Call for Comments: Dying Laughing! Connections of Comedy & Horror

From Hannah: We all desperately need a laugh right now.

Which is why you should fire up your spookiest Halloween-themed movies (and television shows and stories and novels). I’m deadly serious!

There are horror movies that are laughably bad (M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening might be the best example of this). But camp classics like Hocus Pocus borrow horror elements to enhance their comedy; The Mummy (1999) might incorporate classic monster tropes, but it’s more likely to make you smile than scream in terror. Shaun of the Dead, The Addams Family, the Scream franchise, and the (sadly) underrated Ready or Not are examples of films that try to balance horror and comedy, blending the two genres.

But even films we might categorize as horror have intentional comedic moments: Halloween, It (the most famous apparition of the villain is literally a clown!), and The Lighthouse. Directors Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us) and John Krasinski (A Quiet Place) were known for their work in comedy before directing critically acclaimed horror films, and viewers can see their comedic backgrounds’ influence on their works. Alfred Hitchcock claimed Psycho was a big joke.” Recently, Ari Aster made similar statements about Midsommar, claiming that the end makes him laugh. I’ve been talking about films, but this is also true for television (Scream Queens, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), plays (Shakespeare’s witches in MacBeth are deeply funny) and the written word (I still think about the ridiculous blend of horror and comedy in the Goosebumps books I read as a child and Roald Dahl’s The Witches). So what is it, specifically, about comedy and horror that speak to one another and, arguably, enhance one another?

Noël Carroll has written on how humor has been baked into horror, citing classic examples such as Edgar Allan Poe. Carroll argues that comedy can help diffuse the bad feelings of horror, as “Fear is the métier of the horror fiction. In order to transform horror into laughter, the fearsomeness of the monster … must be sublated or hidden … Then we will laugh where we would otherwise scream.”

But are there times when humor can operate in the exact opposite manner, increasing our fears? How does laughter change when it involves increasingly dire and horrifying situations? And what are some of your favorite examples of overlaps between horror and comedy, and how do you think the two genres work together specifically in those examples?


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