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Horror/Comedies: A Growing Cult Phenomenon Of The Last 20 Years

Evan Crean Evan Crean
October 21st, 2009 9:42am EDT
FidoOver the last 20 years cinema has changed significantly with regards to the horror genre. Modern horror/comedies like "Zombieland" are able to thrive in theaters due to a fan base built by cult cinema.

During the late 1980s, jaded audiences grew tired of the standard monster movies and slasher flicks that were being done to death. As the era of Reagan conservatism came to a close, fans desensitized to the violence of horror films were looking for something to make blood and guts exciting again. Horror-philes had already whet their appetite for a different type of horror movie after seeing "The Evil Dead," released in 1981 by the young director Sam Raimi.

Raimi had to experiment visually because of his film's meager budget and his inability to use expensive camera rigs. The result was a much more in-your-face horror movie, with the camera taking on a first person perspective of the evil force terrorizing the protagonists.

While not commercially successful at the box office, "The Evil Dead" developed a cult following from the emerging home video market. After Raimi received funding to make a sequel from Italian filmmaker Dino DeLaurentis in the late 80s, he decided to take the tone of the series in a different direction.

Evil Dead 2"Evil Dead 2" was a very different movie from its predecessor, mixing comedic elements with the usual blood and guts people expect from a horror film. The evil force in "Evil Dead 2" possesses human bodies and inanimate objects, hurling insults and taunts at the hero Ash in an amusing way.

Probably the best example of humor in the film involves an utterly hilarious slapstick scene where Ash's hand, infected by the evil, beats him up and smashes plates over his head.

Like the first "Evil Dead" movie, "Evil Dead 2" developed a cult following due to exposure on home video and on television. Audiences found a horror movie that satisfied their desire for gore while at the same time tickled their funny bone. This new brand of horror film pointed to clichés in the industry and encouraged viewers not to take them so seriously, but rather to laugh at their growth into stereotypes.

Positive reception from viewers of this foray into a new subgenre paved the way for other horror/comedies the following year. Two films released in 1988 continued blazing this trail into cult horror with a sense of humor.

The zombie comedy "Dead Heat" starring Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo features two cops combating a ring of crimes perpetrated by a group of resurrected criminals. A mad scientist creates a machine for bringing the criminals back from the dead to do his evil bidding. Officers Roger Mortis and Doug Bigelow take a fall, but rise again as zombies bent on revenge. As a self aware horror/comedy, a lot of the comical lines in this film come from dead jokes at the expense of a zombie Treat Williams.

They LiveCult director John Carpenter also released an uproarious sci-fi horror/comedy the same year titled "They Live." According to the story, aliens keep humans in a deep sleep, lulled by a device cloaking their appearance and subliminal messages. Special sunglasses created by freedom fighters allow humans to see right through the alien deceit.

A drifter (professional wrestler Roddy Piper) finds the sunglasses and decides to exact his own brand of justice on the alien oppressors. His justice is a violent one, made all the more ridiculous by cheesy lines like "I've come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass…and I'm all out of bubblegum."



"They Live" Fight Scene - a classic!



Sam Raimi's third movie in the "Evil Dead" series "Army of Darkness," which was released in 1993, took the idea of making a horror movie with laughs to new heights. At points "Army of Darkness" is incredibly droll in its use of campy lines from the arrogant hero Ash, and its unabashed display of Three Stooges style slapstick humor.

The release of the vampire flick "From Dusk Til Dawn" in 1996, signaled that horror movies were not done trying to be funny. Directed by Robert Rodriguez and written by Quentin Tarantino, the opening feels more like a typical Tarantino tale than something that belongs in the horror genre.

It isn't until an hour into "From Dusk Til Dawn," that vampires rear their ugly heads. From there it is boobs, blood, and bullets galore as the mayhem ensues in the strip club just across the border. Even with all the violence there is still plenty of time for silly moments in which characters spout lines like George Clooney's "Fight now, cry later!" as he is surrounded by a horde of bloodsuckers.

Expanding the genre in the new millennium, zombie movies have taken the lead in establishing the new horror/comedies. 2004's "Shaun of the Dead" directed by British filmmaker Edgar Wright, made the zombie apocalypse much less frightening in the way only dry British wit can.

Watch "Shaun of the Dead - Clip - Dead sexy"




The film "Fido" released in 2006 imagines a world sometime after the zombie outbreak where humans have largely conquered their fear of zombies, using their low level brain function to domesticate them as servants. Comically in this world, funerals are a rare occurrence and it is considered an honor to die. The father of the main character Timmy, tells his family that one day when he dies, he hopes that his head will be separated from his body and given what is known as "a head casket" to ensure he doesn't become a zombie.

Growing popularity of horror/comedy as a subgenre, specifically when it comes to zombie movies has become increasingly evident with the release of two such films in the past year: "Dead Snow" and "Zombieland." Without the influence of cult cinema in creating a fan base for these types of movies, "Zombieland" probably would not have gotten such positive box office reception.

As a huge fan of the genre, I only hope that this trend will continue. What are your thoughts?

Evan Crean
Story by Starpulse contributing writer Evan Crean, a movie trivia guru and trailer addict with a practically photographic memory of actors and directors. Get a first look at the movies premiering each week, which which ones will be worth your $10, which ones you should wait to rent and which ones aren't worth your time.