On Humor and Darkness

I like a good laugh to along with my bloodbaths, which is why some of my favorite horror movies are also very funny. An American Werewolf in London, Shaun of the Dead, Fido, (interesting that zombies lend themselves so well to both terror and comedy, isn’t it?) and of course, the gold standard of comedic horror, Evil Dead II.

There’s an incredible sense of release that comes with a laugh before, during or after a good scare. It leavens some of the tension without making the horror any less horrifying. The marvelous “Who’s laughing now?” sequence in Evil Dead II is a great example of this. Ash’s hand is possessed and is trying to kill him, and Bruce Campbell’s acting in this scene is wonder of physical comedy. But as the scene comes to a climax and Ash is finally forced to use a chainsaw on his own appendage as he maniacally asks, “Who’s laughing, now, huh? Who’s laughing now?” I always find myself horrified that he has been pushed to this edge. It’s funny, and it’s also terrifying, and that’s why it works.

I like to lighten the darkness in my own novels with a little humor. It dissipates some tension while at the same time heightening it. A well-placed humorous comment can take some of the edge off a scene. Later, the contrast of the humor and the horror makes the awful seem even more so, and the reader understands that Maddy wisecracks so that she can deal with the monster before her. If she didn’t, her mind and will might just degenerate into gibbering terror, and where’s the fun in that?