The Lucky 13: Week Five: Horror Comedies
by Brutal As Hell Staff
Intro by Marc Patterson
Everyone says that horror and porn are practically the same thing. I wouldn’t entirely disagree with this sentiment, but I do think that horror shares quite a bit with the comedy genre, perhaps even more than porn. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a pretty hardcore fan of the genre, and if that’s the case then you see quite a bit of horror. And if you see quite a bit of horror, then you know half of it is a joke. Albeit a sick joke, but a joke nonetheless. I know for a fact that I’m not the only one laughing in a theater when some dumb teenaged co-ed meets a grisly end at the hand of a brutal killer. Blood spurts ridiculously, girls scream and try to look all shocked while their breasts fall out, and the boys stand there delivering dry, dull lines trying to act all logical and shit. Horror and porn? I say horror and comedy.
This week in The Lucky 13 we take a look at a few of the films that set out to be intentionally funny. These films deliver less in the way of scares, opting rather to tickle your funnybone than tingle your spine. But sometimes they manage to do both and when that happens – it’s horgasmic! (Sorry. I can’t help myself sometimes). As you might suspect, our crowd has a pretty varied flavor of opinion. Let’s take a look at this week’s picks. And for the love of all that is holy, don’t forget to visit The Vault of Horror to discover their picks.
Ben Bussey on The Monster Squad:
Bloody hell, at times this Lucky 13 business is so much harder than I anticipated. There are so many great movies I’m anxious to pay tribute to within this sub-genre, some of them among my most endlessly rewatched all time favourites: Shaun of the Dead, American Werewolf in London, and – the one I came closest to writing about here – Evil Dead II. I should damn well hope my fellow Lucky 13 contributors have got those ones covered, and given them the love they deserve. But when it comes to all time favourites, repeat viewing, and downright fun, there’s simply no other movie I could have picked. Indeed, I did come close to covering it back in week 2’s creature features selection (speaking of which, do let us know if Dustin hasn’t paid you all your ten dollars yet).
So here it is. Not just my favourite horror comedy, but my favourite movie of all time. The Monster Squad.
If we’re talking about the convergence of comedy and horror, how does it get better than our tween-age heroes escaping the deathly grasp of the Wolfman by kicking him in the nards? Or temporarily disabling Dracula by shoving a garlic-coated pizza slice in his face? Or a four year old girl calling her brother and his friends “chicken shit” when they piss their pants at the sight of Frankenstein’s creature?
Look, I’m the first to admit that a huge part of my attachment to this movie is its sentimental value. It was the movie that first got me into horror movies at age nine, fueled my thirst to learn more about the genre as I got into my teens, and now serves as an instant gateway back to that more innocent time, when everything about horror was new and exciting. Ever watch Ratatouille? Remember that beautiful moment when the food critic tastes the dish of the title, and immediately relives a poignant childhood memory? That’s what happens to me every time I put on The Monster Squad. And man – I couldn’t tell you just how many times I have put this movie on. Let me see, I first saw it at age nine, watched it AT LEAST twice a month in the five or six years that followed; after that I probably watched at least two or three times a year for a further decade or so; then since it came out on DVD three years ago, I’ve probably watched it at least once every two or three months… math was never my strong point, but I’d say it’s in the region of 200 viewings to date. And I’ve never been bored by it yet. Hell, I’m about to devote a significant portion of my MA thesis to it.
I don’t expect everyone to share my enthusiasm for what is, I’m well aware, a relatively straightfoward Spielberg-era kid’s movie (that is, the days when Nazis melted and shotguns didn’t morph into walkie talkies). I’m not about to present a case for it being the sharpest, wittiest blend of horror and humour ever put to film. The gags are broad and childish – naturally, given the target audience – and the scares are mild indeed. But the spirit of the movie radiates the love of monsters from start to finish, and it’s so damned infectious. Some childhood infections have a nasty of way of sneaking up again in later age; this particular one never left me. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Yes – I’m in the goddamn club.
Dustin on The Fearless Vampire Killers:
My foray into horror comedy really happened only recently. Oh, sure, we all loved Shaun of the Dead, and then there was Fido, and Army of Darkness. But I didn’t realize how large this genre really was until there was a VHS clearance at a used movie shop in my area.
Flesh for Frankenstein, Saturday the 14th, Monster in the Closet, High Spirits, Transylvania Twist. All of them pretty awful, and yet, they all had a campy charm about them that I can’t deny that I loved. Low-budget, often full of eye-rolling gags, the occasional terrible song, they all displayed a love for the genre and a ‘we don’t really give a shit’ attitude that I couldn’t help but love. And hell, if you like movies like Airplane!, you’ll get the humor in most of them. But I didn’t find that Young Frankenstein or Shaun caliber movie until I happened across the final, obscure little gem. Roman Polanski’s Fearless Vampire Killers (originally Dance of the Vampires).
Here we have a hapless professor and his cowardly dunce assistant (Polanski himself), both convinced of the existence of vampires, though neither have ever encountered one on their hunt. At last, having come across their very first, a count no less, they are compelled to attempt to slay him. Though, the assistant’s obsession with the local tavern-owner’s daughter (Sharon Tate) may be their undoing.
A couple points make this movie stand-out. First off is the movie’s indelible entry into Hollywood infamy. This is the film that introduced Polanski and Tate, who fell for each other on the set and would later marry. Tate, absolutely gorgeous in this film, would be murdered three years later by the Manson Family. Polanski’s own sexual tendencies following her death have become widely publicized of late. It’s a sad part of Hollywood history and we can’t really forget it, but neither does it spoil the remarkable work we have here.
