If there’s a type of movie that blends together most of the things I’ve talked about in Web of Laughs thus far, it’s the horror-comedy. Maybe on a related note, if there’s a type of movie that combines most of my favorite things in film (or obsessions….whatever), it’s also the horror-comedy. As a self-proclaimed horror fanatic since the ripe age of six, when I accidentally changed the channel to Child’s Play and never turned it, there’s not a genre of movie I seek out more. I digress, though. I’m not here to ramble on about horror, instead I’m here to ramble on about comedies that crossover into the horror genre. It was difficult to choose a key film to focus on for horror-comedy, because while there are so many early prime examples such as Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein, The Little Shop of Horrors, and Spider Baby, there’s really not a more perfect example of a horror-comedy hybrid than Ghostbusters.
Ghostbusters, made in 1984, skillfully blurs the lines between horror and comedy so evenly that it really is impossible to classify it as one or the other. The story, as simple as three parapsychology professors who begin extinguishing ghosts, is one that on paper would seem to fall directly into the horror genre. The casting choices of primarily Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, and Harold Ramis as the three Ghostbusters clearly meant that the plot wasn’t as clear cut as it seemed. The film intertwines classic horror situations with rapid-fire jokes, whether they’re delivered through dialogue or through a physical gag. In the scene where Bill Murray’s character, Peter Venkman, first discovers Susan Sarandon’s character, Dana, is possessed by Zuul is one of the prime examples of this dynamic. You have a possession similar to something you would see out of The Exorcist interlaced with casual quips from Murray asking if they’re still going out that night.
Horror-comedy takes elements from different comedy styles, most visibly dark comedy and parody. I think you could say that not all dark comedies are horror-comedy, but all horror-comedies use dark comedy as a device. The same goes with using parody in horror-comedies. Since they are playing around with the format of a typical horror movie by including elements of comedy, the comedic portion can be seen as a commentary on the original classic horror movies that have come before it. Ghostbusters, and other horror comedies, key in to two key human principles that are mostly true. People like to be scared, and they like to laugh. When you can combine those two things into one movie, the audience is able to combine the two most visceral reactions into one movie and into one entertaining experience.
Again, while Ghostbusters wasn’t the first of the horror-comedy kind, it was definitely the biggest mainstream hit up to that point. Ghostbusters and Gremlins came out the same year, pushing horror-comedy into the spotlight where it has stayed for a good period of time. The late 1980s and early 1990s saw a slew of horror-comedies with Beetlejuice, The ‘Burbs, Evil Dead II, and many more. Ghostbusters had slimed its way into audience’s hearts and proved that this type of film could be successful and not just an underground cult hit. Modern horror-comedy seems to be getting darker and darker. While Ghostbusters is fairly light-hearted and not really heavy on the scare tactics, newer films of the same type really play up the horror, as well. Films such as Cabin in the Woods, You’re Next, and Drag Me to Hell all played with the horror-comedy format, but ultimately fell more heavily into the horror category. It’s a balance that filmmakers seem to enjoy playing with, because it opens up a realm of absurdity for characters to play in, which makes it endless fun for the audience, whether you’re a horror fan or not.
Jessica Dorrell is a graduate of the DCH improv program, and is currently enrolled in the sketch writing program. Her one wish is that some day she can have a Mogwai as a pet. You can see her perform every Thursday at 9:30 p.m. in the current Ewing show.