Comedy-Horror stories and films are nothing new. As far back as the 1920s people were making Comedy-Horror shorts, like Haunted Spooks (1920), The Haunted House (1921) and The Ghost Breaker (1922). However, these were invariably of the ‘Scooby-doo’ school of Horror where the ghost is eventually uncovered to be just faked hauntings by someone who stood to gain by getting rid of someone who stood between them and a coveted legacy.
By 1925, Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pryde brought spoof comedy into the world of Horror. The plot concerns a scientist who uses himself as a guinea pig when he experiments with a new drug that changes him into a compulsive prankster, very like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but with practical jokes. This was still the era of silent films and several movies were unintentionally funny more through over acting than plot, including The Monster (1925) starring the original Lon Chaney.
Through most of the 1930s and 1940s, films continued to be of the unintentionally funny sort until in 1946, when the Bowery Boys starred in Spook Busters, a precursor to the idea for Ghostbusters. Comedy-Horrors had moved into feature length films by then and sound had been added, opening up new opportunities for comedy expression through sound effects as well as dialogue and music. Hammer Films had opened its doors in 1934 and the classic Horror films that defined an age were beginning to churn out, though they were not intended as comedies.
In 1948, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein marked a return to intentional Comedy-Horror, again, spoofing Horror films of the past as they meet Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula and the Wolf Man. The film must have been successful, as it was followed up by Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1953, followed by Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy in 1955. Also in 1953, Dean Martin and comedian Jerry Lewis starred in Scared Stiff, one of the first Comedy-Horror films that wasn’t a spoof of other films.
Comedy-Horror was given another nudge in 1964 with The Comedy of Terrors starring Vincent Price and Peter Lorre, and again in 1966 with Carry On Screaming, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken and Munster, Go Home! But the mixed genre really came into its own in the 1970s, starting with The Werewolf of Washington (1973) starring Elvira, followed by The Cars That Ate Paris (1973), Phantom of the Paradise (1973) and Young Frankenstein (1973). Phantom of the Paradise, a musical starring Paul Williams that combined the concepts of The Phantom of the Opera with Faust, paved the way for Musical-Comedy-Horror and in 1975, The Rocky Horror Picture Show strutted its way into our collective media consciousness. This would prove a hard act to follow and the next few years saw more surreal Comedy-Horror in the form of Hausu (1977) and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978), then George Hamilton brought the laughter back to Horror spoofing with Love at First Bite (1979).
The 1980s were nicely set up for everything from Horror with a few laughs thrown in as in Motel Hell (1980) to the intentional Comedy-Horror that we see in films like An American Werewolf in London (1981), The Munsters’ Revenge(1981), National Lampoon’s Class Reunion (1982), Ghostbusters (1984), Gremlins (1984), Little Shop of Horrors (1986) and The Witches of Eastwick (1987). The original Little Shop of Horrors in 1960 was intended as serious Horror (No, really!), but the Comedy-Musical remake was intended as pure amusement. Elvira gave her acting career another comedy push in 1988 with her own film named after her series, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, and 1988 also saw the classic Comedy-Horror, Beetlejuice, come into fruition. The Comedy-Horror sub-genre had become well established.
It was inevitable that the combination of Comedy and Horror would translate into books. More in this century than the previous one, though Oscar Wilde gave us an early taste with The Canterville Ghost. Stories like Wolf Hunt by Jeff Strand and John Dies at the End by David Wong appeal to our sense of the ridiculous and help us manage our natural fears. Some writers have taken the same silliness that has resulted in films like Shaun of the Dead and applied them to Classics or historical figures, notably Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.
With most of us facing very real fears in recent weeks, I expect that the combination of Comedy and Horror will only increase over time. We do love to laugh at our fears. As real life becomes more and more stressful and filled with genuine concerns for our continued safety in any number of ways, banishing those fears with laughter would seem the only way to stay sane.
Both movies and books make lockdown more bearable and though many people are still finding it difficult to read as much as they would like, finding any kind of escape from the daily stress is essential.
In the meantime, it just happens that I made a Comedy-Horror film that is currently available on Amazon Video. I would make it free if I could. A distributor has control over that. But the streaming cost is nominal so perhaps a cheesy B-movie is just what you need for a good laugh.
Books available at: