Shaun of the Dead and Tucker and Dale vs Evil: The Mix of Horror and Comedy
Horror and Comedy are complete opposites, yet they seem to work rather well together. The genre of horror-comedy was first introduced into film in 1922, with D.W. Griffith’s One Exciting Night. And since then, countless comedy horror films have been made. The thing is, both horror and comedy are two genres with huge varieties within them. For example, Napoleon Dynamite and Superbad. Both of these two films are classified as comedies, yet their style of comedy and style, in general, is completely different. The same goes for the horror genre. Because of this, the styles in horror comedies can vary immensely for different reasons. This comparative study will compare two horror-comedies, Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead and Eli Craig’s Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, and will look at how the two achieve the title of “horror-comedy” both similarly and differently.
The geographical context of these two films is different. Shaun of the Dead is a British film, while Tucker and Dale vs Evil is American. Looking further into the conventions of these two films shows how they both perform comedy and horror differently. This could be due to the contrasting geographical contexts and the different standards for the two genres that go alongside the country of origin. Another reason for the choice of these two movies is that they are both regarded as, unlike a lot of contemporary horror-comedies, ‘good’ movies. They received almost the same levels of critique, Receiving similar scores on both IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. which likely means that they are of similar quality in terms of comedy and horror, making it fair to compare the two movies. It is important to note that these two films have the main intention of comedy, rather than horror, which is why there is somewhat of an imbalance between the discussion of the two elements.
Firstly, what defines a horror-comedy? In Jeffrey S. Millers’ book The Horror Spoofs of Abbott and Costello: A Critical Assessment of the Comedy Team’s Monster Films, he looks at a conjunction of horror comedies to figure out why and how they work. In this, he somewhat splits horror films into three categories, black comedy, parody, and spoof. He states that black comedies have morbid scenes that are “so outrageous they have to be funny”. Many of them deal with tense subject matters, to which they usually end up humorizing, often leading to criticism as the humor can be considered “in poor taste”. These films are categorized by their oftentimes bloody and gruesome scenes. This is the most common type of horror-comedy these days.
The next type of horror-comedy is parody. This style is often categorized by its exaggerated attempts at mocking the horror genre. The comedy in horror parodies stems from its risible imitation of standard horror conventions. These films usually contain less specifically horrific scenes and are rather watched more for the comedy.
The last type is spoofs. Similar to the horror parody, spoofs are also somewhat imitations but do not mock the horror genre. These types of films treat the horror genre with respect (Miller). Lots of times spoofs seem like horrors at first, but analyzing the film deeper reveals the true intention of comedy. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil falls into the black comedy category. The film contains awfully bloody and gruesome scenes. It also deals with a somewhat tense subject matter of stereotypes and judgment, as the basis of the whole movie is that the college kids are immediately scared off by the hillbillies before understanding anything from their perspective. This is where most of the humor in the film stems from. The characters are developed, but not to the same extent as Shaun of the dead.
Shaun of the dead is slightly different. The gruesome scenes depicting zombies and their killings does show up in the film. But the movie doesn’t really fit into the Black comedy category, but rather the spoof category. As mentioned before, spoofs treat the horror genre with respect. What Shaun of the dead does differently to Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is it really understands “what makes horrors compelling” (McIntyre). Good horror movies really pay attention to their characterization. McIntrye puts this really well, stating “the heart of the film is the hearts of the characters themselves, even as those hearts are being ripped out by the living dead.” Shaun of the Dead does this extremely well. Shaun’s character is developed extremely well. The audience is able to see each relationship thoroughly explained, and in doing so, develops the character’s wants and desires. Shaun’s best friend, Ed, is kind of a screw-up, a screw up that Shaun is constantly defending. Shaun’s mother is someone he obviously cares deeply about, whereas the same can’t be said about his stepfather. The connections are what drives Shaun to be the hero of this movie, and is what essentially compels the story.
As stated earlier, these two films were made it two completely different film industries. While the aspects of horror in these two films are relatively similar, the comedy looks and feels completely different. In Tucker and Dale, there are several areas within the film that generate laughs. There’s comedy that comes from the spoof feel of the film, the gruesome bloody scenes, the characterization and the miscommunication. Most of the comedy in this film can be generalized into these categories. Tucker and Dale’s comedy is also generally cruder, a common characteristic throughout most American comedies. This comedy is very blatant and relies more heavily on the actors themselves, rather than utilizing all the available aspects of film.
A large majority of Shaun of the Deads’s comedy comes from running jokes throughout the film. EXAMPLE. Edgar Wright doesn’t just throw his humor in your face, he makes you listen and work for it. During the beginning of the film, much of the comedy stems from Shaun’s unawareness and the foreshadowing. The comedy is not just based upon what is said by the characters, it utilizes a whole array of filmic techniques. For example, the shot of the couple kissing outside of the Winchester. Edgar Wright uses the foreground contrasted with what’s happening in the background to generate humor. It is funny simply because of Shaun and Ed’s complete unawareness of the situation, and, likewise, is more interesting than just a simple line told by the characters.
These differences fit in with the Uk V Us comedy argument. Generally, American comedies are a lot more obvious and are heavily based on the actors themselves, and what they do and say. One doesn’t have to work hard to figure out why something was funny in typical American comedies. The comedy is there is basically either what is happening on screen, and dialogue from the characters themselves. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it is effective and does get laughs out of the audience most of the time, but the British way just makes the films more interesting. The British have been dabbling in visual comedy since the silent film era. Charlie Chaplin was one of these comedians/directors who utilized the visual aspects of film to make things funny. Back then, they couldn’t rely on the actor’s lines to add humor.
While both films are horror comedies, the two styles of humor, prominently shown on screen, is what differentiates the two films. According to Miller’s categorization, Shaun of the dead is a Spoof, while Tucker and Dale vs Evil is a Black comedy. Based on the geographical context, this makes sense, as the two films come from two places with very different senses of humor. Overall, the two movies are quite good and are great examples of successful horror comedies.
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