Redhead Temper: How Do We Market Horror Comedies?

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I’m writing this post in all my eager anticipation for You’re Next, in theaters next Friday, and just after watching Evil Dead 2 as well as the Evil Dead remake which was like a gorier version of it’s source material; as if to try and transfer and translate it’s muse’s simple and lovably laughable low budget effects into something more…legitimately scary? I hesitate to use those words but let’s be honest here for a second– the Evil Dead remake is a horrifically fun gore-fest with so many reverent nods to the original that any fan can’t help but cheer and applaud at those moments even if not at the exponentially more bloody and violent overall nature of this re-imagining. However, it lacks the absurd humor of the original trilogy.

Now whether this humor exists separately from the effects seeming to be straight out of a student film shot in a Party City, or inherently linked to this very fact, the whole “this is what Evil Dead would have looked like with more money” thing came out scary, yes, but not really all that funny, and it probably wasn’t meant to be funny anyway. Even its marketing campaign stated it was the most terrifying film, with a classically creepy poster design. Now let’s consider the poster of just Evil Dead 2 for example, the skull with eyeballs smirking at us gleefully in a sideways glance. We all know what were getting into there at this point, I’d hope but this is what worries and intrigues me simultaneously about the horror comedy genre mashing of today, and that is that no one really knows for sure that what they’re paying to see is going to be both things. I suppose for the most part I’m focusing on posters.

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Films like Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead make sure that you know, “hey this is a comedy that happens to also have zombies but it isn’t really all that scary so all you non-horror people will still have a great time!” On the other hand, films like Cabin in the Woods seem like horror movies which end up pleasantly surprising you with their humor and cleverness only once you’re in the theater, but make no mistake: the movie is probably scary, first and foremost, so beware. And the posters make no mistake in drawing you in but nothing about that Rubik’s cube of a house screams (sorry for the pun) that Joss Whedon is being fan-boy funny here.

So in a way, I guess there is no film that strikes a 50/50 balance but is that a negative thing I wonder? I would argue that Evil Dead 2, for its time and for all its wonderful horror inadequacies if you want to consider them as such, was the only film that equally scared and amused up until Cabin, but the difference is that Cabin in the Woods’ marketing didn’t, and perhaps couldn’t, convey this balance. And even if it did, would that make a difference in who sees it? I have friends who hate horror but were okay with Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead because the horror aspect was really just the presence of a typical horror character or creature, and I’ve also heard of people who heard Cabin in the Woods was funny but the scares were still too raw and effective for them once they started the film.

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Further, this summer’s wonderfully hilarious and innovative This is the End barely marketed how well Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg knew and referenced genre films and tropes which I of course picked up on and loved. I’ve had friends who, even though it is a comedy, were surprised about and not too keen on all the demonic and even comic violence in what was advertised as an apocalyptic comedy that has our favorite comic actors playing inflated versions of themselves.

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Should these people really feel cheated or alienated though? Marketing is just all about catering to who your largest audience would be and what the overall tone of the film is. And that is certainly a lot to convey in a poster and a TV spot for such a specific and already difficult genre mash. Which brings me to You’re Next. When I first watched the trailer, I had already heard it dubbed a “horror comedy” but found no humor in the ad. I continued to hear buzz about the film and those involved in making it and only then did I grow excited, thinking maybe this was going to be another brilliantly executed, smart, sly subgenre spoof with genuine scares as well.

As a fan of the masked-killers-on-a-rampage formula, I’m really hoping that the film lives up to its buzz, because based on the trailers and the posters, someone craving that cunning and comedic spin on an otherwise predictably violent tale might not see this film as anything other than what’s been done time and time again already. I don’t have any real solutions or suggestions, or even a conclusion besides the following: marketing is tough. Combining genres such as these two is also tough. In my opinion, horror and comedy are the two hardest genres to do well let alone reinvent and restructure as these films I’ve mentioned try and often somehow succeed to do.

I just think its unfortunate, possibly, that the balance between horror and comedy isn’t often perfectly even, and that promoting these films often means choosing to sway posters and trailers one way as opposed to the other based on some unseen formula of how often the film is scary and how often it elicits laughter and who, based on that, would be more apt to see the film. For people like me though who love any combination of the two genres, You’re Next will hopefully be worthy of all the indie cred and industry hype, and deserving of much respect even if it doesn’t live up to marketed expectations.

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