Well, since I’d just finished reading a novel that contained both horror and comedy and because, at the time of writing, I was preparing last year’s Halloween stories (which contain a fair amount of dark humour), I thought that I’d quickly look at some of the many reasons why horror and comedy go so well together.
1) Reaction and mechanics: Simply put, both horror and comedy are designed to evoke a physical reaction in the reader. Although these two reactions are complete opposites (eg: fear and laughter), the mechanics for doing this are more similar than you might think. At the most basic level, both horror and comedy rely on surprising the audience or subverting their expectations.
Likewise, both things also rely on keen observations, clever turns of phrase, transgressing social norms, exaggeration, timing/suspense, subtle details, unusual characters etc… In order to evoke the desired reaction.
As such, because both things use subtly different versions of the same techniques, it is fairly easy to include elements of one in the other and vice versa. Likewise, because they evoke opposite reactions in the reader, then including a mixture of both will make both the horror and comedy better because they will contrast well with each other.
2) Obscurity: Simply put, if you want to make something prestigious and respectable that will impress “serious” critics, then horror and comedy are the last genres you want to choose. If you want to make something entertaining, on the other hand….
In a lot of ways, the fact that horror and comedy are often seen as “low art” actually works in their favour. Because they are genres that are designed to evoke a reaction, they tend to get remembered and talked about a lot more. They are the art that people relax with, enjoy with friends, quote to people (and both genres have their fair share of quotable phrases) and use for emotional catharsis. They will usually have a fairly avid fanbase too.
In other words, horror and comedy go well with each other for the simple reason that they are ignored by the most prestigious film, literature etc.. awards and critics. Like punk and heavy metal music, they are made for fans of the genre.
3) Cynicism: Generally speaking, both horror and comedy rely on cynicism about the world. They rely on the fact that the world is an imperfect place where stupid, terrible, absurd and/or disturbing things can easily happen.
In one way or another, horror and comedy will often criticise some element of society, humanity etc… Whether they poke fun at it or use it to frighten the reader, horror and comedy are both genres that express dissatisfaction with the world. Although this is often more obvious in the comedy genre, the horror genre will usually include satire of some kind or another too.
So, because they both rely on criticism and/or cynicism, both genres are surprisingly compatible with each other.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