The big horror vs. humor debate

Ever since the movie Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein there’s been a big debate among genre fans: does humor belong in horror films?

Many old school horror fans didn’t like Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, and years after the fact, Lon Chaney Jr. regretted doing the film.

Now some horror fans routinely insist you don’t go to a horror film to laugh. 

But as John Landis, who also brought together horror and humor with “American Werewolf in London,” pointed out, the monsters are treated with great respect in Abbott and Costello.

Meanwhile, Quentin Tarantino went on record as saying the film’s approach at mixing genres together inspired him to mash different styles of movies together.


A lot of times a horror film can be tough to take without humor, which is one of the reasons The Exorcist was such a relentless experience, as it simply had no comic relief.

The screenwriter of Jaws, Carl Gottlieb, is primarily a comedy writer, and funny enough, so was Exorcist creator William Peter Blatty. Jaws had terrific humor, and wonderfully human moments with Chief Brody and his family to break up the horror.


The Evil Dead films, and the horror films of Peter Jackson, took horror and humor even further, with Sam Raimi bringing his love of Three Stooges slapstick to the game, and Jackson was very inspired by Raimi’s approach, and his early films were often labeled “goremedies,” and “splatstick.”

Still, as Evil Dead producer Rob Tapert says, “Evil Dead 1 sells more DVDs on a year in, year out basis than Evil Dead 2 nowadays. I think the people who like horror really like horror, and they found Evil Dead 2 too tonally challenging because it had too much humor.

“I think the really hardcore horror fans only want Evil Dead 1. As I’ve come across more and more horror fans, that seems to be a consensus. They want the horror, the want the unrelenting grueling horror, and they don’t want the filmmaker to tell them when to laugh. If something’s too gruesome, they want to decide to laugh on their own. They don’t need a joke there.”

With the release of the Fright Night remake, the film’s screenwriter Marti Noxon, who also wrote for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, listed her favorite horror comedies for The Daily Beast. 

Some on the list are no-brainers, like Shaun of the Dead, and Evil Dead 2, but she also listed the disastrous remake of The Haunting, which she wore “is to the genre what Showgirls is to… well, Showgirls,” and she also liked Diablo Cody’s widely panned Jennifer’s Body.

Noxon also promises that Joss Whedon’s upcoming horror film, The Cabin in the Woods, “doesn’t just have fun with the genre, it blows it up… The turns it takes are pretty mind-boggling, and the end of the movie is truly demented. You’ll still be laughing, but nervously.”