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Friday, 26 August 2011

Keep Em' Laughing - Splatstick time

What is a goremody? Well certain horror films – Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein, Evil Dead 2, Scream, Braindead and scores of others use humour as much as gore in their movies – thus they are goremodies, splatstick movies.
But there is some debate with horror fans over the place for comedy in horror. The screenwriter of the Fright Night remake recently listed her favourite horror comedies with Shaun of the Dead taking the top spot and Quentin Tarantino went on record to state that the mixture of humour and horror in John Landis’ American Werewolf in London inspired him to mix genres in his own movies.
Horror fans seem to like a few laughs with their chills, but there are those that insist humour has no place in a true horror movie. That’s what makes the Exorcist such a relentless experience – there is absolutely no light relief in the entire movie. And today the original Evil Dead, the most serious of the franchise,  outsells its sequels year on year and has done for the best part of a decade. So is humour an important part of the genre or does it detract from the effect of the horror?

“I think the really hardcore horror fans only want Evil Dead 1. As I’ve come across more and more horror fans, that seems to be a consensus. They want the horror, the want the unrelenting grueling horror, and they don’t want the filmmaker to tell them when to laugh. If something’s too gruesome, they want to decide to laugh on their own. They don’t need a joke there.” Rob Tabert, producer of the Evil Dead films.

Personally I like my horror films to be peppered with humour – nothing too silly, mind. I mean I’m no fan of out and out horror comedies, but a little black humour often helps. Take the Exorcist for instance – the film, although acknowledged as a classic, is too brutal and uncompromising for my tastes. It’s not something I would choose for repeat viewing. The horror movies I watch more than most are the Universal classics and these films for the most part were strictly serious, with the odd dash of gallows humour. But I do agree that the best horror movies use humour sparingly and are all the more effective for it – take the original Nightmare on Elm Street which does contain some light relief but for the most part is nail-biting tension. None of the sequels or remakes have ever touched upon the brilliance of the first. It’s the same with the Halloween franchise. And many more I could mention – in fact if I tried to list them all, this post would go on and on and on and….

Horror and comedy are certainly linked – this is why the image of a circus clown, the ultimate comedian, can appear terrifying. Stephen King realised this and the creation of Pennywise from IT represents pure distilled terror. Killer Klowns from Outer Space, tough may have diluted this somewhat.
However it remains an interesting question – do horror movies need humour? I suppose it depends on the film and when done well, the humour does not detract from the horror but instead enhances it. Think American Werewolf in London, or From Dusk to Dawn – both movies benefit greatly from the black humour. And then there’s that scene in The Shining (The Kubrick original, of course) in which Mad Jack is busting through the door with an axe, his terrified family cowering on the other side of the door – “Heeerrrreee’s Johhhhnnny!”, he yells manically in what is a terrific scene, made all the more chilling by the manic humour. Then again there are countless horror movies, sequels mostly, where the film’s  been ruined by outright comedy.
You pays your money, you take your choice.


Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Humour and Horror together? Interesting notion. Except you wouldn't know whether to laugh or cry. I guess a little wittiness might help keep your wits about you rather than be scared out of your wits completely. I have seen most of the films you mentioned except THE SHINING which I hope to watch soon. Here I would like to mention two other films which I found chilling—OMEN and FRIDAY THE 13TH, both original. No humour there.

Michael said...

You pose an interesting question. I loved Killer Klowns from Outer Space! Campy fun something fierce. John Vernon in that movie is a great example of the serious/humorous plot line that you point out...he was BOTH. I thought that the Shining was very overrated, not at all a compelling watch. If you want real CHILLS in a Winter like scenario I HIGHLY recommend John Carpenter's "The Thing". Even that movie had a little humor. The Daddy of all Horror Comedies has to be the Bruce Campbell's Evil Dead movies, especially Army of Darkness. I look at it this way, maybe a pure horror movie shouldn't have humor in it but I PREFER the ones that do. Very few movies actually scare me but I do love and respect the imagery of a classic horror flick so a movie that has walking skeletons and Three Stooges references in it is right up my alley! Names Ash...Housewares!