Horror and comedy are two separate film genres, but have you heard of horror comedy? Director and screenwriter Chris LaMartina makes it his forte.
His six feature films have all “played into a certain sense of being morbid or used horror with accents of comedy to lighten the mood,” as LaMartina defines horror comedies for Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson. But he warns that many horror comedies — including his films — aren’t for kids.
“There’s still plenty of sex and violence in lots of horror comedies that’s not for younger audiences,” he says.
His latest WNUF Halloween Special is a “found footage” movie that looks like it’s been passed from VCR to VCR for at least ten years. To deepen the lore around the movie, LaMartina drove up and down the East Coast leaving hand-labeled VHS tapes in random places, hoping people would be convinced.
“I would literally drive around and throw them out of my window for months before we officially released the film, because we wanted someone to actually believe that this was a broadcast recorded off of local television in 1987.”
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW.
And if you are looking for a scary movie to watch for Halloween, we've got some suggestions. There is the new "Carrie" remake.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "CARRIE")
CHLOE GRACE MORETZ: (as Carrie White) I want to be normal.
PORTIA DOUBLEDAY: (as Chris Hargesen) Wipe that smile off your face.
MORETZ: (as Carrie White) I have to try and be a whole person before it's too late.
HOBSON: There's also "Insidious 2" in which evil spirits are still possessing, haunting and torturing an entire family.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2")
TY SIMPKINS: (as Dalton Lambert) I heard voices in the hallway. Is there something wrong with Daddy, Mom?
HOBSON: And there's "You're Next," in which a group of axe murderers descend on a family reunion.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "YOU'RE NEXT")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as character) Why would anybody do this?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as character) He's been watching us for days.
HOBSON: But if you want a little comedy to go with your fear, what about delving into the smaller but wackier genre of horror comedy?
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "WITCHES' BREW")
GARY-KAYI FLETCHER: (as Preston Oakley) Don't sell Slacker Lager to anyone.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (as character) Well, it's a little late for the warning, Preston, but thanks.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (as character) What the hell happened?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (as character) He was my best customer. He just tried to eat me. What the hell is going on?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (as character) A witch cursed the beer. Everyone who drinks it, some horrible, terrible thing happens to them.
FLETCHER: (as character) They die.
HOBSON: That film is called "Witches' Brew." It was written and directed by Chris LaMartina, who is an award-winning horror-comedy filmmaker. He joins us now from WYPR in Baltimore. Welcome.
CHRIS LAMARTINA: Thanks so much, Jeremy.
HOBSON: Well, tell us what a horror comedy is exactly.
LAMARTINA: So I think a horror comedy is a film that has elements of the supernatural or some sort of evil element like monsters or serial killers. It plays into a certain sense of, you know, being morbid or uses horror with accents of comedy to lighten the mood or provide a different sense of escapism.
HOBSON: But they're not for kids per se.
LAMARTINA: No. I would not say horror comedies are for kids. There's still plenty of sex and violence in lots of horror comedies that it's not appropriate for younger audiences.
HOBSON: Is a movie like "I Know What You Did Last Summer" or "Scream," does that fall into that category?
LAMARTINA: I would call "Scream" a horror comedy, yeah.
HOBSON: All right. So in your 2010 movie "President's Day," there is a high school that is terrorized by a masked murderer dressed as Abraham Lincoln during the school elections. Let's take a listen to a clip.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "PRESIDENT'S DAY")
MARY JANE OELKE: (as Mrs. Frederica) Students, if you have trash, please put it in the wastebasket. If I make a mess of this place, the janitor will have my head.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: (as character) The janitor is dead, Mrs. Frederica.
OELKE: (as Mrs. Frederica) Really? I just can't keep up with all these killings.
HOBSON: So what possessed you to start making movies like this?
LAMARTINA: Ooh, possessed me. Is that a pun?
HOBSON: I know. See? That's good wording right there.
LAMARTINA: Well, it was the devil. No, I'm just kidding. My very superstitious Italian godmother would not like me....
LAMARTINA: ...joking about that.
HOBSON: Don't make her mad.
LAMARTINA: I mean - but I - honestly, I would say, a lot of - the reason why I started making horror comedies or why I've been so attracted to horror throughout my life is situations like that. I was watched a lot by my very superstitious Italian godmother, Marylou, and she would tell me stories about the saints and stuff like - when she told me about stigmata, I was amazed.
When we would go visit relatives' graves in the cemetery, things like that whet my taste a little bit for the esoteric and the weird. And as I grew up, you know, my sister and my brother were significantly older, and they had taped all these weird horror comedies off of TV and late-night cable when I was a kid. And that was sort of my library of films that I drew from, throughout time I've grown to emulate in my filmmaking career.
HOBSON: Well, and it really does break the tension to have a joke in there, especially in a horror movie, which a lot of people makes them very anxious to even watch one because they know that at any moment somebody is going to come in with an ax or something like that, and the moment becomes very scary, and then you get a joke and you're still having fun.
LAMARTINA: Well, I think that's what's always attracted me to horror comedies. I think the real world is depressing enough. I don't want to go to the movies and be depressed further. And I think with horror comedies, you have that sense of escapism. It's very primal. It's stories about life and death, but you have humor to deal with issues that are - they're very sensitive issues. And humor allows us to lighten up a little bit.
