Splatstick Fantastic: The Cabin in the Woods (2011) and Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010)
Films that successfully combine horror and comedy are elusive things to find. The best ones work because they combine a genuine affection and understanding of horror with a willingness to satirize the genre's most improbable and outlandish conventions. Thankfully, I recently found two films that excel at making the mixture of horror and humor work: The Cabin in the Woods and Tucker & Dale vs. Evil. Both are witty spoofs of the familiar horror movie plot where vacationing young people are trapped in a remote location by some kind of menace, but each film takes a different approach to satirizing such an over worn contrivance. Cabin in the Woods uses the plot as a starting point that expands into a gruesome parody of horror cinema in general, while Tucker & Dale use it as the basis for a gory comedy of errors and misunderstandings.
Without giving too much away, Cabin in the Woods is basically a horror movie version of The Truman Show (1998). Both films are commentaries on the insatiable human need to mold real events and emotions into evocative (and sometimes predictable) stories, no matter how rigorously reality refuses to be reduced to such simplification. Yet because Cabin in the Woods incorporates horror and gore into its story, it eschews the sentimentality of Truman Show and instead dives head first into our collective fascination with the things that terrify us, no matter how improbable or ridiculous such things may be.
Cabin in the Woods was co-written and produced by Joss Whedon, so much of the film's humor stems from its absurd mixtures of the fantastic and the mundane. (Die-hard Whedon fans will also have fun spotting "Whedonverse" alumni such as Amy Acker, Fran Kranz and Tom Lenk.) Furthermore, the film steadily escalates the labyrinthine connections between its characters and situations into an insane, over-the-top conclusion that rivals Peter Jackson's Dead Alive (1992) in the amounts of geysering bloodshed yielded.
Tucker & Dale begins with a group of college students who are heading into the wooded mountains for weekend vacation, but then shifts its perspective to two well-meaning local rednecks, Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine), who have similar plans of their own. A series of hilarious chance encounters between the students and the rednecks build into a murderous misunderstanding that leaves few survivors standing by the film's ending.
Even though Cabin in the Woods has its own style of gore-based humor, Tucker & Dale is a perfect example of "splatstick" humor, humor that has been defined as "physical comedy that involves evisceration". During the film, the college students come to believe that Tucker and Dale are murderous, inbred cannibals who are out to capture kill them, and their attempts to defend themselves from the mild-mannered and accident-prone rednecks result in hilarious, blood-drenched sight gags. (One of the funniest scenes involves a bee hive and a chainsaw. Really.) Fun trivia fact: Whedon was not involved in Tucker & Dale, but Whedon fans will recognize Tudyk from Whedon's Firefly and Dollhouse TV series.
For horror fans who are in the mood for a double feature of giddily gory movies, I highly recommend The Cabin in the Woods and Tucker & Dale vs. Evil.