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Humor and Horror

Right now I am doing a proofread on a history of U.S. comedy, and the project has started me thinking about the humor/horror smashup that exists in the genre. When this is done right, it’s exhilarating. I think the last time a humor/horror picture caught me by surprise was 2002’s Cabin Fever. I went to the theater expecting straight-up horror and instead ended up laughing hysterically or wanting to cover my face to block out the really scary parts. Leaving the theater, I felt great–my nerves were a-tingle but there was a smile on my face. I think the two extremes of emotion–the funny, happy bits combined with fear and dread–capture something essential about human existence.

I never really thought about the origins of this subgenre. I knew that film had started with horror and Dracula but have now found out that humor and horror were combined almost by a happy accident. Universal had all the monsters in their studio–Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, Swamp Thing–and were casting about for something to do with their comedy team Abbott and Costello. The studio married the two genres and came up with Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. I’ve never seen this film but am going to put it on hold at the library. I want to see the work that has led such gems as Evil Dead II and Ginger Snaps.

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