The comedy horror genre is one of the best genres every created – blending all of the cool elements of the horror genre with all of the inventiveness of the comedy genre. It’s kind of like everything great from the horror genre, but without all of the depressing bleakness that usually comes with it.
Although it’s had a major resurgence within the past decade or two, the golden age of this genre was probably sometime in the 1980s and/or the 1990s.
This was a time when Hollywood was a lot more creative than it is now, and where imaginative low-medium budget American comedy horror films were often instant cult classics – I’m talking about amazing films like “Army Of Darkness”, “Gremlins”, “Return Of The Living Dead Part II”, “Beetlejuice”, “Tremors”, “Elvira: Mistress Of The Dark” etc.. Seriously, watch them!
But, since you probably don’t have the budget to make a movie, I thought that I’d look at some of the ways that you can add a 1908s/90s style version of this awesome genre to comics and/or fiction.
It’s been a while since I’ve made a proper comedy horror comic (the last one was last year’s Halloween comic, although this comic from 2015 springs to mind too), I think that I can offer a few tips about how to use this type of “retro” comedy horror in comics:
1) Rubbery monsters, zombies etc… : Monsters are one of those things that people used to think were scary, but which aren’t really that scary… and this is why they are perfect for comedy horror! The same is true for zombies too.
Good comedy horror will often take something that used to be considered scary and then play it for laughs in all sorts of interesting ways.
However, just adding a monster to your comedy horror story won’t make it funny or retro. Monster design plays a large part in good retro comedy horror.
When designing retro comedy horror monsters, zombies etc… you need to make them look “endearingly grotesque”, rather than “gruesome” or “frightening”. In other words, make them look slimy, oddly adorable, cartoonish etc… Keep the amount of blood, viscera etc.. to an absolute minimum. Here’s an example of the type of monster I’m talking about:
A good rule to remember here is that, if your monster looks like the kind of thing that a special effects studio in the 1980s or 1990s could have created cheaply using rubber models, rubber masks etc.. then you’re doing it right. Yes, your monsters should look like they could be made out of rubber.
2) Small towns: Since the dawn of time, horror stories have often worked best when they’re set in remote areas – for the simple reason that it adds to the suspense. As such, most great retro comedy horror movies (except for “Gremlins 2: The New Batch”) are usually set in small towns of one kind or another.
These settings also have a huge amount of comedic potential for the simple reason that small towns are often, well, crap. Don’t get me wrong, they’re much less crappy than ultra-large cities probably are, but they can certainly be dull, quirky and/or backwards places. It doesn’t take a genius to see how this can be used for comedy.
Plus, the contrast between the drama of the events of the film and the dullness of the setting can often also be used for comedic effect – like with this four-panel comic of mine from earlier this year (which is kind of a follow on from last year’s Halloween comic):
3) Slapstick and gore: If you watch a few retro comedy horror movies, one of the first things that you will notice is the sheer amount of physicality in them. Monsters leap out from their hiding places melodramatically, they scamper around merrily, they die squelchily melodramatic deaths etc…
In other words, you’ll probably need to use a fair amount of slapstick comedy. Like this:
When it comes to the subject of how much gore to include in your retro horror comedy comic, it’s totally up to you. But, if you’re going to include gore, then it has to be ludicrously exaggerated to the point where it isn’t even vaguely realistic. I’m talking about gushing fountains of blood, splattery exploding heads etc.. The gruesome parts of your comedy horror comedy comic should be used for slapstick comedy.
If you want the advantages of this kind of gory slapstick, but without the gruesomeness, then you can always replace the monsters’ blood and guts with something like slime or gunge instead (see a movie called “Tremors 2: Aftershocks” for some good examples of this).
4) Characters: The 1980s and the 1990s were the golden age of sarcasm and cynicism. If you don’t believe me, then watch a classic BBC comedy series called “Blackadder” (the third and fourth series especially). There isn’t much, if any, horror in it, but it’s one of the most brilliantly cynical and/or sarcastic things in existence.
So, if you want to add some retro comedy horror to your comic, then make sure that your characters are suitably unimpressed, cynical and/or sarcastic about the events of the story. Genuine horror often relies on the audience empathising with the main character’s fear. Comedy horror often relies on the audience laughing at the main characters’ almost total lack of fear.
Learning how to do this well will probably require watching a lot of classic comedy horror movies and/or comedy movies in general, but if you only have the time or budget for seeing one of them, then I’d recommend “Elvira: Mistress Of The Dark” (Elvira has so many brilliant sarcastic one-liners, double-entendres etc..) if you want to learn how to write comedic dialogue.
If you want a great non-horror (well, mostly…) 1980s comedy movie with brilliant sarcastic dialogue, then I’d have to recommend the one and only “Heathers“.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