Horror and comedy are two of the hardest genres to nail, and they’re also the two that get old the fastest and get messed up the most. What makes a person laugh and what scares them is extremely subjective, leading some to find humor in other people’s worst nightmares.
There is a long and rich history of horror-comedy films that manage to make jokes and scares all within the same experience. However, ask any fan what they’ve laughed the hardest about during a horror movie, and they’ll likely tell you a scene that was carefully crafted to be terrifying but ended up being hilarious.
During the 1950s and 1960s, movies about giant animals were ubiquitous to the point of ridicule. The typical object of terror in those films was an insect, but just about anything could be stretched to incredible proportions and turned into a movie monster. In 1964, Australian science fiction writer Russell Braddon created The Year of the Angry Rabbit, a satirical horror comedy that revived the national tradition of the genre. Eight years later, MGM and William F. Claxton embarked on a film adaptation without any of the comedy that made the book work.
Instead of the intended gags about nationalism and the military-industrial complex, Night of the Lepus is funny because it’s a mess of a movie. The biggest laughs come from the scariest moments. This movie wants viewers to scream in horror at adorable bunnies running around in dollhouses. It looks like a cute YouTube video with creepy music. The charming rodents were even smeared with ketchup on their noses to make them look like blood. It’s nice, but for completely unexpected reasons.
In 1984, Frank Farel, Brendan Faulkner and Thomas Doran began work on the film, which was then called Twisted Souls. They made more than half of the film they had in mind before the tenuous relationship between the producers and financial backers fell apart. As a result, the sponsor hired Eugenie Joseph to direct a fun new batch of shots. The final 1986 film was a monstrous Frankenstein-style thing stitched together.
Spookies could also be an anthology film, but there is very little delineation between one story and the next. The main characters are typical idiot teenagers. The film’s most innovative decision is the choice to go with almost every movie monster they could think of. There are vampires, spider women, zombies, octopus monsters, muck-men and much more. Unfortunately, most of them are horribly executed. The muck-men make consistent farting noises, half the monsters do actions that make no sense, and the movie’s grim death is an immobile statue. At one point, said statue falls from the balcony and inexplicably explodes. It’s a hilarious mess worth seeking out. It’s about as good a movie as you’d expect given the circumstances.
M. Night Shyamalan’s works have been duly received for their myriad crimes. Perhaps the funniest of his films is still his 2006 eco-horror epic, in which nearly every talented professional involved did the worst job imaginable. The acting is terrible, the script stupid, and the twist makes no sense. Even the premise of a pathogen that forces its victims to commit violent suicide is fulfilled with perfect comedic timing.
Despite The Happening’s now somewhat legendary reputation, reception at the time was mixed. Some critics really liked the film, despite its myriad problems. 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 era. Despite its occasional praise, The Happening hits the mark as a deadpan absurdist comedy with the occasional grisly death.
Speaking of King, the long-time master of horror has his own bizarrely funny take on horror cinema. In fact, it has several, but Dreamcatcher feels the least of the jokes. The source material, King’s 2001 novel of the same name, was written after a catastrophic car accident with the help of the prescription painkillers he was taking at the time. Originally called Cancer, it was inspired by the fact that most people find something is wrong when they are in the bathroom.
Behind the director’s chair of this project sat Lawrence Kasdan, writer of The Empire Strikes Back. This probably proves that no one could get anything worthwhile out of Dreamcatcher. The story is incomprehensible, with countless strange rules and nonsensical exchanges. The central monster is a disgusting worm-like creature that escapes its victims through the anus, only to continue attacking others. It’s gross, but not in a flesh-horror way. It feels like a bad sketch from an adult animated series. Dreamcatcher may not be the worst adaptation of Stephen King, but it is one of the worst movies to bear his name. At least it’s worth a laugh.
When James Wan’s bizarre passion project dropped last year, audiences were left with their jaws off the floor. Major studio releases don’t look like this these days. It feels like some crazy low-budget horror VHS that someone found at a video store in the 80s. Specifically, it feels like the 1982 movie Basket Case because Malignant steals so much of that movie that it almost passes as a gritty remake. However, Frank Henenlotter’s magnum opus is not the only point of influence. It riffs on everything from Lloyd Kaufman to Dario Argento.
Malignant is a 111-minute question without an answer. Every major element is chaotic and unpredictable. There’s a lot going on between the martial arts action, the gritty slapstick, and the sheer narrative nonsense. Anyone with even the slightest interest in horror filmmaking should check it out. The film breaks down so aggressively that it offers a poignant dissection of the art form.