Horror and comedy are two of the hardest genres to pin down, while also being the two fastest to age badly and the most noticeably wrong. What makes a person laugh and what scares them is extremely subjective, leading some to find humor in other people’s worst nightmares.
There’s a long, storied history of horror-comedy movies that manage to deliver jokes and scares within the same experience. However, ask any fan about the hardest laugh they’ve ever laughed at during a horror movie, and they’ll likely explain a scene that was carefully crafted to be terrifying, to turn out to be hilarious.
Night of Lepus
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, giant animal movies were ubiquitous to the point of derision. The typical object of terror in these films were insects, but just about anything could be expanded to incredible proportions and turned into a movie monster. In 1964, Australian science fiction writer Russell Braddon devised Year of the Angry Rabbit, a satirical horror-comedy that revived national tradition with the genre. Eight years later, MGM and William F. Claxton set to work making a film adaptation without an ounce of the comedy that made the book work.
Instead of intentional gags about nationalism and the military-industrial complex, Night of Lepus is funny because it’s a waste of a movie. The biggest laughs come from what should be the scariest moments. This movie wants audiences to scream in terror as adorable bunnies run amok in dollhouses. It looks like a cute YouTube video with creepy music layered over it. They even dab ketchup on the lovely rodents’ noses to look like blood. It’s nice, but for completely unexpected reasons.
In 1984, Frank Farel, Brendan Faulkner and Thomas Doran set to work on a film which was then called twisted souls. They shot more than half of the film they had in mind before the tenuous relationship between producers and backers fell apart. As a result, the backer has hired Eugenie Joseph to direct a new batch of fun footage. The final 1986 film was a sewn-up Frankenstein monstrosity.
Scary might as well be an anthology movie, but there’s very little demarcation between one storyline and the next. The main characters are typical silly teenagers. The film’s most innovative decision is the choice to go with just about every movie monster they could imagine. There are vampires, spider women, zombies, octopus monsters, bloody men and more. Unfortunately, most of them are horribly executed. The muck-men make constant farting noises, half the monsters take actions that don’t make sense, and the movie’s grim reaper is a motionless statue. Said statue falls from a balcony at some point and inexplicably explodes. It’s a hilarious mess worth seeking out. It’s pretty much the best movie one could expect, given the circumstances.
The works of M. Night Shyamalan have been duly taken to task for their countless crimes. Perhaps the funniest of his films remains his 2006 eco-horror epic in which just about every talented professional involved did the worst job imaginable. The acting is terrible, the script is insane and the twist doesn’t make sense. Even the premise of the pathogen compelling its victims to commit violent suicide manages to be delivered with perfect comedic timing.
Despite The eventof somewhat legendary reputation today, the reception at the time was mixed. Some critics really liked the film, despite its myriad issues. Roger Ebert thought his biggest problem was being too thoughtful for blockbuster season. None other than Stephen King considered it one of the best studio horror projects of its time. Despite occasional praise, The event strikes as a deadpan absurdist comedy with the occasional gruesome death.
Speaking of King, the longtime master of horror has his own bizarrely funny attempt at horror cinema. There are actually a few, but Dream Catcher feels the least in the joke. The source material, King’s 2001 novel of the same name, was written following a catastrophic car accident with the help of the prescription painkillers he was taking at the time. It was originally called Cancer and inspired by the fact that most people find that something is wrong in the bathroom.
Lawrence Kasdan, author of The Empire Strikes Back, was behind the director’s chair for this project. This probably proves that no one could have gotten anything worthwhile out of Dream Catcher. The story is unintelligible, with countless bizarre rules and pointless exchanges. The central monster is a disgusting worm-like creature that escapes its victims through the rectum, only to continue attacking others. It’s disgusting, but not in the sense of body horror. It looks like a bad sketch from an adult animated series. Dream Catcher may not be the worst Stephen King adaptation, but it’s one of the worst movies with his name attached. At least it’s worth laughing at.
When James Wan’s bizarre passion project was dropped last year, audiences cut their jaws off the ground. Major studio releases don’t look like that anymore. It looks like a crazy low budget horror VHS someone found in a video store in the 80s. Specifically, it looks like the 1982 movie basket casebecause clever steals so much from this film that it could almost pass for a gritty remake. Frank Henenlotter’s magnum opus is not the only point of influence, however. It’s a riff on everything from Lloyd Kaufman to Dario Argento.
clever is an 111 minute unanswered question. Every major element is chaotic and unpredictable. Between martial arts action, crude slapstick, and complete narrative nonsense, there’s a lot going on. Anyone with a passing interest in making horror movies should watch this. The film breaks down so aggressively that it offers a moving autopsy of the art form.
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