HOBSON: Now, you have a new one coming out. It's called "WNUF Halloween Special." It is made up of footage that looks like it is found footage from a TV station's investigation of a local haunted house. Let's take a listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "WNUF HALLOWEEN SPECIAL")
PAUL FAHRENKOPF: (as Frank Stewart) We are standing in front of the Webber House in River Hill Township, the former home of Paul and Linda Webber, who were murdered by their son, Donald, over 20 years ago in this very house. The house has laid vacant since, kept alive only by terrifying memories and neighborhood ghost stories. But tonight, WNUF-TV 28 is going to take you inside for the first time in 20 years. We have actually assembled a team of paranormal researchers, and we're going to be going in the house with them to unravel the mystery and figure out if this house is, in fact, haunted.
HOBSON: Now, I don't mean to pop the bubble here, but the footage is actually footage that you shot. It was not found. But do you think that the veneer of reality makes things scarier?
LAMARTINA: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think the thing is, the rise of the found footage subgenre of horror in the last 15 years or so is attributed to that reality factor. People relate to things and are more afraid of situations that could actually happen to them. I mean, werewolves and vampires are great, but I think when you put the face on something that could actually happen to you or someone that you love, it's way scarier.
When we set out to make "WNUF Halloween Special," we wanted to make something that played into that found footage aesthetic but on our own terms. Our brand had evolved into high-concept horror comedies, and we thought, well, found footage movies aren't usually comedies. They're actually pretty serious. That didn't attract it to us. We wrote a list of all things about found footage films that we didn't like, and we tried to make a film in that genre but on our own terms.
HOBSON: And the one that people will probably think of, going back a little bit here, is "The Blair Witch Project," which looked like it had been filmed on a handheld camera. And I think for a while after it came out, people thought that it might have been. In fact, it hadn't.
LAMARTINA: Sure. And that was the type of model that we were thinking about for our distribution model with "WNUF Halloween Special." We wanted to make a film that played into the nostalgia and love of kids that grew up watching late-night local TV. I mean, that's the one problem that we had with some of these found footage films, was the fact that, you know, when you go to a store and buy a Blu-ray or a DVD with the UPC code that's a found footage film, you already sort of know, like, OK, it's a goof.
LAMARTINA: When we distributed "WNUF," we left VHS tapes, like, at thrift stores and horror conventions, I literally would drive down the street and throw them out my window for months before we made - we officially released the film because we wanted someone to actually believe that this was a broadcast recorded off of local television in 1987. When people had to get a VCR to watch our film initially, we knew it was going to become more than just a film. It would become an experience. They'd have to go to their closet and dust off their VCR. And that mindset...
HOBSON: If they have one anymore. They might have sold it off on eBay years ago.
LAMARTINA: That's true. Then they've got to go over to a friend's house, which makes it even better. Because as we know, watching a horror movie with a bunch of friends and a bowl of popcorn is, like, the best way to watch a horror movie, especially an old VHS tape because then you just get memories of growing up and, like, going to the video store. And that was the audience we were going after for "WNUF Halloween Special." You know, the kids that had rented every horror title in their video store and would stay up late watching music videos on a Friday night.
HOBSON: So what is your favorite horror comedy that you have not made?
LAMARTINA: I wouldn't even say the films that I've made are my favorites at all. I grew up loving '80s horror comedies, so I'd have to recommend, like, the classics to me, things like "Return of the Living Dead," "Fright Night," "Monster Squad." Those are three of my top horror movies for Halloween.
HOBSON: Back to the '80s. And the next movie you're working on is called the "Call Girl of Cthulhu," which sounds like it's about, what, escorts and monsters.
LAMARTINA: In shorter terms, yeah. Basically, it's our horror sex comedy. It's a love letter to weird fiction author H.P. Lovecraft. And, you know, it's basically about a virginal artist who falls in love with a prostitute who is destined to be the bride of the alien god Cthulhu. We spent months researching the work of Lovecraft, and I think people who are familiar with his work will really find something to enjoy.
HOBSON: All right. Well, comedy horror director Chris LaMartina, thank you so much and have a great Halloween.
LAMARTINA: Thank you.
HOBSON: Robin, do you have a favorite scary movie for Halloween?
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
Oh, no. No, no. You're talking to someone who hasn't seen "Jaws." And I think the scary movie I last saw was, like, "Thirteen Ghosts." It did me in. How about you?
HOBSON: I saw "Poltergeist" when I was a kid, and it scared me away from scary movies for a long time. I was way too young to see that movie.
YOUNG: See, years of therapy. But we asked listeners what movie makes them either laugh or scream at facebook.com/hereandnowradio.
HOBSON: And we've gotten a couple of shout-outs already. Halle Babsen(ph) says "Poltergeist" is her favorite. No comedy there, though, really.
YOUNG: And Samantha Smonster(ph)? - is that possible? - wrote "Last House on the Left" is the most psychologically disturbing, but her favorite is "Halloween."
HOBSON: And Nancy Clark has an oldie-but-a-goodie: "Arsenic and Old Lace."
YOUNG: See? That, OK, I can do.
HOBSON: I don't know if I'd call that a scary movie, though.
YOUNG: Let us know yours.
HOBSON: From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.
YOUNG: I'm Robin Young. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
Jeremy Hobson joins Robin Young as co-host of Here & Now in its new 2-hour format, from WBUR and NPR.
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