Horror comedy is beautiful.
Like all great slapstick, it needs choreography, impact, and just the right wet sounds. Like all jokes it needs wit, dedpan and zest. Put these together with the opportunity to make great, gross, imaginative sets and to work the revulsion angle and you get something that is very fun to look at, very fun to hear, and will stay with you for life.
So why can’t it get any respect?
It’s great that Shaun of the Dead found success. But in our lifetime, what else has broken out of the genre? Scream, I guess. Which was so misunderstood that its legacy is Scary Movie and all the shame that came afterward. People saw that spoof, and thought, man someone needs to do a spoof of this! Lighten the mood a little.
So the problem may be that a good parody is a good thing-it-parodies. To be absurd a story has to take itself seriously. So a horror comedy will have horror. Think of Nick Frost being eaten alive. Or Drew Barrymore 20 feet away from her parents, bleeding out. Or the deer in Evil Dead II. Did you see that in nightmares? I did.
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil has several of those scenes. There’s rape, there’s torture, some of the kills have real pathos. There’s POV from inside an oven.
This is really uncomfortable, but that’s the point. It makes laughter more of a release. It heightens contradictions. And shock humor is not exclusive to the genre. There’s a huge audience for revulsion in The Hangover or Kingpin. Some people like Tom Green. He gets major studio releases.
So why do I have to sit in the one dirty theater to see the one weekly showing of Tucker and Dale? I’m hidden away like I’m watching porn. Porn with cats.
Okay, so some of the jokes are insidey. Your viewing experience will be enhanced if you’ve seen Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Pumpkinhead and The Hills Have Eyes and Cabin Fever. The after-teaser opening shot may actually be the after-teaser opening shot from The Descent.
But hell. None of that is necessary. Strictly. Unless of course you don’t want to see dismemberment slapstick? Or you don’t have a choice? Because it’s unpleasant to you?
There is a wall between us, hypothetical person.
I can still remember how the rug in my basement felt. The loose thread in the rug I would pick at while I stayed up untill 2AM or 3AM, watching Tremors and The Fly and Friday the 13th Part VI. I was twelve and so were my friends, and we’d go downstairs after my parents went to sleep.
Today I could still find the hotel room on the first floor of the Holiday Inn. Where I’d sit up against the couch, my cousins to either side, my parents and aunts and uncles on the sofa or milling around, getting beer. Family reunion was the perfect time to share taped episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Which was a Wisconsin cult theater show when they were in college, and a cult cable show now that I was 10. I can still recite every gag from Giant Spider Invasion. ("Ya’ll want a piece of milk?!?").
I doubt all this desensitized us to real violence, or even screen violence (see below). But it helped fill our world with a context. Gushing blood, absurd costumes, deserted swamps, blondes running in high heels, dudes saying "Hello? Guys?" then getting decapitated to a violin sting. These things were a style. They could be dark or funny or stupid or plain old loud and entertaining. We understood "camp" before we knew the word.
Tucker and Dale will be loved by us because it picks up what feels like an old conversation, and tells great jokes in its turn.
To those outside the conversation? To people who can’t easily slip into the asummptions that mean here, now, murder is hilarious? I can almost peer over the wall, to see why they think we’re weird.
When I was 17 I left the theater halfway through There’s Something About Mary. I couldn’t handle the violence.
There was something very wrong with the tone of that movie. It’s a romantic comedy about a hard-luck guy, who can’t seem to get ahead because his dick gets ripped open and fishooks pierce his face and cars run him over. The zany scamp!
I felt misplaced empathy. Some part of my brain thought they were really torturing Ben Stiller. People around me gasped and laughed and I wanted to punch them. If you asked me to step back and explain the joke, I could. But I really didn’t feel it.
I had to go home. Get Ben Stiller off my mind. Watch something light. Cleanse the palate.
There’s no accounting for taste.
Except that yours is wrong.