When people think about horror movies the go to ideas spiral around blood, gore, violent situations, psychological struggles, and tense atmospheres. The general consensus seems to be around damaged souls, natural or supernatural, bringing about havoc and suffering onto others. Often times in modern cinema, a big twist ending is expected to catch viewers off guard and tie up the loose ends of the story. In the discussion of what a real horror movie is, these are the ideas that get thrown around more often than not.
A TIP FROM THE CLASSICS
But if you turn the question about what is a horror movie to what some of the best or highest regarded horror movies are, about half or so of listed titles will most likely come from the slasher subgenre of horror. A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, and Friday the 13th are a few of the franchise that come to mind in this subgenre. What most people tend to forget is that these movies is that as much of the classic horror tropes that they help cement that were present, there was the unexpected comedy under it all. Jump scares were not created by simply dialing down the music and creating a sense of calm before the big unveil. Situations with teenagers hanging out, cracking wise, and sneaking booze from their parents’ liquor shelves would have fit just as at home in a coming of age comedy before the boogieman with a blade showed up.
Somewhere in the last decade or so, big budget horror movies cut loose their comedic ties in exchange for a constant level of gore and an unrelentingly tense atmosphere. And this, by all accounts, works to some degree. Still, this balancing act of the intentionally laughable and the terrifying gore has taken a backseat in the revival of horror movies that sometimes take themselves a little too seriously. Now, this style has still been trickling out. And no, this is not to include those “so bad they are good” type of funny horror movies. Films that juggle legitimate tension that is both cut with a knife and a joke have been coming out, but mostly straight to DVD or streaming services. These tend to be lost on the wider audience to only be found and enjoyed by real horror fanatics.
A CEOMEDY OF HORRORS
All hope had seemed lost to the thought that big budget Hollywood traded in the goofs and gore for constant doom and gloom. Such blood-soaked gems would be lost to the lowest rankings of obscure Netflix categories. That was until the international release of Happy Death Day. Having reached nine countries already, with another seventeen already slated for the year, Happy Death Day has given new hope to the idea that the horrific comedy is still a valuable genre for movie goers.
Even the basic premise of the film seems silly. Basically, a girl wake up on her birthday, is murdered at some point during the day, and wakes up to relive the same day over and over again until she stops the killer and survives. It sounds a little like Groundhog Day guest starring Michael Myers; the slasher, not comedic actor. And by all accounts, that is pretty much the movie. The beauty lies in the set up and slow churn of Happy Death Day.
The movie as a whole in filled to the brim with stereotyped horror movie troupes and overtly intentional jokes. Honestly, more laughs than gasped echoed throughout the theater. This helped move the story along in an enjoyable way that still built to the payoff of death scenes.
All of this is only compounded by the high level meta-analysis that is the overall nature of the movie. Essentially, you are seeing the same characters living out the same situations with only minor tweaks from day to re-day culminating in the murder of the central girl. This whole premise is a satire of the horror movies we love so much. The cliché settings, age demographics, relationship struggles, etc. are all touched on through these moments effectively and successfully mocking the repetitive nature of the genre as a whole. This is where the really genius of Happy Death Day lies.
It seems that somewhere in the early 2000s people stepped away from the idea of having a scary movie be down-right funny as well as terrifying. Pushing for constant fear and dread has served its purpose and provided many fantastic franchises, but fear that the art of comedic horror has been lost was growing greater and greater. Happy Death Day arrived just in time to revitalize the belief that a surface level scary movie could be a full out comedy deep down. Though not the greatest cinematic masterpiece of either genre, this comedy of horrors is a well needed breath of fresh air to the genre as a whole and a hopeful swing to future movies along the same lines.