Genres. We know the main ones: comedy, drama, horror, romance, science fiction, western, musical, action, adventure, etc. We know that genre is a term applied usually to some sort of personalities or tropes found in films that make them easily identifiable when categorizing movies. Without them, it would be almost impossible to locate films similar to one another and we would never actually know what we are getting into. That being said, genre can be flexible. Filmmakers can use the expectancies we enforce on genres to shock us. Shifting from one to another, or taking aspects from different genres altogether, genre can become fluid in the eyes of filmmakers and watchers alike. Most often, we see elements of a particular genre combined with the comedic genre; this is apparent in: romantic comedies, action comedies, musical comedies, and, my favorite, horror comedy.
comedy, by nature, seems off. In theory, both genres are purposed to illicit
entirely different emotions from a person. Comedy makes us laugh, happy, and filled
with joy. Horror, on the other hand, plays with our fears, scares us, and most
importantly, creates disruption and stress in our life. These two genres also
give us some of the two most visceral reactions found in genres. When
successful, we are either uncontrollably laughing, or fear-stricken. Though
they are different, comedy and horror both affect us on a base level. Joyous.
Fearful. These are two of our most human qualities in life. It is also the
qualities that set these two genres apart from others. So what happens, when we
blur the lines between these two genres?
One of the
most popular ways to weave these two genres together is to put a comedic
character in a terror-filled situation. We see this pretty early on, with films
such as Abbott and Costello Meet
Frankenstein (1948), their other ‘Universal Monster’ counterparts, and the
duo’s first horror comedy Hold That Ghost
(1941). The two actors provide
comedic relief, and the horror elements of the film are almost secondary to the
comedic genre. We see the trend continue into films of today as well, with
films such as Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the
Dead (2004) and Eli Craig’s Tucker
& Dale Vs. Evil (2010). The film is almost just one genre, and horror
just seems to be a set piece or segway to more comedic elements.
We also have what is known as the
“meta” approach to horror comedy. This is where the comedy isn’t as outright,
with comedic elements coming to fruition from recognition of horror tropes and
qualities predictably found within the genre. These films have been
increasingly prevalent since the 1990’s, with Wes Craven’s Scream (1996) and New
Nightmare (1994), as well as Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in The Woods (2011). In both of these methods, comedic
characters and comedic Meta, we normally find quite a balance. The movie will
give us a horror scene, as well as a comedic one, and typically allow for the
film to be considered what we refer to as a “horror comedy”. There is another
approach though, and this is evident in the films that Sam Raimi has made, originating
with Evil Dead II (1987).
nothing in particular that makes these movies comedic, and on paper, they
should be deemed to be ‘classic horror’. In Raimi’s films, and films inspired
by his work, the scary parts are also the funny parts. The scenes that make
some people’s blood curdle; make other’s burst with laughter. The characters
aren’t necessarily comic relief, and the situations in which they find
themselves in aren’t either. We get something similar to comedic films though,
and that’s the set-up and payoff. In comedies, we get a joke set-up, and we see
how it plays out on screen. In Raimi’s films, we see a suspenseful situation,
payoff with a scare. Instead of separating the two into scary parts, and funny
parts, they become interlaced and as a result, are the same thing. Oddly
enough, the first Evil Dead (1981)
doesn’t follow this route. The film is a straight-up horror film and takes
itself quite genuinely. The sequel on the other hand, while almost indistinguishable,
finds a way to tilt itself into the absurd and allow for a horror to become a
comedy without spoon-feeding you jokes or things of the sort. The key thing in
this situation would be the nature of the film.
is set by exaggeration. Dialogue. Cinematography. Effects. Sound. All are made
almost extreme, and allow for a movie that is obviously horror, to tip into the
comedic realm. Once the tone is set, Raimi can use things like sound and camera
movements to evoke comedic elements in a film that in theory is horror. One
example, which I can think of, is the excessive amounts of gore and gross-outs
that Raimi will use. The blood we see on film can be in absurd otherworldly
proportions, and that, in unrealism, is comedic. There is also intense
melodrama, such as when characters share heartfelt moments in nonsense situations
that bring out comedic elements in a horror film. Maggots. Decapitations.
Disembowelments. All of these can be comedic if the correct tonal approach is
taken to creating and crafting the scene.
This is the
art of the Raimi film. Creating a movie that can evoke multiple emotions at
once, tickling our brains, and puts us in a place that we are unsure of what is
to come next, and in that non-predictableness allow ourselves to see the
absurdity and laugh at it in these extreme situations. Fights can be gut
wrenching, jaw dropping, and belly crushing. Oddly enough, most movies require
a familiar tone throughout to be successful, both critically and commercially.
This is evident with most films that we consider to be some of the universally
accepted ‘greatest’ of all time. Coppola’s The
Godfather (1972) maintains a serious and dramatic tone throughout, never
flinching and allowing the viewer to become invested in what the movie has to
say. It’s fascinating how Raimi can take the exact opposite approach and still
achieve similar results. His inability to stay in a singular space makes his
films more creative, intuitive, and gripping. For this reason, I think it’s
important that we recognize what horror comedy is as a genre, and its
importance to the evolution of horror as a whole.