle most of his efforts, but succeeds in the end. The most gruesome aspects of the movie are undercut by Ash’s antics. Instead of a hero, viewers end up with an anti-hero full of himself and oblivious to his surroundings. A cursory view of the first half of the film will leave most viewers laughing through the bloodshed.

Dead Snow (available to stream on Amazon) makes use of music for comic effect during brutal scenes. The toilet scene alone demonstrates how comedy and horror can interact. A sex act taking place on the pot, already hilarious, gives way to a murderous scene with one of the first Nazi un-dead we see. At this point, we seem to have entered the realm of Nazi ghoul fantasy, but the death proves very real.

In the end, audiences crave a little bit of respite from that which shocks them. The toughest person in the theater secretly craves a break from the stark realities of life, even as it is depicted in a fictional film. A little morbid humor can smooth things over to make us think about some of the most unsavory elements of life on this planet we have come to know.

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