Horror Comedy Dominating Screens of All Sizes

By: Elizabeth Eckhart

Horror and comedy fans alike rejoice as the horror comedy subgenre dominating both the big and small screen for the past few decades continues to thrive. With the latest addition to this particular brand of storytelling, Fox’s recently premiered Scream Queens, what better time to further explore this odd pairing of seemingly opposite genres? In light of human nature and the common end result of both horror and comedy, however, these two types of stories work surprisingly well hand-in-hand keeping us grossed out, laughing, and thoroughly entertained.

Consider the human nature side first, if you will. When something scares us silly, one way we try to alleviate some of the fear is by making wisecracks or jokes. We’ll try to make light of the fear in hopes that doing so will lessen the tension. Consider too the popularity of dark humor in stories, film, and television. For our purposes, this type of humor is only a thin line away from horror in the first place.

As far as having a common end result, both horror and comedy strive to achieve an emotional reaction that provokes some sort of physical response. For horror, the goal is to scare someone into jumping or screaming. Comedy on the other hand, is strictly about getting the audience to laugh out loud. One theory about why these two work so well together is that they tend to each provide a break in the action of the other. Throwing in some comedic elements breaks up the nonstop horror elements, and vice versa. It works to keep the audience engaged through the roll credits.

Scream Queens is born of a proud legacy of predecessors on the big screen – including such films as Dead Alive, Evil Dead 2, Cabin in the Woods, and horror comedy icons Scream and Shaun of the Dead – all of which worked in some element of self-awareness and a bit of satire to make up the comedic side of the film. In the case of Scream Queens, the inclusion of the original scream queen herself, Jamie Lee Curtis, as a sorority hating dean of the university is an immediate nod to the awareness of certain common horror film elements that we can expect snarky references to throughout this show.

Even so, not all horror comedies are created equal. These films can fall into any of three possible categories, that of being more horror than comedy, more comedy than horror, or balanced between the two. This provides viewers who lean more toward one or the other a nice variety of films to choose from. If we concur with these categories, our list above contains some of each: Cabin in the Woods and Dead Alive leaning more towards horror, Shaun of the Dead definitely leaning more toward strong British humor, and Evil Dead 2 falling unintentionally somewhere in the middle.

Regardless of the scale, there are definite common tropes that we as fans of both the horror and horror comedy subgenre know and love. For instance, abstaining from having sex, particularly if you’re a teenager and unwed, may spare you from the killer’s intended victim list. Equally, it seems that no one in these films has ever heard of a home security system and no one seems to remember to charge their cell phone or hold onto their keys, ever.

All in all, horror films have ways of staying relevant, and currently one of those ways is through the melding of horror with comedy, a trend likely to continue at least into the near future, depending on the success of both current shows and soon-to-be-released features such as Cooties and the recently announced series Trapped. While not many details of the Starz (check with your cable provider) series have been announced, this marriage of unlikely partners nonetheless works, meaning we haven’t seen the last of it yet.

Elizabeth Eckhart is a film and entertainment writer. She has written for Thunder Treats before and currently her home base is in Chicago. You can follow her on Twitter at @elizeckhart.

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