At first glance, horror and comedy don’t really seem like two genres that would mesh particularly well. The intention of one is basically just to make you happy, the intention of the other is to turn you into a quivering wreck who is so terrified of the outside world that you physically try to crawl back into your mother’s womb. Or, like, hide behind a sofa cushion. Whatever works for you. Upon closer inspection, however, it appears that opposites most certainly do attract.
The world of horror-comedy films is rich and varied, boasting huge titles like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland, as well as new releases such as Life After Beth. To be honest, it’s not actually that varied. You might have noticed that those three films, along with a sizeable majority of the genre, are all about zombies. We just can’t seem to stop making comedy zombie movies, we find them inexplicably hilarious. It’s interesting to note that nobody really makes proper horror films about zombies anymore, and if they do they’re not really zombies, like in World War Z or 28 Days Later. We stopped finding zombies scary a long time ago, now we just point and laugh. They’re like the horror equivalent of the school bully who was captain of the football team, then showed up to a fifteen year high school reunion really fat and still working at his dad’s car wash, only to find all the nerds he used to terrorize now own Google. The nerds in this oddly specific analogy are killer viruses and possessed dolls.
It’s fair to ask then, if we don’t find these films scary, can they truly be classed as horror? Aren’t they just comedies that parody horror films? Let’s look at one of the most highly praised horror-comedies of recent years, The Cabin in the Woods. This film was certainly a parody of horror films, it made no allusions otherwise, and although it had a couple of jump scares, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who thought it was actually frightening. It was also absolutely a horror film. It had a redneck zombie torture family hacking up teenagers by a lake, what else do you call that? In horror comedy you often still get the suspense you get in pure horror. They build up the big scare and then they crack a joke instead, and it works fantastically. You never laugh harder than when you thought you were about to cry.