All logic tells us that horror and comedy are two genres that should be worlds apart. But, finally getting to hang out at the big genre dinner party, while Fantasy and Sci-Fi are chatting happily, Romance and Drama have retreated to the kitchen with the champagne bottle and Arthouse is smoking in the bathroom, Horror and Comedy find they have more common than one might initially think.
The conventions that make us laugh are, strangely enough, the same sort of things that make us scared. Juxtapositions, for example. Things doing what they should not normally do are funny; for instance, elderly women forming gangs and beating people up a la Monty Python, or children’s stuffed toys being foul-mouthed drug users, a la Ted. Things being the wrong size, like a giant sandwich falling from the sky, or being where they shouldn’t, like finding Rowan Atkinson in the cabinet under your kitchen sink.
These tweaks of the ordinary make for humour, but the same idea is also a fundamental ingredient in scaring the bejeezus out of people. The dead, for instance, should stay dead. It is an accepted piece of logic in most cultures, despite whatever succinct beliefs they hold about what happens to the soul afterwards. That is why zombies and ghosts are scary, because once somebody has died and been laid to rest, the general consensus in society is that they should stay there. It’s immediately eerie when the dead in question subverts that by dragging itself back into the picture.
Furniture should also not move of its own accord, which is what makes poltergeists and other demonic tomfoolery freaky. In fact, generally speaking, demons and company should stay in mythology where they came from, and black magic, unquiet spirits and bloodthirsty night-crawlers are immediately disconcerting to any viewer because they’re already defying the rules of the world.
Just as the image of old ladies going savage amuses us, the image of children acting creepy terrifies us. Old ladies are, traditionally, quiet and refined and soft and lovely and not going to go out into the streets on motorbikes and start bashing up phone booths. And children are, traditionally, pictures of innocence and cuteness and need to be protected by adults. This is why it’s so effective when horror movies or books use the creepy child trope—it subverts every instinct we have about the nature of children, and it freaks us the hell out. Continue reading