Hand in hand with the human fascination with death comes the desire to defang it – to make it bearable and understandable. And yet, horror comedies are perilously difficult to pull off with much success, often veering toward one or the other or coming off with a unpleasantly leering tone (looking at you, Thankskilling). In a world where we’ve all shrugged our shoulders and said, “sure, saying we’re all watching Sharknado ironically is good enough,” I thought it might be nice to take a look at some films that melded comedy and horror with love, effort, and actual worthwhile effect.
Last week we talked about The Witch, a decidedly strange and mostly effective film that inhabits that wonderful horror subgenre known as “everything’s a metaphor.” But as much as that film defied analysis by modern standards, against all odds demanding to be taken by its own internal logic, its best feature was undoubtedly its skill in creating tension from the mundane.
So, taking The Witch (and its stand-alone essay) as our fifth number, let’s take a look at some other films that effectively captured that elusive quality: a bubble of existence whose logic is its own, a careful structure waiting to fall apart; or a time capsule that, whether we know its context or not, demands that we invest fully in the stakes at hand.
Last Monday we took a trip to The Adventure Zone, which has become one of my alltime favorite podcasts. It’s still Max Fund Drive season this week, and I’m in a podcast sort of mood, so it seems like time to stroll through another round of recommendations. Specifically, shows headed up by the stunningly charming and adorable members of the McElroy family. They’re practically a podcasting dynasty at this point, and the world is really better for it. Here are a solid half dozen podcasts to try out (and don’t forget The Adventure Zone!).
We arrive now at part two, centering on those actors whose work goes unappreciated, maybe more so for the fact that they’re surrounded by talented fellow actors. But that only makes it all the more a shame that their contributions go unsung.
Just in time for Oscar season: yet more people who have never been acknowledged by the archaic, garbage voting body that defines the public perception of Doing Entertainment Good. “Underrated” can mean just about infinite things to infinite people, and nearly as many even from a single point of view. Do you go with roles acclaimed in their time but lost to history? Small roles that get overlooked after the fact? Exceptional performances based on an actor’s history or usual type of performance? We could all be here for months exploring the possibilities.
Faced with that wealth of options, I wound up dividing this post into two different approaches. This week, we’ll look at a few performances so good they make the work worth seeing, even if the overall result is an uneven one. One really good actor, given enough space, can elevate an entire project – there are B-movie actors who make a career of it. I could’ve populated the entire list with picks from Cillian Murphy’s CV (I didn’t, but he still deserves a mention).
The rampant success of Lupin III Part IV (or “Blue Jacket,” colloquially) seems to have stirred new interest in the franchise. Which means a fair number of poor souls who try to take things chronologically – an admirable feat up until one inevitably runs up against Red Jacket, the character’s most famous outing. I’ve seen a lot of earnest souls crash and burn trying to binge those 155 episodes, unaware that three years of content that premiered weekly come hell or high water means a veritable rollercoaster of quality. When Red is good, it’s some of the best stuff the franchise has to offer. And when it is bad, it makes you regret setting out in the first place.
The nice part is that the series’ total lack of continuity makes it easy to cherry pick sample episodes, a flavor for people who want to get a sense of anime history and a solid foundation for anyone who wants to eventually make the deep dive. So let me give you my top ten – not anything like an objective list, because that is a fool’s errand with that kind of backlog, but a way to share the love and decrease the daunting factor at least a little bit (don’t worry, I’m here to help you out with Green Jacket too).
And for those who’re curious, yes you should absolutely try the dub when it’s available. The translation’s loose as can be, particularly in the early going, but often in a wonderfully self-deprecating way and backed up by a truly wonderful cast. Nothing’s going to replace the original (and you’ll end up watching both, since only half the show was dubbed), but it’s a treat.
Note: For ease of search, these are listed in airing order rather than ranked. I’ve also tried to include as many of the relevant eight million title translations as possible.
Dr. Herbert West’s longevity is something of a marvel. Lovecraft nerds love to turn up their noses at the Herbert West – Reanimator” stories, declaring them the weakest point in the author’s body of work. Lovecraft himself didn’t even think much of them – by which I mean he loathed them utterly, and mostly used them to bring in a paycheck from Weird Tales and take pot shots at that upstart lady writer’s new hit Frankenstein. At the same time, those six serial shorts went on to birth the single most successful Lovecraft adaptation and the most memorable, longlasting character not sleeping in R’lyeh or bound in human flesh. Dr. West’s quest to defeat death has made quite the hallmark on western culture (and beyond). And, well, I haven’t seen anyone else try to catalogue that impressive body of work yet. So let’s take a look at the Re-Animator through popular culture.
A note: while I’ve been mulling over this sort of post for some time as an outlet for my obsessive researching tendencies, it still seems only right that I tip my hat to Lindsay Ellis’ excellent Loose Canon series, which takes a similar investigative tack.