Horror movies are hilarious

Published 7:00 am Saturday, October 31, 2015

I was going to write about my neighbor who hired a mowing crew to mow the lawn at 7 a.m. Tuesday morning, but with Halloween around the corner, it is perhaps best to write about more entertaining horrors, specifically, horror movies. I am a fan of the horror movie. Horror films, unlike your average drama or comedy, present us with situations that are as equally terrible as they are improbable. And as they are all improbable, all horror movies tread carefully between humor and fright. One might well imagine hearing a funny story about a pushy drag queen who runs a motel, but in “Psycho,” Robert Bloch turned that punch line into a nightmare.

The best horror movies, I suspect, begin as jokes. I have to imagine Ira Levin thought the idea of an elderly coven of devil worshipers fairly hilarious, and it’s no surprise that the author of “Rosemary’s Baby” also wrote “No Time for Sergeants” a decade earlier. (And it’s no surprise Roman Polanski, who adapted “Rosemary” for the screen, also wrote and directed the vampire comedy “The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Pardon Me But Your Teeth are in my Neck” a year prior to directing “Rosemary.” We naturally laugh at what we fear and the best jokes are the most tasteless. Obviously. The best horror film—and I would argue the best film ever—is, of course, the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” This is also the funniest horror film of all time. Don’t believe me? Consider the death of Franklin. Franklin, the paralyzed brother of Sally Hardesty, is notable mainly for his whiny voice and his constant complaints. His is the fourth death and among the most gruesome but when he meets the buzzing saw, the audience is relieved to have an end to his whining. In what other movie do we cheer the murder of an innocent invalid? The real beauty of “Chainsaw” though is how the narrative begins with the innocent travelers but then focuses on the family of psychopathic cannibals and treats this family like a real family that engages in petty squabbling and bickering. Amid all the gore are family arguments that, when juxtaposed to the horror, are hilarious. The first time I saw the film, I remember wondering to myself, should I be laughing so hard at all this? Turns out, I was right to laugh. I had the good fortune of taking a college screenwriting course from Kim Henkel, the man who wrote “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and I asked him this. He told me that when he wrote the script, he’d had a page to director Tobe Hooper and if they didn’t find a laugh on each page, he’d re-write the page.  And of course there are dozens of horror comedies that are far less dry than “Chainsaw.” “Scream” is a good example of what I mean, as is “Beetlejuice,” “Ghost Busters,” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” At their core, horror films are, to one degree or another, hilarious and this is why I love Halloween.