Beyond that, I was amazed at the direction in this film. Polanski, I knew, was a talented director. But as I kept watching I was aghast at the tremendous castle they had secured for the shooting, the remarkable use of moonlight on the faces of the sinister vampires, the flowing camera, the slow-tension of the vampire strikes. If he’d wanted to, he could have made one hell of a scary movie! As it is, each fright is punctuated by a chuckle, so it never takes itself too seriously. Still, the score is haunting, and it immediately sets an atmosphere of dread. From the first instant, you’re taken off-guard.
So, what about those laughs? This movie is dry. So dry. Like British comedy and then some. And then, suddenly, there’s a tit joke. Its a strange combination of joke structures that you find in older comedies like some of Mel Brooks’ work and things like 1963’s (now virtually forgotten) Academy Award-winning comedy Tom Jones. It’s subtle and aged, but the laughs are still there. The physical comedy is spot-on, and Polanski knows how to mug with the best of them. I think the show is pretty well stolen by Alfie Bass as Shagal, the Jewish Vampire and Inn-keeper. Upon having a cross thrust in his face, “Oy, sistah, have you got the wrong Vampire!”
For many, its sense of humor will be lost, but there’s a good mix of wit and wonder in Fearless Vampire Killers. If you come out of the film appreciating the irony of the title, then you know this movie was made for you.
Annie on Bride of Re-Animator:
“Wait a minute!” you may well be thinking. “Wait just a goddamned minute! Why Bride Of Re-Animator, and not just Re-Animator?” Well, because Re-Animator was never intended as a comedy. The fact that it came off as one was just a happy little accident. “You see kids, when two genres love each other very, very much…”
Bride Of Re-Animator, however, was a comedy-on-purpose. And not only is it funny, it’s also a spoof of its own beloved predecessor. Oh sure, there’s a conspicuous absence of heads-giving-head, but only a fucking idiot would try to top that shit: it just cannot be done. Bride wisely steers clear of pervy, head-ectomied plagiarists and goes its own way. Dr. Hill does his best imitation of Batman, Herbie explores the possibilities of foot fetishism, Dannyboy gets his freak back on with a hot Italian babe, and all the squishy innards and caustic digestive fluids you could possibly want from a horror film hit the proverbial fan with a solid splatter. However, you may be too busy laughing to notice the yardage of viscera on display.
Bride Of Re-Animator runs the gamut from in-jokes (rats in the walls) to slapstick (roundhouse kick to the head via re-animated foot) and beyond, culminating in the cheesiest and goriest -send-up of Bride Of Frankenstein imaginable, gauzy white gowns and fright wig hair included. Sequels don’t get much better than this, and Beyond Re-Animator is to be avoided at all costs. But this Bride ain’t no trophy wife: she’s a genuine keeper…and not just because she takes the word “separation” a tad literally.
Marc Patterson on Young Frankenstein:
“For what we are about to see next, we must enter quietly into the realm of genius.” That line, delivered by Gene Wilder as Dr. Fredrick Frankenstein, might just as well synopsize everything I love about Young Frankenstein. What a brave movie for Mel Brooks to make! 1974, and the man who took the world by storm with Blazing Saddles makes his follow up film a comedic spin on the Universal monster Frankenstein, and instead of filming in color he makes an even more bold move to shoot his film in black and white, something unheard of at that time. Madman or genius? Perhaps both, and how fitting. The result is a cult classic film that has gained so much mainstream popularity that it’s even been turned into a Broadway hit musical.
Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, Teri Garr… this was a dream team line up of Mel Brooks all-stars. I don’t care how many times I’ve seen this film (and it’s been more times than I can count) I still laugh at the bug-eyed Marty Feldman as he hobbles about the set delivering deadpan lines that are so incredibly funny that even the most stalwart curmudgeon would be brought to tears in laughter. And Gene Wilder displays perfect chemistry with his cast of miscreants. I’m not sure what I can even say about his acting that isn’t already apparent to everyone. The guy simply is a brilliant actor and comedian. And then there’s Madeline Kahn. She ranks up there in a select club of female comedians that are without match or equal. Her shrill voice and dramatic flair is so distinct you can instantly recognize it anywhere. This cast of gifted actors and actresses was a wonderful ensemble rarely replicated in even today’s comic outings.
With Young Frankenstein Mel Brooks created a timeless film that was pitch perfect in every way. The sets are gorgeous and replicate the moody look and feel of the original film, yet balance it expertly against the slapstick tongue-in-cheek comedic stylings that define a Mel Brooks film. A suspenseful moment of finding a secret passageway in the dank and gloomy castle Frankenstein instantly turns into side-splitting comedy. “Put the candle back!” Coupling these two distinct styles of filmmaking together in an effective way is far more difficult than most could imagine and very few pull it off well. Dark comedy is one thing, but here there was nothing dark about the humor in Young Frankenstein. Best of all for a guy like me, good comedy isn’t great unless it’s highly quotable, and line for line this is one of the most quotable films in horror comedy. Horror… Comedy… Not always the best of bedfellows, but it was Mel Brooks’ masterful approach that was able to pull off this perfect marriage and for that I’ve had many, many nights of pure enjoyment. Thank you Mr. Brooks!
Enjoy a short clip and a trailer from the film!