I like my comedy with a bit of blood stirred in. Fun things happen when the silly and the serious come together. When funny meets nasty. The elements of comedy and tragedy, mixed in just the right doses, can combine to make an explosive formula. Horror is deepened. Laughs are heightened. It’s why people get the giggles at funerals or chuckle when someone gets a kick in the genitals. Hell, put the two together –crack a corpse in the nuts– and you’ve got Weekend at Bernie’s, and what could be funnier than that? Here’s a comprehensive list…
1. Black Mirror
Admittedly more horror than comedy, this one. Take ‘National Anthem,’ Black Mirror’s first episode, in which the British Prime Minister must fuck a pig live on air in order to preserve the life of a kidnapped princess (an act that turns out to have had some root in reality). It’s the sort of thing Black Mirror’s writer, Charlie Brooker, might have written about in one of his TV Go Home entries – a savage bit of absurdity that parodied the public’s fascination with the worst excesses of television. National Anthem does just that, but it treats its insane premise with absolute seriousness, playing the drama straight down the line. By the time the PM is knelt behind the poor sow, literally making it “squeal like a pig”, we feel the same way the story’s audience does – disgusted to be complicit in this degrading act. And yet even if the execution isn’t funny, the idea is. It reminds me of the time a friend returned from the cinema having just seen the film Memento and offered the following review:
“It’s about this bloke trying to solve a murder, but he’s having to do it with a ten minute memory.”
Ha ha ha! I’m laughing already! Except Memento really isn’t a comedy (well, save for this scene), which just goes to show, with a little nudge, a certain premise can go either way. Point of fact: not long after Memento, a similar idea was used as the basis for another film. It was the story of a man forced to repeatedly woo a woman who suffers from anterograde amnesia. A harrowing drama? That story was 50 First Dates, starring Adam Sandler, so yeah, in a way.
2. Adult Swim programming
Despite years of sweet content, Adult Swim shows no sign of slowing down, as proven by the viral successes of Too Many Cooks and Unedited Footage of a Bear, the latter of which involved the station pretty much dropping the comedy pretence completely in favour of raw, ball-shrinking terror.
Adult Swim have been producing weird and unsettling comedy for years though, with shows like Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Xavier: Renegade Angel, Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Sealab 2021 (to name just a few) regularly spiked with moments of real dread and repugnance.
If you enjoy Adult Swim’s output you’d also do well to check out Wonder Showzen (originally aired on MTV2), which features some of the most horrific television comedy ever produced.
3. Shaun of the Dead
I don’t really have to say much about this one – you’ve all seen it. You probably own it on DVD in fact. I once shared a flat with two guys and each of us had a copy. “Who fancies watching Shaun of the Dead three times?” I’d say, laughing. Then we’d all have sex.
Years ago, when I graduated university with ambitions of becoming a screenwriter, I wrote a movie called Something Rotten. It was a zombie horror comedy – something that hadn’t really been done at that point since 1985’s Return of the Living Dead. I’d just finished the third draft when I found out about a film that was about to go into production with a familar pitch. That film was Shaun of the Dead, a zombie comedy that was so similar to Something Rotten it even came with the matching tagline ‘A Rom Zom Com.’ I don’t tell this story to suggest foul play – Pegg and Wright hadn’t been within a hundred miles of my shonky, piece-of-shit screenplay – I mention it in a purely anecdotal capacity. That said, at least Something Rotten didn’t operate under a false pretence. I mean, how exactly is Shaun “of” the dead? He isn’t of course, it’s just an excuse for Wright and Pegg to steal from Romero and trade off of the title of his classic, Dawn of the Dead, same way they stole my screenplay, the thieving gypsy bastards.
(In case you’re wondering what happened to Something Rotten, the genuine answer is that I took it to Hollywood and shopped it around one summer but couldn’t find a buyer. The last pitch meeting I attended was with a producer at Miramax who gave me the memorable advice, “Look, buddy, if it’s anything more complicated than Jennifer Lopez falling out of a tree, who gives a shit?” It’s advice I apply to my writing to this very day).
4. The Return of the Living Dead
As well as having a bomb-ass soundtrack, this movie pretty much invented the zombie parody. Along with its famous “send more paramedics” line – delivered into an ambulance radio by a zombie who hasn’t quite had his fill of paramedics – it’s also the film credited with adding “brains!” to the zombie lexicon.
