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:

    open/close all folders 

    Horror Dominant 

  • 13 Sins has the hapless protagonist committing more and more horrific crimes for the accumulating prize money.
  • American Horror Story, most notably in the third season Coven, frequently likes to dabble in the campier side of horror, which shouldn't be a surprise given that its creator, Ryan Murphy, also made Glee, Nip/Tuck, and Popular. By and large, though, the more horrific elements were played terrifyingly straight.
  • An American Werewolf in London has a fair amount of comedic elements, but tipped to this side because even the director was surprised by how gory it turned out. Also, the humor is almost entirely gone by the conclusion of the movie save some small bits and the Soundtrack Dissonance between the final scene and the credits song.
  • Arachnophobia has several comedic bits, mostly involving the Eccentric Exterminator played by John Goodman. The Primal Fear of the spider threat is played very seriously all throughout the movie however.
  • Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon starts out closer to the middle, as a parody of the slasher genre, but very quickly becomes a straight Slasher Movie at the end.
  • Bubba Ho Tep
  • Cabin by the Lake: The sequel moreso than the first. The Villain Protagonist is a Serial Killer who is also a horror movie writer. There are therefore several self-referential elements than can be taken as parody. The bad guy is still an utter monster, though.
  • The Cabin in the Woods. Despite being a Deconstructive Parody the horror tropes are played very straight in terms of tone; the parody is derived from austere deconstruction without heading into outright comedy. The humorous parts that it does have are mostly derived from the self-reflective aspects of the movie on the horror genre, mostly embodied in the manipulative Controllers.
  • Dead Set: Most of the laughs come from the dark absurdity of the premise and the dialogue of the cast, many of whom are Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist types or The Ditz (Justified by the reality show setting). However, the main character is mostly serious, the premise is Played for Drama and once people start dying most of the laughs are in the form of Satire, Black Comedy, and Refuge in Audacity (zombie Davina McCall!) rather than the witty dialogue and jokes.
  • Death Proof
  • Drag Me to Hell is a truly scary film, but coming from Sam Raimi, it manages to also be hilarious at times (sometimes at the same time even).
  • The Dresden Files tends heavily towards the horror end of things. Most of the comedy is in the form of Harry wisecracking to save in his sanity in the face of soul-destroying horror and almost certain death. His adversaries range from utter bastards to Nightmare Fuel.
  • Friday the 13th has a few entries landing here. Many of the films end up being unintentional comedy, but sometimes, it's meant to be funny.
    • Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter definitely played up the comedy elements, with the Twenty Minutes with Jerks feeling very much like a teen comedy that could easily be called National Lampoon's Friday The 13th. But the deaths are some of the bloodiest in the series, and the ending when Tommy kills Jason is played very seriously (and manages to be genuinely horrifying). This is one of the reasons it remains a fan favorite.
    • Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives is very self-aware of the franchise and has quite a few comedic breaks, but plays many parts much more serious than the rest of the series (especially parts focusing on Tommy), and due to the reduced gore, it relies more on pure suspense (and succeeding).
    • Jason X took the "Jason IN SPACE!" angle and ran with it, most notably when Jason is locked in a holodeck simulating Camp Crystal Lake with two counselors who just love to have premarital sex.
  • From Dusk Till Dawn gets most of its humor by playing off the interaction of a bunch of hardened gangsters with bloodthirsty vampires.
  • Ginger Snaps uses its "lycanthropy/puberty" metaphor as much for laughs as for horror, but when it gets dark, it stays there.
  • Gremlins. There are some comedic moments scattered throughout, but it mostly plays the premise straight. Notably, this is toned down from the original conceit, which was a lot darker in tone and contained several very gruesome deathsnote , with the Gremlins being far more violently evil than their 'cause general disruption' attitude in the movie.
  • Higurashi: When They Cry starts off each chapter as a lighthearted Slice of Life comedy, until someone dies mysteriously. From there, things quickly spiral out of control, usually culminating in the gruesome murder of several major characters.
  • It. Heavily horror based, but still has some comedic elements thanks to Pennywise.
  • Jennifer's Body combines a demon-possession plot with Diablo Cody's wiseass dialogue, and a devil-worshipping emo band.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion is of the Horror Dominant type. Some lighthearted moments can be found between the Mind Rape, Eldritch Abominations, Cruel and Unusual Death(s), and The End of the World as We Know It.
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street began to progress into this as the series went on. The first two films are mostly straight horror films (well, okay, not so straight in the case of the second one) with only the occasional wisecracks from Freddy Krueger, the third had more of a balance between comedy and horror (but still focusing more on horror), and later films became more comedic as the series went on, to the point where the sixth film, Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare is essentially a somewhat gory cartoon. The seventh film, Wes Craven's New Nightmare, jettisoned the comedy elements and brought the focus back to horror, a focus that was shared by Freddy vs. Jason and the remake.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: In the same vein as Neon Genesis Evangelion except it has Break the Cutie instead of Mind Rape. Furthermore, most of the comedic moments are in the first two episodes, while the rest are predominately horror-focused.
  • Scream is practically the Trope Codifier for the horror-dominant variety.
  • The Signal (2007) is composed of three vignettes. The middle one is mostly a black comedy (mostly) while also showing us the first signs that things are even weirder than they seem.
  • Spec Ops: The Line starts out pretty campy and light-hearted sort of like your typical modern military shooter, of course most of that is swept under the rug halfway in the game.
  • Supernatural. The entire character roster are a bunch of snarky bastards who can't resist making wise-ass comments all the time, and the humor is largely found in the absurdity of some deaths and the meta-fictional episodes. It still never manages to upstage the genuine horror and drama or eclipse it.
  • Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
  • Teeth: The only real humor is the absurd premise and some potential Narm. All else considered, it's played about as straight as you can get for a killer vagina movie.
  • You're Next. It's a Deconstruction of many horror tropes, especially the Final Girl, that happens to be thick with Black Comedy, yet it plays the horror aspects much more straight.

    Balance Between Comedy and Horror 

  • The ABCs of Death
  • 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.
  • A Chinese Ghost Story has some suspenseful and terrifying moments, and some legitimately hilarious ones.
  • 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.
  • Eden Green contains body horror and mass death, as well as moments of self-effacing Deadpan Snark from the title character.
  • 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.
  • Krampus is about a Dysfunctional Family celebrating Christmas who get besieged by the titular Krampus and his minions. The main characters are textbook Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonists (particularly Howard and Linda, who bear more than a passing resemblance to Burt and Heather Gummer from Tremors), and while the very real threat that the monsters pose is played straight, the fact that said monsters are demonic versions of old-fashioned toys (like Jacks-in-the-box and teddy bears) and Christmas iconography (like gingerbread men and elves) makes it hard to not smile at the sight of them wreaking havoc. The bloodless deaths and PG-13 rating help.
  • 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, a film about alien brain-slugs turning a bunch of small-town bumpkins into zombies. The graphic gore and visual effects come packaged with jokes about marriage, the characters, and the infection.
  • 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 

    Unsorted 


Alternative Title(s): Horror Comedy, Comedy Horror

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