In The Funeral, a short story by Richard Matheson, we find a seemingly unusual mix of horror and comedy. Without going into a full synopsis of the story, a party of vampires descends on a funeral home to have a bit of fun. The director of Clooney’s Cut-Rate Catafalque is forced to endure the strangers and their peculiar customs while being eyed by a “wax-featured little man” who continues to mutter “Tasty” as he regards the mortician.
The humor in the story arises from bathos, the sudden plunge from lofty heights of thought or sentiment (as one might experience during a well-delivered eulogy) to the ludicrous. The presence of the undead mourners, all of whom are there to witness one of their own go through a second funeral (because his original funeral wasn’t to his liking, apparently,) mocks the solemnity of the funeral home. When a fight breaks out, the desecration of the somber place is complete and bathos is achieved. The repetition of the word “Tasty” is simply a nice touch and one that the reader will latch onto easily, making the brawl akin to something out of a Benny Hill sketch as opposed to a legitimate battle between monsters.
Comedy and horror stem from the same place, and that is the inanity of life itself.
Barring the existence of a deity (or deities) or some higher purpose, life devolves into a meaningless amalgam of unfortunately self-aware chemicals. It’s a bad thing to live and I sincerely wonder if God is simply a convenient tool for avoiding an awful truth: We are doomed to pain and death and every joy we have is meaningless in the long run. From cradle to grave we live in a perpetual state of fear and uncertainty, haphazardly formed creatures that are too smart for our own good.
We can take this, the pessimistic, antinatalist’s approach to life, or we can do the exact opposite and laugh. We can laugh at the ridiculously short period of time we have, the pathetically silly considerations that bother us, the trivial nature of life itself.
Jeff Strand effectively argues that humor may be used as a tension relieving device in horror (Knost, 129; ch.14). His sentiment is shared by Stuart Gordon and Alfred Hitchcock (qtd. in Carroll 146). The purpose for this, as stated by all parties concerned, is to permit tension to build once again.
The process reminds me of one of those old 110 film cameras with the built-in flash units. There was a whine associated with those, a noise made by the circuitry within the machine as it was charging the capacitor needed to make the flash. As a kid I would buy these cameras at yard sales, flea markets, and anywhere I could find them. I’d bring them home, gut them, and cannibalize the parts for my own creations. I learned early that letting the big capacitor that came inside the camera charge to full power was a bad idea (those suckers hold a lethal charge capable of melting the tip off a screwdriver.) But if I allowed the circuit to charge the capacitor for a shorter period of time, I could play with higher voltages and currents more rapidly, more safely. Allowing the capacitor to charge for 1 second was different than letting it charge for the lethal 30 seconds; letting the capacitor charge for 10 seconds was dangerous, but produced more spectacular results than letting it charge for one.
If we think of the charge as tension and we allow the charge to build for small increments (1 to 10 seconds) then when we deliver the final jolt (30 seconds of charge) we get a spectacular flash, a loud bang, the smell of melting iron, and dad running into the kitchen screaming, “What the Hell was that? It made static on the big TV!”
Carroll, Noel. “Horror and Humor.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. 57.2 1999. 145-160. Web. 27 Jan. 2015.
Strand, Jeff. “Adding Humor to Your Horror.” Writers Workshop of Horror. Ed. Michael Knost. West Virginia: Woodland Press, 2010. 127-137. Print.