Friday, August 11, 2017

"Watch Out" and the way humor works in horror

Humor and horror can make for a queasy mix. Too many straight-ahead horror movies treat human lives like trash, thanks in part to the "Saw" and "Hostel" franchises but going back to Z-grade slashers and gorefests from many decades past. Trying to blend humor with horror tropes can make a fairly insensitive, dehumanizing horror flick seem downright mean-spirited.

When dark humor works well in horror, however, the results can be thrilling, as in remarkable films like "The Cabin in the Woods" and "Get Out" and honorable mentions such as "Ginger Snaps" and "Tucker & Dale vs. Evil." In the best-case scenario, humor makes the horror more palatable while also developing and humanizing the characters and delivering a more memorable, and meaningful, narrative. When horror-comedy works, it really works; when it doesn't, well, sometimes we get "Leprechaun in the Hood."

"Watch Out," a short film available on Hulu via the NBCUniversal Short Film Festival ("a bicoastal program seeking the next generation of writers, directors, producers and actors, while celebrating innovative storytelling from diverse backgrounds"), isn't "Cabin in the Woods"-level awesome -- but hey, few movies are. However, it deftly presents itself as one thing -- straight horror -- before downshifting to some surprisingly light-on-its-feet comedy, then lingering in the Venn diagram overlap space for a bit longer than you expect.

"Watch Out" takes a simple premise -- definitely a "Why didn't I think of that?" kind of setup -- and makes considerable hay. The film succeeds primarily because it follows the No. 1 rule of horror-comedy: Violence itself is rarely funny, but people's responses to violence, and its direct aftermath, definitely can be. Situational and/or character-based dark comedy goes a much longer way, most of the time, than trying to make plain ol' gore hilarious.

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