The Horror-Comedy Dichotomy
Since I was introduced to the horror film genre at the age of 14, I was keen to the fact that horror and comedy cross vector to become something completely fantastic. The best directors of horror are in tune with their inner fears and know exactly how to force the audience to surrender themselves to those fears. It’s also true that the best directors know how to push their audiences beyond their natural scope of fear --either they shock force them into dealing with those things that scare them the most or, while introducing them to their fears, they know how to coax a chuckle.
In the 1980s, there was no shortage of the horror-comedy dichotomy. With such classic horror serials as The Nightmare On Elm Street, Child’s Play, and Friday the 13th, one would be remiss if she didn’t realise that there was a definite desire to lighten the load left by such soul cracking films as The Exorcist and Night of the Living Dead, both wrought with deeply religious and political messages. The 80s, you could say, saw the merging of horror and comedy as a means to ease the mind from those things that keep us sleeping with the light on while still tackling challenging material as the spaces within dreams and the torments of childhood.
As the 90s emerged, we saw horror move towards a more psychological state with films like Se7en and Silence of the Lambs. Gore became more prevalent towards the tail end of the 80s, yet when it came to creating the perfect balance between the willies and the giggles, we found films that were either unintentionally funny (such as It) or erring on the side of farce (such as the incessant sequels berthed from The Nightmare on Elm Street saga). But, whatever we intended in the 90s, we were still able to find something to entertain us that was as original as anything that came from that muddled decade --one of my favourites, to be quiet honest; but I digress.
With the turn of the century, it seemed that not only had everything lost its way, horror in general struggled to find anything innovative to produce in the way of thrills, chills, or laughs. Gone were the days of smart comedy and we were given the new idea of real-life gore --midnight movies such as Faces of Death that could only be seen at the cinema for a limited amount of time before they were permanently pulled from the marquee. Then, of course, as with music, we committed the sin of all sins: remaking every brilliant masterpiece since the 1950s in hopes that no one would actually notice the atrocities wrought from attempting to reinvent the wheel --again, cases of unintentional comedies.
All this leads up to the eventual creation of the modern day parody. Not only is every movie parody released blithely unfunny, there’s not a single clever line to cling to. American horror has seemingly gone pear-shaped. Even films that toe the line between clever and cheesy are lauded as steps forward in mainstream horror cinema for lack of anything truly original. Films like Drag Me to Hell succeed in attempting to bring both ends of the horror-comedy spectrum closer together; however, where films like Shaun of the Dead succeed, Drag Me to Hell fails to deliver the subtlety necessary to both scare and entertain. The film becomes more painful to watch as it continues to tread the borders between horror and comedy, becoming more braincrampingly ridiculous than fun to watch. The gore is the stuff of schoolyard grossness (the film introduces the audience to all manner of facial and oral excretions ending up in the main heroine’s mouth) and the dark force that preys on the young girl takes the shape of a goat cut-out seen through the windows. The comedy is just plain hard to pick up on. Though subtlety in the form of sarcasm has always been the conduit between horror and comedy, Drag Me to Hell has a certain lack of focus that makes the attempts at wit fall utterly flat.
That’s not to say that there won’t be a sudden rebirth in the way in which studios perceive horror. Drag Me to Hell is an attempt at rekindling the flame between the clever and comedic. While it’s not exactly a revelation, it is, at least, a start at converging two common ideas on the same path. This could be what we need to bring horror back to the psychological majesty that it occupied throughout the 80s.
Article writer by day, renegade poet by night, Camiele White loves any and everything film. She chases only the original (or incredibly funny) and has been known to talk for hours about subjects that most people just don’t care about. Right now, she gets her jabberjaw jollies writing about Halloween costumes. If you want to give her a buzz, she can be reached at cmlewhite at gmail.com.