Horror History: Laughing in the Face of Danger
Welcome to The Midnight Society’s #OctFearFest!
You can’t deny laughter; when it comes, it plops down in your favorite chair and stays as long as it wants. – Stephen King
When I sit down to think of the history of horror, lots of stuff comes into my mind (Frankenstein, of course) but if there’s a type of horror I love best, it’s comedy horror. There’s nothing better than looking at something terrifying, and having a laugh. I’m sure that when people were first on this planet they were out there clubbing their dinner and laughing over the spray of blood, so the history of horror comedy can go back a lot further than what I’m about to tell you, but this is a brief overview of modern times and the stories we like to tell.
So I’m going to go back as far as the 1920s, when the idea of throwing some horror into your stage plays was a way to add a lighthearted element. They threw in haunted houses (when you go through these at the fair, do you make it through without laughing? Laughing and terror is the whole point, right?) and monsters! The Bat, The Cat & The Canary was a popular example, which later became a pretty famous silent film.
From there, we moved into a time of clean horror. Monster stories, with no blood. The Three Stooges made a few movies with this kind of element. The movies were campy and fun, and with movies still being a fairly new thing, really excited audiences.
In the 1960s/1970s, things changed drastically. It’s a big jump to go from “clean horror”, to something like Rocky Horror Picture Show. But that’s what happened.
This is where I start to get excited. While we needed those earlier stage plays to start experimenting with what it means to be scary and funny at the same time, it’s in the 1960s/1970s where horror comedy starts to get really interesting. The 1960s/1970s were a big time of change, and pushing the boundaries. What better to do that with than horror comedy?
There were a lot of bizarre movies made in this time. And some of them became classics.
This time in history gave us Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Munsters, The Addams Family. Heck, Scooby Doo came about in 1969!
This was a time where campy really came to have meaning. I recently wrote a novel called Lipstick & Zombies. Such a thing never would have come about without the campiness of the 1960s and 1970s and all that happened after.
The 1980s. If you talk about any kind of horror, people will get excited about this decade. Horror Comedy can lay claim to stories like Ghostbusters, Teen Wolf, Fright Night, Gremlins, The Return of the Living Dead, Evil Dead, Little Shop of Horrors… The list goes on. The 1980s gave us a lot of cute monsters (Ghostbusters and Gremlins!) and characters ready to take on horrible situations with a certain witty sense of humor, and when that failed, chainsaws.
The 1990s had a lot of monster movies (Tremors, anyone? I watched these a LOT with my dad), and great slasher stories. Somehow, when I talk to people, they always seem to forget how hilarious Scream was. Scream poked fun at the slasher stories of the 1980s (Wes Craven made Scream, and a lot of the movies Scream references) while still being scary as hell.
Once we pass by the millennium, we get all those horror spoofs like Scary Movie (I don’t even know how many they made) and the book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. We’re starting to explore Horror Romantic Comedy, which is something I hope we do a lot more of. We’ve seen some true greatness, like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland and Warm Bodies. (Who first looked at a zombie movie and thought: this needs to be more romantic? That was a smart person!) Was there anything cuter than the guy in Zombieland brushing that hair behind her ear? Or Shaun figuring out how to treat his girlfriend? Let’s kill some stuff, laugh about it, and then make out!
I know there’s a lot we haven’t talked about. Horror Comedy is too vast to make an exhaustive list of titles or even times, but I tried to hit the high points for you.
Like I mentioned, I’m writing a zombie comedy series (Lipstick & Zombies) and can always use more horror comedy inspiration! Please, let me know in the comments, what have been your favorite horror comedies?
Or if you prefer, tweet about them! Use the hashtag #OctFearFest and I’ll find you. 🙂
While I have you here, I want you remind you to join Brian TONIGHT on twitter! We’re watching The Evil Dead (and we’ll be doing the sequels later this month!). Just use the hashtag #OctFearFest, and get your movie on! It’s even on Hulu to watch for free, so no excuses. If you’re looking for more details about the tweet along, check out Brian’s blog post here.
Thanks for a great post! I love horror mixed with comedy. If there’s nothing to laugh at, I feel so drained by the end of the book/film/TVshow, and I don’t enjoy that. Mid-scream laughs are necessary to take away the stress of being scared so that you want to keep watching, instead of turning off the show because it’s way too stressful. For example, I eagerly await every episode of iZombie because though scary stuff is going down, the characters have a sense of humour about it which makes the show fun. But, sadly, I didn’t enjoy American Horror Story as much. It’s just so intense, and I was so drained by the end of an episode that I needed to watch something else, something funny, and eventually I abandoned the show.
Me too! I have to mix things that aren’t funny with sitcoms, and that can get a little exhausting.