When Comedy meets Horror
After a break, we return right into our look at the varied world of comedy horror in cinema, with the occasional diversion into TV. So far we have had a variety of films from a variety of countries, from the obscure Hausu to the more immediately accessible in Beetlejuice & Drag me To Hell.
Before we go any further, horror has a habit of coming across in such an earnest light that it threatens to make its audience laugh. Take 2011’s The Rite as an example. The Rite starred Anthony Hopkins as an unorthodox priest outside the system who specialises in exorcisms in Rome, (spoiler) as luck would have it he becomes possessed and he over-acts like only Hopkins can. There is also the copious employment of cats jumping at the camera, even a horse with red eyes appears at one point. It was one of the best comedy films of 2011, shame then that it was meant to be a horror movie.
Now. Without any further preface, here is part three.
Chances are you won’t have heard of Wild Zero unless you’re familiar with the Japanese garage/noise rock band Guitar Wolf, the no. 1 Jet rock n’ roll band. Wild Zero is one of the most unlikely rock n’ roll movies and a cult movie unlike no other. Ace is a huge fan of Guitar Wolf and follows their example, living his life as they do, even if he is a bit of a loser, a story beat that informs the development of the story. While this is happening a race of aliens unleashes a terror on earth that turns man into army of zombies, resonating one of the many plot beats in Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space. As expected it’s up to Guitar Wolf to save the day, while dealing with a club owner with a blood lust and getting Ace out of trouble. Wild Zero has amateur actors and practical effects that would look dated in the 80s, it is also little more than a vehicle for the band to look cool, yet there is something there, hidden away. The stupidity of the survivors, the ways in which the zombified retain their personality, as well the inventive ways the zombies are killed, collaborate to make an endlessly fun watch. Any film that has a crowd of zombies killed by rapid-fire plectrum deserves mention.
DEAD SET [TV]
Dead Set is a television show written by UK satirist Charlie Brooker (Black Mirror), including this may technically be cheating but it perfectly encapsulates what a nasty horror premise can do with an injection of comedy. Dead Set is a zombie TV series, before the walking dead, and it centred the apocalypse on the reality TV show Big Brother. The magnificent ‘bad-guy’ performance from Andy Nyman, the raging satire of British society and the stupidity of certain contestants, thinking the zombie outbreak came from GM crops or Wi-Fi. Contrarily the horror is nasty, with the claustrophobia of the world closing in on the survivors as well as a bloody finale that will satiate the desire of any horror fan to see people done in. With a gruesome death in which someone is pulled apart and eaten by zombie kind while regaining consciousness, every bit as nasty as the scene it invokes from Romero’s Day of the Dead with effects work by Tom Savini. It does include fast zombies – a turn off on its own – and terribly skittish camera work. Still, for such a vast premise to be made on a shoestring budget, Dead Set a hugely impressive exercise and a rarity in televisual horror.
There are scores of Christmas themed horror films, a couple of them even feature in these lists. How many of them include ex-WWE wrestler Bill Goldberg as a demon who lost a bet at winter sport curling against god, forcing the former demon into becoming the giver of toys and happiness? While the acting never out stretches the usual territory for wrestlers, there’s a characteristic charm to Santa’s Slay. It’s big, silly and tries to achieve little more than Bill Goldberg in full Santa dress killing people after God’s curse wears off, while doing so he makes wry, dead pan one-liners. The wise quipping murderer is common ground for the comedy horror, but when it’s as inventive a Christmas movie as this, it helps it stand out from the masses.
EDDIE THE SLEEPWALKING CANNIBAL
Lars a once-famous painter rediscovers himself when he befriends the titular Eddie. A man thought of by the locals as mentally damaged but ultimately harmless. That isn’t even close to the truth, Eddie harbours a dark secret, he eats small animals in his sleep, and in this Lars finds inspiration as an artist. Thus begins a spiral of manipulation which gets out of control as each Lars’ obsession with art and his friendship with Eddie gets tested to their very limits resulting in a bloody cacophony of blood. There is a basic dark comedic truth to the setup, in allowing someone to murder animals in their sleep as it inspires the artistic urges. Likewise, the film jumps from quirky humour that playfully satirises the personality of a small town to eruptions of stylised violence. With a title like Eddie the Sleepwalking Cannibal, the film threatens to become “all title, no trousers”, but evades that completely by being charming, funny and violent.
