If irony is about opposites, then what could be more ironic than the idea of mixing horror with comedy? And yet it is one of the most popular mixes of genres. The difference between a form of media meant to scare and one meant to amuse can be vast, but somehow also goes together with a brilliant sort of ease, often without even having to rely on concepts of parody. Horror comedy dwells distinctly in the realm of the impossible: As impossible as it is for zombies to walk the Earth, it should be more impossible to see the humor in something so terrible. Death should not be humorous, especially explicit and violent death, and violence should not be praised with a laugh, but with a screen and the knowledge none of it is real between us and the explicit actions, the viewers of horror comedy are able to ignore the terrible truth of their amusement.
By why should and why does horror comedy work? For some people, it doesn’t: I know plenty of people who don’t understand my appreciation for Tucker and Dale vsEvil or even more accessible films like Shaun of the Dead. Often it’s that idea of opposites. I don’t watch–or even really like–comedy film. I may well have been the only person to watch The Hangover and not even crack a smile. But there is something about this contrasting combination that really works. So much so, I’ve even addressed the idea before in this blog with regards to color and horror film. And if something as small as color can change a horror film, it’s so surprise that adding a whole new genre can.
To really drive this point, consider the aforementioned Tucker and Dale vs Evil.
Tucker and Dale vs Evil plays on the idea of expectations and irony: Our heroes are not the group of teens, but the two backwater-looking men you see in the picture above, who these teens mistakenly assume are are there to kill them, when in actuality all they want to do is fix up the cabin they just bought. The rest of the movie is Tucker and Dale just trying to survive while the teens are trying to kill them–and in turn dying through their own carelessness (which only goes on to fuel their fear of Tucker and Dale). And while we do eventually learn of a crazed character, once more, it’s neither of the men you think it would be. The film plays on the idea of stereotypes in horror and works to dispel them, all while maintaining a tongue-in-cheek tone. It plays on the viewer’s expectations to make an entertaining, and ultimately wonderful mix of horror and comedy.
And really, that is what composing a movie with two conflicting themes is about–or, really composing anything: Taking the expected and making it unexpected.