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.
I’m not sure whether we’ve reached the saturation point of comic book media yet. I do know that we’re now fully into the realm of adaptive choices obscure enough that even I have to start doing preemptive google searches when I notice my internet feeds getting particularly excited about certain cameos. But on the other hand it only took us this long to realize that maybe Wonder Woman should get a movie after all, so maybe my preemptive cringing about all the things that might go wrong with the Deadpool movie is beside the point.
All of which is a very long preamble to saying that the recent avalanche of movies based largely on superhero comics into live action spectacle fests, fun ones or no, has left me hungering for some smaller and more experimental takes on media by way of that beautiful and versatile medium of pictures-and-words.
Despite the fact that “post-apocalyptic feminist action flick” might as well have been shaped and addressed to my heart with a fetching bow on top, I did not get a chance to see Mad Max: Fury Road this past weekend. But in the spirit of the thing, I thought today might be a great opportunity to offer up some other stories about women: triumphant and struggling, witty and monstrous, mundane and adventurous. But most of all, something with a little variety for our heroines. Because hey, romance is all fine and well and often part of the human experience, but it’s agonizingly frustrating how often that type of story automatically defaults to the domain of the “token chick character.” Certainly it would be tragic if such a mindset were to hold true even to creators known for loudly and self satisfiedly declaring themselves exemplary models of feminist ideologies.
I think I blacked out there for a second, what was I saying?
Right, great stories starring women.
I’m pretty prepared to say we live in a golden age of western animation – and as someone who survived the compulsory (and awful) “western animation is just so shallow compared to glorious anime” phase, it is a real kick to be able to say so. We’re also still pretty square in the wave of mainstreaming of superheroes, replete with unexpected winners (you rolled your eyes at that Rocket Raccoon trailer, don’t you lie) and a seemingly endless chaff of bland, soulless cash-ins eaten by time (of which I imagine poor, director-shuffled Ant Man will only be the most recent example).
But before we had the tidal wave of superhero movies, kids’ TV was where it was at – and for every unfortunate Spiderman utterly strangled by terrified studio mandates, there was another handful of shows that made it out with something worth talking about. Let’s tip our hats to them today.
Long before videogames took on the mantle as ‘most frequently dismissed potential art form,’ the field of animation had been scraping for even the smallest bits of esteem from the cultural majority. Yes, of course animation is ‘kid’s stuff,’ not worthy of the attention of the real moviegoing public.
Never mind that animation allows for a near infinite variety of stylistic opportunities and a far more affordable means of enacting the fantastical and surreal in addition to the low-key and lifelike, or that the timeless quality of the form allows it to escape technological and era-driven pigeonholing far more easily than its live action counterparts (not to mention that stylized videogames age far more gracefully than their verisimilitude-obsessed peers).
But given the general subject matter around these parts, I expect I am (in part) preaching to the choir. So let us instead uncover some gems of animation, from the underpraised works of established geniuses to bold and unproven artists, whether you missed them the first time around or are itching to see them again.
I’ve always been slightly perplexed by the mentality of hipsterism (hipsterness? Hipsterality?). Having had an investment in works of fiction with larger and smaller followings both, let me tell you that the charm of being one of only six people to have heard of something gets old fast: you run out of potential discussions faster with the smaller conversation pool, there’s a dearth of fanworks available, and forget about seeing anything live (if applicable) outside of where The Thing is.
And, of course, there is the constant terror that your impassioned love won’t be enough, and that The Thing will cease to be on account of that whole ‘bills wait for no one’ thing (in truth I find medium-sized popularity tends to be the sweet spot – big enough for attention but small enough to skate over most infighting).
But! On the other hand there’s nothing as fun as getting to introduce people to things, sitting nearby and feeding vicariously on their newfound enjoyment of a thing you already know is awesome. That’s the heart of positive fandom. And I definitely have a few things I think more people should be aware of – from people they might already know, no less!
A note: in the case of Really Famous People with large bodies of work, I’ve tried to keep the tip-off to their most recent and/or most recent credit, just for the sake of streamlining.
Additionally, while Reefer Madness (Kirsten Bell, Frozen) and Cannibal The Musical (Matt Stone and Trey Parker, South Park and The Book of Mormon) would be excellent candidates for this list, they’ve already gotten a post. Continue reading