In the mid to late 1980s, Peter Jackson was a very different director, making outlandish and tasteless films with his friends and family. In Bad Taste, the population of a small town disappears and is replaced by aliens that chase human flesh for their intergalactic fast-food chain. The film bathes in the low budget potential of gore, showing an all too rare invention Jackson crafts an audacious finale that far outstretches what should be conceivable with no money. The stuff that he got away passes for comedy itself. Whether it’s something being eaten, exploding or a character pushing his brain back into his head. Everything is done with an infinitesimal budget making it all the more impressive, stupid, but impressive. It also has a cast of nonprofessional actors, who spout self-assured smack-talk at the aliens. Even if they can’t act and the effects are clearly bad, it’s made with such affection and fun it makes Bad Taste an enduring cult classic.
Another Hotel-set horror comedy, this time from America in the 1980s, and like the other entry Happiness of the Katakuri’s, it’s a stretch to call Eating Raoul either comedy or horror in the traditional sense. It’s much more of an offbeat comedy in the skin of a horror movie. Paul and Mary are a bland married couple, their surname is Bland too (Paul and Mary Bland), together their dream is to open a restaurant. One day a swinger arrives in their apartment, things escalate and the married couple end up murdering their amorous and unwanted guest, they take the money from the wallet and dispose of the body. From that accident they hatch a scheme to kill off other sexually adventurous visitors, raising the stakes with each new kill until the titular Raoul arrives making matters more complicated. Setting this conservative couple against the backdrop of murder and sex is where the humour is derived from, the contrast of safe and lurid is what sets Paul Bartel’s passion project apart from the masses. Eating Raoul was recently released on the illustrious Criterion Collection label, making it one of the more renowned titles on display.
Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo are a tough 1980s police duo, breaking all the rules and saving the day, everything you expect from the police action genre at the time. In the opening minutes, they arrive at the set of a bank robbery where the two criminals are impossible to kill, zombies in other words. In investigating this, Williams is killed and brought back to life almost immediately thanks to an innocuous looking device that is temporarily able to reanimate the dead, hidden away in a medical facility. What follows is Treat Williams trying to solve the mystery behind his own death. Now the problem with Dead Heat as a comedy is its focus on the wise-cracking of Joe Piscipo, who is simply not funny. On the other hand, the horror is far more interesting. There is a sequence in a butcher’s shop which is inventive in the extreme, through bringing meat products back to life via the aforementioned device. It also manages to include a zombie melting at one point. The film is also helped by the exceptionally classy Vincent Price, in a small role. There’s enough to recommend in Dead Heat, but it’s a case of jack of all trades master of none.
KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE
Another clown movie, this time Killer Klowns from Outer Space and even as someone who isn’t scared by clowns, the marriage of ‘guy in a suit’ and puppetry is creepy. In Killer Klowns… a spaceship that looks like a big top descends onto town, inside is a race of aliens who look like clowns and they emerge killing the townspeople. With a mix of playful gibberish that the clowns speak, absolute disbelief from the town’s people and an array of tricks that are used to kill people, Killer Klowns is another success for effects work that is both comedic and horrific. Whether it is shadow puppets eating people, popcorn machine guns or surprisingly animated balloon animals, Stephen Chiodo’s debut is a unique beast. It’s still plagued by the issues of many lesser 1980s comedy horror films, but the sheer insanity of the space clowns and the creepiness of the puppetry has kept this in the attention of genre fans. It has also been announced that a 3D vision of the Klowns are heading to cinemas in 2013.
Nazi’s and the Zombie are the two movie staples that you can do just about anything to and not feel guilty about it. What that means for Dead Snow in which we have Nazi Zombies should be more significant; thanks to the Outpost series their impact has been severely dulled. Even if Dead Snow goes for the easy gags at times and references its big brothers who have perfected the Cabin In The Woods formula, it’s those archetypes were the filmmakers have the most fun. Where the first half sets up these stereotypes with pranks, casual sex and general air of arrogance, the second makes a bloody and gory mess out of all involved. Dead Snow is an exercise in deconstructing stereotypes, by tearing them limb from limb.
