Do you ever stare deep into Hugh Grant’s eyes and feel weak at the knees? Or perhaps you live vicariously through Julia Roberts as she runs her fingers through Richard Gere’s lush salt-and-pepper hair? Of course, I’m talking about everyone’s favourite gag-fest: the rom-com. Don’t lie, you know what I’m talking about…
Boy meets girl.
Boy falls in love with girl.
Boy royally screws up.
Boy apologizes to girl via a mixed-tape featuring the Backstreet Boys.
Boy and girl live happily ever after, at least until the credits roll.
A blend of both genres, these stories harness the charm of romance and the humour of comedy to invest the audience in the characters. You’ll be sitting in the theater asking yourself: Do I laugh? Do I cry? And why is my heart growing three sizes bigger?
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Rom-coms? I came here for blood and guts!”
My apologies. I’m sorry to have let you down. Let me start over.
Do you ever shiver with delight as the maniacal spirit Beetlejuice is summoned with a flash of lightening? Or perhaps you watch with frightened fascination as water is spilled on Gizmo, spawning five more devilish gremlins? Of course, I’m talking about the frequently overlooked comedy-horror.
Sounds somewhat paradoxical, doesn’t it? You’d be forgiven in thinking so. Many people believe that comedy and horror are two radically different genres, that they’re somehow the antithesis of each other. How can a genre that makes you laugh be similar to one that raises the hair on the back of your neck?
You heard it here first folks: comedy and horror share more in common than you think.
Chills and chuckles may be opposing responses, but regardless, the aim of both genres is to spark a reaction from their respective audiences. Scary or funny, it doesn’t matter. Do they both not make you pee your pants? But please, don’t misunderstand. Dramas can certainly make you cry—Jack and Rose’s love was so pure!—but if you sit in your seat, hands folded neatly in your lap, you can still enjoy the journey. With comedy and horror, if you don’t laugh or squirm, the film has failed.
Comedians understand the importance of building anticipation, timing, and payoff. It takes the same ingredients to craft successful horror. You can’t simply throw a ghoul up on the screen and expect a scream. Because of this similarity, it’s no wonder why so many comedians are making the shift to horror: Jordan Peele with Get Out, John Krasinski with A Quiet Place, and Danny McBride with 2018’s Halloween. It’s a natural fit: comedy-horror isn’t paradoxical at all.
Now, let us switch gears and talk about Chris Hemsworth. Oh-ho! That got your attention. No, instead, let’s talk about The Cabin in the Woods, in which the God of Thunder plays a typical college jock. In many ways, this film is the perfect example of how to balance this seemingly contradictory line. A film about a ritual sacrifice to an ancient god, The Cabin in the Woods embraces a comedic self-referential tone in order to poke fun at horror and its deplorable tropes and clichés. And yet there is still something unnerving about the film, whether it’s the mist that creeps along the forest floor or the sense of isolation and impending doom.
Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead are two other modern examples; however, comedy-horror goes back decades with 1974’s Young Frankenstein, or even 1948’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, or better yet the original 1931 Frankenstein—although, that last one might be funny for unrelated reasons.
Nonetheless, just like rom-coms, comedy-horror utilizes the characteristics of both separate genres to create a completely unique moviegoing experience. Horror can be used to great effect with other types of films—science fiction and the Alien franchise for example—but comedy, above all else, compliments it best. It’s the chicken and waffles of the movie world: two things that seemingly do not go, and yet together make something incredibly satisfying.
Nathaniel Neil Whelan
Nathaniel has an M.A. from Carleton University and is currently enrolled in the Professional Writing program at Algonquin College. An up-and-coming author, he lives in Ottawa with his partner and pet cat Susie-Bear.