Funny AND Scary

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Striking the right balance between comedy and horror is not an easy thing to do, so most writers and directors will go for one over the other. Either blood curdling and scary (The Aliens from the Alien franchise) or outright silly (think of the straight to DVD Bruce Campbell movies or tongue in cheek modern B-movies). Few will try and take on the centre ground.

It is hard to do right but when it works, it really works. Examples include:

  • Gremlins
  • Eight Legged Freaks
  • Killer Klowns from Outer Space

If you are aiming for this kind of vibe in your horror I think there is one key rule to keep in mind. The monster can be funny, look at the Gremlins going on their rampage through the city, it is like something out of Looney Tunes. Similarly, the Killer Klowns raiding the pharmacy or the spiders in Eight Legged Freaks attacking a stuffed moose head and spitting out the flesh in disgust.

Yes, they can be funny.

But, and this is key, they also need to be a genuine threat. The gremlins are funny but when they attack the mum in the house, there is the very real danger they are going to kill her. Likewise, although the spiders are silly, almost slapstick, when the main characters meet them, you know they could die.

You can laugh at their antics but equally, they are perceived as dangerous.

When this balance fails, you never really consider the enemy a threat. The locusts from Alien Apocalypse seem ridiculous and as if they couldn’t hurt anyone, they barely seem able to move their limbs. Same with some of the more absurd Dr Who monsters, they aren’t threatening.

Another way around it is to make the henchmen ridiculous and silly but the big boss frightening. The minions can have goofball moments but when the big boss shows up, you know heroes can die and the fun is over. In Eight Legged Freaks, you see the silly spiders jumping around when the massive tarantula stomps into view, the tone changes. Look at Labyrinth, the goblin muppets are stupid and not really a threat but when the Goblin King shows up, there is genuine menace.

In your own work, if you want this kind of vibe, remember they can be funny but they must also be a threat.

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