George O’ Romero and Stephen King collaborate in the most unlikely of projects; this is not a violent horror movie with a pervasive social issue. On the contrary, this is creep show a comedic visitation of 1950s horror comic books, E.C comics in particular. Creepshow is portmanteau film brought together by a young boy reading comics in his garage. As with any movie made of vignettes or short films, the results vary wildly and it’s this inconsistency that the two authors take advantage of. Some sections like “The Crate” and “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verill” are more broadly comedic than others, whereas “They’re Creeping Up On You” and “Something To Tide You Over” preoccupy themselves with more traditional horror avenues, leaving “Father’s Day” somewhere between the two. It’s not up there with the best from either Romero or King, but it remains an interesting diversion for two names more interested in the serious potential of horror.
In Waxwork, a mystical waxwork museum appears over-night and a group of teenagers choose have a midnight party with this new museum as the locale. There is more to the museum that meets the eye; it plays home to 18 of the most evil men who ever existed, from Dracula to the Marquis de Sade. This allows the director to really play around with time, place and reference everything from Blazing Saddles to Amicus and Night of the Living Dead to Corman’s Poe Movies. While Waxworks’ reach extends its grasp, it never fails to entertain in the details. With its running gag that Waxworks look nothing like there real world alternatives, as well as its loose structure make it one of the most daring cross-genre films of its era. It’s problematic as most of these films tend to be, however it attempts to stray away from the well-worn norms and it also has Zach Galligan amidst its cast. Just ignore the sequel and everything will be fine.
The video game Silent Hill is about a town that gives monstrous form to the deepest neuroses, Alan Wake did the same only with creations from the imagination of a horror author. House is has a little bit of both, as Roger Cobb inherits a house from his recently deceased Aunt. Featuring a plethora of actors from 1980s sitcoms who bring their comedy persona’s with them. There is also a selection of ghosts and ghouls who bring comedy as well as horror. As such, House is constantly changing the goalposts is it a comedy? It’s it a haunted house movie? Or, is it a psychological drama? It’s all of these and none.
Wilson Yip, the director behind Ip Man 1 & 2 and Flashpoint made a zombie comedy back in 1998. In Bio Zombie, a soft drink tainted with bio-chemicals causes people in Hong Kong to turn into the living dead. Just like in the 80s, Chinese film makers have a habit of dating their work with material that captures the spirit of the time. Bad music has a habit of dating movies more egregiously than sub-standard effects ever will and Bio-Zombie has an only found in the 1990s techno score. Yip’s low budget effort with the zombies unfolds via a series of misunderstandings and mistakes from two friend’s results in a shopping mall succumbing to a Lucozade infused zombie apocalypse. Comparisons to Shaun of the Dead would usually plague films like this; I can envision the epithets now “china’s answer to Shaun…” Bio Zombie actually warrants that, because like Edgar Wrights break-out hit, Yip develops his characters and gives them arcs and emotional beats, and places them in situations that skip energetically from horror to comedy to drama.
It takes all kinds of critters…to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters. That is Motel Hell’s tagline. A 1980 film which pages homage to 1970s slasher’s, Last House on the Left in particular. In Motel Hell, Farmer Vincent kidnaps unsuspecting travellers from a nearby Motel and buries them in his garden with their heads sticking from the ground. Unfortunately for his victims, they are not dead. He feeds his victims to prepare them for his roadside stand. As homage it includes all manner of references into its diet, whilst including enough imagery for it’s to stand on its own accord. The most striking image of which is recreated in the promotional poster, an idea which was re-imagined for 2011’s Hobo with a Shotgun. There are also psychedelic leanings and a nearby farmer who has a chainsaw fight while wearing a pig head. It’s a film which probably should be billed as a comedy, yet it still has moments of comedy interspersed. Kevin Connor’s film is a grindhouse homage, 30 years before they became de rigueur.
Danny Dyer is a man with a complicated image in the UK; on the one hand he is loved for his cockney antics. On the other side, he is disliked by almost everyone else with a keen interest in cinema, the very definition of love-hate. No matter what his reputation every man has his 15 minutes and Severance is Danny Dyer’s. In Severance a group of co-workers are flown off to Eastern Europe to a team-building retreat in the mountains only to be hunted down by crazed killers. The film is an entry into one of the most unsavoury sub-genres of horror, murderous foreigners. A sub-genre it attacks like any number of European based slasher movies, minus the terrifying gore. What makes Severance more interesting and successful as a comedy horror is the characters and their workplace frustrations and relationships playing out in the isolation of the European forestry; a dynamic that produces another scene stealing performance by Andy Nyman. The comedy and horror don’t fuse together well, but in isolation they work brilliantly.