ByGary Nelson Fish, writer at
A true believer of art and entertainment. From comics to film, good writing and music, I get down with the fun stuff.
Gary Nelson Fish

Early next year, the new-age horror film Get Out will be turning the tables on traditional thrillers with some hard-hitting racial commentary. However, the thing that is turning heads in Hollywood is the writer and director for this fright fest is well-known comedian, Jordan Peele. Most commonly known for being the Peele side of Key and Peele, he is no stranger to tackling race-related issues à la Chappelle's Show.

The film will essentially be Jordan Peele's first credit outside of comedy, on top of being his directorial debut. So while this might seem like a bizarre jump to make for his first technical attempt behind the camera, it goes a long way to show strong similarities between horror and comedy (plus, he already knows how to get creepy).

Relief Theory

You know that moment where you are hiding behind a blanket at home streaming a new horror flick online, and then at some of the super freaky jump-scare death scenes you let out a little chuckle? This doesn't mean you are a crazed sociopath, it is simply an example of the biggest horror/comedy commonality known as the relief theory. This suggests humor can be used as a way to relieve tension caused by one's fears.

So, while comedy will use different fears such as falling or embarrassment to cause a humorous reaction, horror will use these fears in a more brutal way that will get us to release a similar nervous energy. This is why we tend laugh when the tension breaks (or when Freddy's coming for you), it is simply a release of stress built up by our fear. There is a case to be made for the other humor theories (superiority and incongruity), but relief theory is best way to express the comedy in a horror film.

Pretty scary stuff...  'The Simpsons Movie'
Pretty scary stuff... 'The Simpsons Movie'

Shared Elements

Not only are the psychologies of horror and comedy very similar, their creative processes have a number of parallel elements as well. The first thing that most writers and filmmakers will ensure is that the centric characters are relatable, otherwise the audience will feel no connection to either the humor or the horror. OK, that was pretty basic, but these next few tricks clearly show the similarities in the two genres.

One of the biggest shared elements is anticipation, otherwise known as the build-up, and it's designed to leave you on the edge of your seat waiting for the punch. Another technique is the element of surprise. Where a comedy might misdirect your expectations, a horror will scare you witless after a false sense of security. Last on the list is danger, which is a very common practice in horror films, but sometimes nothing is funnier than a close call.

The effects of horror and comedy...
The effects of horror and comedy...

Horror Comedies

In certain cases, filmmakers have embraced both genres, blending the two to heighten the effect of each (simply called "horror comedy" or "comedy horror"). Classic examples of this hybrid sub-genre include Shaun of the Dead, Cabin in the Woods, and (of course) the Evil Dead franchise. In these films, you will often see over-exaggerated gore and slapstick violence which essentially supersedes the horror and becomes a blatant comedy.

However, great filmmakers have found a way to maintain the same thrills of terror and unease while poking fun at the overall outlandishness. Using Evil Dead as an example, the comedy in the film isn't designed to suppress the horror as much as to add to the maddening hysteria. With projects such as Tucker and Dale vs Evil, Krampus, and Ash vs the Evil Dead, the lines are starting to blur even more, and it's exciting to see other comedians jump into the horror world.

You can never get enough boomstick!
You can never get enough boomstick!

Get Out

While the premise of a black dude and his white girlfriend go on a trip to meet his girlfriend's parents could sound like the setup for a comedy, Jordan Peele decided to play the idea as a psychological horror through psychedelic hypnosis and uncanny mannerisms. You could argue there is something funny with going against horror tropes, but this film honestly looks to be driving a serious message on a very relevant issue.

The reason to trust comedian Jordan Peele with this kind of project is his extensive training in timing and structure, on top of knowing first hand the difficulties of racism. I wouldn't put it past him to have a few twists and turns to the overall message, leaving the audience to wonder by exploiting the grey areas. We still don't know much about the project since it won't hit theaters until February 24th, 2017, but without too much superstition I want to wish Jordan Peele good luck on his first big director gig! Now here's a look at the trailer:

What do you think about the relationship between horror and comedy? Do you think Get Out will be a successful movie for Jordan Peele?


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