Humour and horror have a long and glorious relationship. From Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow right through to recent movies such as Zombieland, gallows humour shows no sign of losing its popularity.
When writing Gape I didn’t really set out to add another branch to this long line, but in imbuing the characters with a little bit of myself, it became impossible to avoid. After all, my own particular sense of humour is of the decidedly dark flavour and I tend to see the absurd in most things – especially those others see as sacred. In fact I’d argue that comedic horror is just another form of iconoclasm in that it subverts tropes and expectations, and undermines our greatest fears. It pokes fun at death after all.
Imagine the sheer horror of fighting for your life in a creepy shack in the middle of a dense and misty forest. Your possessed and zombified friends are attempting to kill you in all sorts of nasty ways and to top it all; your own hand keeps trying to strangle you. And so, in desperation you cut it off with a chainsaw. None of this should be funny in the slightest. It should be sickening, uncomfortable and nauseating, but instead it’s hilarious. Evil Dead II is one of the funniest films ever and it’s a horror classic to boot.
I think my own first encounter with this sub-genre was with The Bride of Frankenstein. Whereas the first movie was a very earnest affair, solely concerned with being shocking, the sequel is a masterpiece of comedic horror. I was too young at the time to understand James Whale’s veiled homosexual and Christian references. What did tickle me though was the idea of the creature dancing, smoking and drinking, the continuous campy innuendo of Earnest Thesiger’s Doctor Pretorius and Una O’Connor’s hamming it up as Minnie, the highly strung maid.
A word of warning though: if you’re one of the few people out there not to have seen this classic, it’s best you avoid watching Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein beforehand. Brooks just takes everything to a whole new level of pastiche and even the original’s most touching moments become farcical to watch. It’s a bit like trying to watch Zefirelli’s Jesus of Nazereth after watching Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
Of course there are some really sub-par comedy horror moves. Love at First Bite is hopelessly stuck in the 1970s disco era – there a vampire pinned to his coffin. Dracula: Dead and Loving It took the Airplane format of cheesy jokes just a bit too far. And don’t get me started on the Scary Movie franchise. More recently though, we’ve had Shaun of the Dead, Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil and The Cabin in the Woods to help restore the balance.
If I’ve talked about movies rather than books, it’s because I don’t really read humorous horror novels. The last one that I read that might come under that description was Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. I’d admit a debt to Douglas Adams perhaps and to Gaiman, but I didn’t have comedy horror in mind when I started work on Gape. It was just the result of that strangely natural union between the two forms. Life in all its forms has to be laughed at; else, to use the cliché, you end up crying (or screaming!).
Gape by Aiden Truss
When Rose woke up in her favourite shop doorway, she was resigned to yet another day of hunger, struggle and abuse. This was life on the streets after all.
What she wasn’t prepared for was a visit from a demon, an invitation back to his temporally insubstantial sanctuary, and forced to take sides in a battle involving most of the denizens of hell. Oh, and a boat trip down the river Thames.
After a disappointing start to the day, things were about to get a bit more interesting…
Aiden Truss is a forty one year-old geek who still thinks that he’s twenty-one. Despite never having grown up, he’s now been married for twenty four years and has two sons who have grown up against all odds to be strangely well adjusted.
Aiden spends his time flitting between high and low culture: he holds an MA in Cultural and Critical Studies and can often be seen stalking the galleries and museums of London, but also likes watching WWE, listening to heavy metal music, collecting comic books and playing classic video games.
Aiden lives in Kent, England and Gape is his first novel.
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