Sliding Scale of Comedy and Horror

"I'm a student of both horror and comedy because they're different sides of the same coin: Both are about using emotion to provoke an instinctual, physical response, and if you're lucky, spontaneous evacuation of bodily waste products."
Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw, Extra Punctuation

When people think of Comedy, they rarely associate it with Horror and vice versa. However, both make great partners in crime together. If they aren't Crossing The Line Twice, they're bringing about a Sugar Apocalypse and escaping to Auda City. The reason they work so well together is that viewers need "breathers" between nonstop screaming or nonstop laughing, and one can easily segue into the other.

For purposes of this trope, we'll divide Horror and Comedy hybrids into three categories, Horror dominant, Comedy dominant, and balanced.

Horror dominant works will use comedy as a mood lightener or "breather" from the tension or gore. Characters will crack wise while they're in a safe spot, and have the monster use a Barrier-Busting Blow just as they relax. The benefit of this is that just as viewers relax along with the characters, tension is restored along with the scare. Other ways to use comedy in a horror movie is to treat viewers to some funny situational irony the characters can appreciate on an intellectual level while cursing on an "I'm gonna die now" level. The benefit here is that momentum is maintained throughout the scene.

Comedy dominant works have more leeway here. They may be a straight up comedy or parody set in a typical horror setting or premise, or use Black Comedy along with splatter horror to maximum effect. Comedy dominant works often deconstruct horror tropes for laughs, other times playing them hilariously straight as an Affectionate Parody (with perhaps a Lampshade Hanging).

A '''balanced''' work is perhaps the most subjective to qualify, because while it has equal amounts of horror and comedy, the viewer may be so sensitive to horror it seems scarier, or so desensitized to horror it seems funnier.

Of course, these works have one big problem they have to fight: avoiding jumping the shark due to Mood Whiplash. Avoiding this requires that the comedy or horror not break the feel of the established setting. Slapstick in the middle of suspenseful horror, or remorselessly and humorlessly killing a character in a comedy would do this. However, deadpan snarking and Rasputinian Death respectively would not.

See also Narm and Nightmare Retardant, where something that's supposed to be horrible turns out to be funny, and Accidental Nightmare Fuel, where something that might have been intended to be funny is instead unsettling. Both of them are results of something landing on the wrong side of the scale. See also Lightmare Fuel, where a perfect balance is actually reached between the two.

Compare the First Law of Tragicomedies.

Some works that use Comedy and Horror include:

Horror Dominant:

Balance Between Comedy and Horror:

  • American Psycho
  • Angel: Although slightly more horror focused than Buffy, Angel still follows the Joss Whedon blend of horror and comedy.
  • Bad Taste
  • Braindead, also known as Dead Alive
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: One reason Joss Whedon wanted to do it as a series was that the movie had been more comedy-dominant than he hoped.
  • Doctor Who has slid all over this spectrum as part of its general Genre Roulette nature with some individual seasons being rather unbalanced (Season 22 is heavy on the horror, Season 16 is rather heavy on the comedy) but belongs here overall - partly because of law of averages but mostly because the series is very good at being horrific and hilariously funny simultaneously when it's at its best.
  • Dusk Maiden of Amnesia: Bounces back and forth.
  • Grindhouse. Specifically, Planet Terror is balanced, while Death Proof is more serious. The film as a whole (including the trailers) plays the Grindhouse conceit mostly for the camp value while retaining a lot of genuine scares.
  • John Dies at the End is pretty balanced, and it's not unusual to find comedy and horror on the same page. This is partly because the protagonists seem to use humor as a coping mechanism, and partly due to the sheer ridiculousness of the things they encounter, like the wigmonsters, or the ghost that possesses an entire fridge full of meat to give itself a corporeal body.
  • Killer Klowns from Outer Space is largely balanced. The film is played surprisingly straight for such a silly premise which the filmmakers wisely didn't take too seriously. The klowns are very often Laughably Evil, but the movie keeps some genuine scares for even non-coulrophobes.
  • Kolchak: The Night Stalker: Due to the idiosyncratic nature of its protagonist, who walked from the mostly comedic scenes of the newsroom and witness interviews to the mostly horror scenes of investigations and monsters without changing his style one bit.
  • Lake Placid: It's very tongue-in-cheek for a killer croc film (including such highlights as Betty White cursing at the cops for "mistreating" the crocodile), but not a lot of reviewers seem to have noticed this.
  • The Monster, a silent film starring Lon Chaney, is one of the earliest examples of this trope, mixing the geniunely scary Mad Scientist played by Chaney with the bumbling misadventures of Johnny Goodlittle, who winds up trapped in Chaney's Old Dark House.
  • Planet Terror: This one is more comedic and lightheared than its companion Death Proof, with a lot of hilarious deaths.
  • RedLetterMedia. Yes, the Star Wars reviews. The criticism of the movies itself is funny, but the reviewer is clearly an Ax-Crazy psychopath who takes you on a tour around his lair several times (there are human bones in his basement) and he kidnaps a woman with clear intent to kill her.
  • Return of the Living Dead
  • Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated. Of all the Scooby-Doo incarnations, this is the one that takes the horror elements most seriously, with the usual criminals in costumes gradually being replaced by an Ancient Conspiracy built around an Eldritch Abomination; while at the same time deconstructing many of the series' well-worn tropes for both laughs and drama.
  • Slither
  • Soul Eater: It starts out fairly light and Fanservice filled, but gets darker and darker as the story goes on. Despite that, it never gets really gory aside from blood and even the more serious villains have occasional moments of levity.
  • The Story Of The Youth Who Went Forth To Learn What Fear Was: A fairy tale in which the protagonist tries to find out what fear is and is confronted with a lot of creepy events and creatures. Yet, at the same time, his total lack of knowledge about being scared also provides many funny moments.
  • Tremors. The first film was more horror dominant, but every installment after that struck the balance.
  • Undertale has a quirky sense of humour not unlike EarthBound, and similarly gets increasingly terrifying as you progress. While the neutral and pacifist routes balance the two, the No Mercy route is very horror dominant.

Comedy Dominant:


These works still need to be categorized on the sliding scale by people familiar with them. Feel free to do so.