Horror films have always held one belief: scare the audience. But some time during the 1980s, a new subset of horror films began embracing another idea – use horror to make the audience laugh.
This attitude spawned my favorite genre of film: the dark comedy. Never seen a dark comedy? Then check out this trailer for the 2006 flick “Black Sheep.”
(hahaha, I actually owe that on DVD and it’s amazing.)
Dark comedies follow a similar pattern to horror films: meet characters, plot starts, scary scene, scary scene, plot resolution, movie ends. Only this time the plot is exaggerated to such a degree that there’s some silliness embedded into every action scene. It’s still scary but it’s also fun.
These movies differentiate from comedies with dark moments by the overarching tone. Let’s use the comedy “Hot Fuzz” as an example. (Spoiler alert!) The plot of the movie follows a cop who is so good at his job, that he is relocated to a sleepy town. Once there, he stumbles into a mystery with murderous results.
But if we replace the murder with something silly – say baby animals – the film doesn’t really change, just loses the dark moments. The same cannot be said of “Black Sheep.” Change the sheep to zombie llamas and you still need the scary scenes to make the plot work.
Dark comedies are horror films at their core but acknowledge that sometimes laughing – instead of screaming – is a better response to fear. They juxtapose horror tropes such as limited lighting, startling movements, or Science Gone Wrong with over-the-top situations that viewers can’t help but scream at only to follow it up with a giggle at the absurdness of it all.
The leading image for the post serves as a great example of when being scared seems silly. “Bunny the Killer Thing” is a 2015 Finnish movie about a half man-half bunny monster that terrorizes a group of campers in an endless pursuit to mate. Just picturing a creature with floppy bunny ears and a little bunny nose ripping someone’s spleen out makes me smile while wrapping a blanket around my shoulders to protect me.
The fear is there – someone is being brutally killed – but there’s stupidness to it that makes me laugh.
Dark comedies have even breached a new frontier this year: Fox’s “Scream Queens” is a horror story – sorority girls being murdered – but because of the writing, viewers end episodes chuckling and waiting to see what idiotic situations the girls will get themselves into next week.
Comedy writing is hard; you have create laughs without being unrealistic. Horror writing is hard; you have to scary without being unrealistic. Combining the two is like when peanut butter meets chocolate. Everybody wins.
Extra reading: upcoming dark comedies include “Cooties” and “Scouts Guide to the Apocalypse.” Watch the trailers below.