The above clip is a perfect capsule of the film – daft as a brush but ghastly at the same time. The same goes with an early scene involving medical specimens of bisected dogs that come to life, wriggling around in their vitrines like animated Damien Hirst sculptures – ridiculous and hideous in equal measure. Oh, and if that’s not your bag, there’s a punk chick who spends the best part of the film’s run time dancing about stark billy bollocks.
5. The League of Gentleman
I once went on a student exchange trip to South Africa, and when I returned to the UK, everyone was raving about this new show called The League of Gentlemen and growling “Hello, Dave!” at me. When I asked what the programme was about they told me it had been pretty much custom made to my taste. They were not wrong…
That’s me dressed as Papa Lazarou for a Halloween party. I wish I’d taken a photo of the rest of the outfit, because I really went to town with it – even stitched a bunch of clothes pegs into the lining. I was going to be the hit of the party, or so I thought. See, the trouble is, if you’re not intimately familiar with The League of Gentlemen (as many weren’t at the time) a Papa Lazarou costume is really just a white guy in blackface. It’s fair to say I didn’t make any new friends at that party. Still, what a great show.
6. Vampire’s Kiss
When I was a kid, me and my mates would go to Penny Farthing Video Club and rent a stack of horror films on VHS for two quid. You could borrow the whole of the Halloween franchise for that money, all bound by an elastic band. And the best part was, the owner didn’t give a solitary shit if you were even close to eighteen.
One of the most memorable rentals from that time was Vampire’s Kiss, and that’s saying something given that we used to call those illicit Friday evenings ‘video/vomit nights’, named after the excess of wine consumed that would invariably lead to the participants throwing up their box of burgundy (this was considered sophisticated in the suburbs).
Vampire’s Kiss is one of Nic Cage’s first movies, not to mention one of his best. I almost considered not including the compilation clip above in case it spoiled your enjoyment of the film, but I’m a bit of a prick, so I left it there anyway. Just promise you’ll watch the full thing, okay?
7. Garth Merenghi’s Dark Place
Hilarious, and full of the kind of queasily bad special effects that made Doctor Who a nightmare delivery system for so many of my generation’s youth, Dark Place is stupid and creepy in the same way Hammer Horrors were, with their rampant overacting and ketchup-red Technicolor blood.
Despite the Garth Merenghi stage show winning the Edinburgh Fringe award, the TV show failed to flourish due to its small viewing figures and excessive cost. Apparently, it takes a good deal of money to make something look that naff. Armed with this information, you’d have to be a fool to poach one of Garth Merenghi’s leads and cast her in a high production value sketch show about lobster-clawed monsters from outer space and expect it to succeed. A damned fool.
8. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
This is one of those films with a premise I want to stick under my cardigan and do a runner with. A pair of harmless rednecks just want to enjoy a nice relaxing vacation in their log cabin when a group of horny teenagers show up and start getting themselves killed all over the place. Those unfamiliar with the slasher subgenre might accuse it of being a bit one-note, but those people probably enjoy going around supermarkets letting the fizz out of soda bottles too.
9. The Frighteners
Every bit as good as Ghostbusters but largely overlooked, The Frighteners is my favourite of Peter Jackson’s films. Not only does it star Michael J. Fox (a boyhood hero), it also features Jeffrey Coombs (from another great horror/comedy, Re-Animator), who gets to wear a lead waistcoat and yell, “My body is a roadmap of pain!” Watch the shit out of it.
10. Cabin in the Woods
Joss Whedon is a powerhouse. In the time it took you to read that sentence, Whedon already wrote and produced a TV series and a blockbuster feature film. He fingerbanged your mum too, and made her scream “Wheeeeeeedon!” while he did it. Just be grateful he took the time.
Whedon has long had a finger in the comedy/horror milieu (as well as your mother). Right from the off he proved himself an expert at fusing the two genres, Buffy the Vampire Slayer being his most notable offering, at least until Cabin in the Woods came along.
The first thing you should know about Cabin in the Woods is that it’s batshit banana bonkers – a brilliant deconstruction of clichéd horror tropes and a glorious piece of fan service to boot. It has its cake, eats it, then shits out a brand new, better cake. A better cake with a homicidal merman in it. Yep, Joss Whedon’s a real powerhouse. Alien Resurrection can fuck right off though.