Is genre all that important? I mean sure, it keeps films in nice, neat categories so we can avoid tropes and topics we don't particularly like, for instance blood and gore, gunslinging cowboys, or people finding love against all odds. It's clearly a great organizational tool, but other than that—what use do we have for genre? Well, I think the key to answering is found in films that successfully blend genres to create new cinematic classifications, particularly when you investigate how these different kinds of films affect us on an emotional, psychological, and physiological level.
The horror comedy, a sub-genre that sets blood, gore, and screams right next to gags, prat falls, and laughs, is one of the most interesting of these mixed categories to study, because we get to see how the diametrically opposing effects of horror (fear, repulsion, anxiety) and comedy (happiness, laughter, pleasure) play together in real time. This dichotomy is something Patrick Willems digs into in the video essay below. He explains how horror comedy works through the films of one of the greatest horror comedy directors in history, Sam Raimi.
If you think about it, horror comedy shouldn't work—it shouldn't work in the same way that a bacon maple bar shouldn't work, but it does. Like sweet and savory, horror and comedy seem like polar opposites, and for all intents and purposes they are: one makes you scream out in terror, while the other makes you explode in joyous giggles. One makes you suffer in anxious misery, while the other makes you smile like a delighted idiot. But when combined, they turn into something greater than the sum of their parts.
The construction of a scare and the construction of a laugh are essentially the same.
As Willems points out, the construction of a scare and the construction of a laugh are essentially the same: a setup and a payoff. Furthermore, both rely heavily on timing to produce the best results; without those few seconds of tension to build anticipation, both the scare and laugh fall flat. On an emotional and psychological level, the two genres are vastly different, but on a physiological level, they have so much in common. So when these two genres are combined, what results can be a strangely satisfying experience that plays upon two opposing parts of our subconsciousness while gratifying both at the same time.
Now, whether you decide to have it play out through overtly comedic dialogue, situations, and gags like Edgar Wright does or through a clever establishment of tone like Sam Raimi does is up to you. There's really no right or wrong way to make a horror comedy, but because Raimi's approach is much subtler than other directors of the genre, the effects of the combination are more unexpected and harder to recognize, making them that much more potent, surprising, and thrilling.
What is your favorite horror comedy? How did the combination of horror and comedic tropes work in the film? Let us know down in the comments.
Source: Patrick (H) Willems