What do horror and comedy have in common? Well, quite a lot actually. Some of my favorite books and movies are combinations of the two genres. In my mind, they work perfectly hand-in-hand with each other. Horror movies are great, but let’s be realistic: When you stop to think about what’s happening on the screen, there’s a fair amount of ludicrousness to the common horror tropes you see. Like, why is she hiding under the bed? (Great spot, the killer will never look there!) Or, let’s all split up and search for help. (Because making it easier for the killer to pick you off one by one is a great idea!) Let’s run into that creepy, dark, abandoned building for safety! (Yes, that’s a much better idea than staying in a well-lit, public place.)
Don’t get me wrong—I think horror movies are a tremendous amount of fun, and people love to be scared. But my favorite ones are those which are at least slightly self-aware of the tropes and play with them. Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland and From Dusk Till Dawn are great examples of that. That’s also something that I tried to do in my books, Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies and From Sunset Till Sunrise.
In Shaun of the Dead, Edgar Wright plays with a few horror tropes. One is the deserted streets after the inciting event. Shaun goes to the store and is so wrapped up in his own worries that he doesn’t even realize that the only people out walking are mindless zombies. Another is **Spoiler Alert** the jerk victim. The character of David is so awful to Shaun throughout the movie, that you just KNOW he’s going to get it. And, when he goes to stand by the windows in The Winchester, you are absolutely expecting it, and can’t wait for him to become zombie chow.
In Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies, I played with many horror tropes found in movies such as Gremlins and Fright Night. In the sequel, From Sunset Till Sunrise, I tweaked tropes from vampire mythology. In my book, the characters are VERY aware of vampire lore and mention it throughout, and I find that works well. It gives the reader a wink, and lets them know you’re honoring the material, but are just going to have some fun with it. Here are some of the vampire tropes that I used and tweaked.
We all know that garlic is the number one vampire repellent. But, what do you do if you don’t have any or you run out? Well, in From Sunset Till Sunrise, (FSTS from here on out), the main characters, Devin and his cousin, Tommy, use garlic powder. They sprinkle it around their beds, on the windowsills, and mix it with water to create a powerful, vampire-killing potion to fire from their Super-Soakers.
Count isn’t just Dracula's title or what the muppet on Sesame Street likes to do. A lesser known part of vampire mythology is the vampire’s compulsive need to count things. Usually a good way to escape is by throwing a bag of sand or rice, to occupy them, so you can make a break for it. In FSTS, Tommy shows Devin that you can keep vampires busy even longer by throwing out numbers in the middle, and having it mess up their count. For example, if they’re up to 50, you can just start talking about the movie, Sixteen Candles, and this confuses the vampire, and they’ll resume their count at “Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen…”
Kids don’t usually go around carrying mallets and stakes. They’re too cumbersome. So, if you’re in school, the best way to combat vampires is sharpened pencils and a dart gun. First of all, pencils are easier to get, especially in school. Probably cheaper too. I mean, you can buy in bulk. And the best thing is, you can fire them from a distance, and don’t need to get close to the vampires at all! But, if you do get close, pencils are easier to hide than large wooden stakes.
The Attractive Vampire:
In just about every movie featuring vampires, they’re portrayed as attractive and lure or hypnotize the unsuspecting victim into their trap. In FSTS, Tommy points this out and tells Devin that there are no such things as ugly vampires, and they’re made that way in order to be able to prey on uglier people, who would normally have no chance to date someone like that. In other words, people like Devin.
In many vampire or zombie movies, someone whom the characters care about gets bitten. There’s usually an emotional scene, where they make the other characters promise to kill them if they turn. Naturally, the characters get upset and nobody wants to make that kind of promise. In FSTS, Tommy can’t raise his hand fast enough. He wants to be the one to be able to kill the creature when it happens.
There are more, but those are just a few of the vampire tropes that I played with. I hope that gives you some ideas of what to do in your horror/comedy novel. I think it’s important to honor and acknowledge the set rules in place. The ones everyone is familiar with. But, from there, by all means, have some fun. Tweak them to your needs. Like in Zombieland, when they talked about the importance of cardio. Remember, you don’t have to be the fastest one, but you sure don’t want to be the slowest. As long as you’re in better shape than at least one other person, you can escape, while they’re the one who serve as a zombie buffet. And in the end, I think that’s an important lesson for all of us.
Anyway, go have some fun and look up some horror tropes and try to figure out ways how you can make them funny, while still respecting the genre. Remember, you still want to make it scary, so we’re not making fun of, we’re just having fun with. There is a difference.
Jonathan Rosen is a transplanted New Yorker who now lives with his family in sunny South Florida. He spends his “free” time chauffeuring around his three kids. Some of Jonathan’s fondest childhood memories are of discovering a really good book to dive into, in particular the Choose Your Own Adventure series, and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Jonathan is proud to be of Mexican-American descent, although neither country has been really willing to accept responsibility. He is the author of Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies, and its sequel, From Sunset Till Sunrise. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook, FromtheMixedUpFiles.Com, and his own website, www.HouseofRosen.com
In this two-session online course we’ll look at each of two vital elements of successful horror: knowing what scares your readers, and knowing how to use words to bring that fear to life. We’ll look at examples from Stephen King’s writing to take a deep dive into both the why and the how of writing horror like a (Stephen) King. In this class, you'll have the opportunity to write an outline and a 2,000 word short story or chapter incorporating elements of suspense that moves towards a well-paced climax. These two assignments will be submitted for instructor critique. Learn more and register.