For those who like a little laughter with their terror, comic horror is for you. This subgenre combines elements of both horror and comedy. Often confused with black comedy, or dark comedy, comic horror employs the use of sarcasm, satire, and perhaps most importantly, gallows humor to coax a laugh, even in the scariest of situations. It is this connection to gallows humor that creates the connection to dark comedy. Gallows humor is a type of comedy that uses the death and darkness for the sake of laughter.
Unlike dark comedy, comic horror uses these devices to give the reader a reason to laugh at their fears, yet at the same time allowing the reader to feel safe, like the monsters can't get them. That's why characters in comic horror are almost always placed in familiar settings with relatively predictable stories. If you know what's going to happen, you will be prepared; you will be safe.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, published in 1849, is widely considered to be the first horror comedy. Even in the adaptation, the character of Ichabod Crane is laughable. The story follows the same predictable path as the story that he is told at the ball, and the theme is centered around Halloween devilment. So, the reader dances between sly amusement at Crane's antics to terror at the violence of the Headless Horseman.
Though The Legend of Sleepy Hollow may be one of the first horror comedies published. Horror comedy did not really rise to popularity until World War I when audiences needed their horror to be tempered with laughter. The subgenre takes its roots from stage performances rater than literature, such as The Ghost Breaker. The Ghost Breaker was a silent film made in 1914 that was a haunted house horror with comedic elements. It was based on a play staged in 1909.
A more modern example of comic horror in film is Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, which takes on all the tropes of classic serial killer movies and encourages the audience to laugh at them, all while offering the traditional thrills and chills. The Scream series, as well, are good examples of comic horror.
Level of Characterization: The level of characterization in comic horror varies, but is generally low to moderate. The subgenre relies on archetypes, such as the bumbling schoolyeacher in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. This helps the reader become instantly with the story. However, comic horror can have a range of characterizations as long as the elements of the story produce the desired level of familiarity for the reader to feel safe.
Level of Plot: Plot level for comic horror is traditionally low, as part of the appeal is that the audience has tread these boards before, and they know what is coming next. This allows the reader the safety to laugh at the horror elements.
Level of Supernatural: The level of supernatural in comic horror is variable as it depends upon the horror tropes that the particular story adopts. All subgenres of horror can be included in comic horror. This includes vampire, zombie, supernatural, witches, etc. As such, the level of supernatural in a comic horror will depend upon the story itself.
Level of Scary: The level of scary in comic horror typically low. Comic horror is considered a good safe scare because no matter how horrific things can become, the next laugh is always just a few pages away. This makes comic horror a good introduction to the genre for those who are easily spooked.
Level of Violence: Again, the level of violence in comic horror varies. Violence is a trope of the horror genre. A comic horror can be gruesome as seen in movies like John Dies at the End and the Scream series. However, moderate to low violence is typical of comic horror, as too much violence would ruin the comedic elements.
Almost any horror subgenre can be related to comic horror. Good examples are supernatural, zombie, vampire, serial killer, and haunted house. As horror comedies borrow from the other horror subgenres for stories, characters, and thematic elements, they are all fair game. Dark comedy is the most closely related genre to comic horror, and the two are often confused.
Laughter. In all seriousness, if you're looking for a good, serious scare or extreme violence, gore, or terror, look elsewhere. Fans of quiet, atmospheric horror may also find the comedic aspects of comic horror to jarring. It may ruin the mood. If you're looking for highly original plots and characters, these, too, are tough to find in comic horror, as the reason that comic horror is appealing is its familiarity. That is not to say that there is no originality in comic horror, but the scary elements will always contain an air of the recognizable.
John Dies at the End by David Wong- When David and John try a mind-altering drug called Soy Sauce, they discover that Hell itself is poised to invade and only they can stop it. Written by Jason Pargin (under the name David Wong), an editor at Cracked.com, this story is a hilarious and bizarre rip on Lovecraftian horror.
Chew: Taster's Choice by John Layman and Rob Guillory- Tony Chu literally takes a bite out of crime in this witty comic about a detective who gets psychic impressions from the things he eats. Layman's sarcastic writing style shines as Chu takes on the FDA's most bizarre cases.
Bloodsucking Fiends by Chistopher Moore- The first in Moore's Love Story series, Bloodsucking Fiends is a light, funny take on vampires.
Married with Zombies by Jesse Petersen- A couple on the verge of divorce suddenly finds themselves in the midst of the zombie apocalypse. Instead of trying not to kill each other, they're battling hordes of the undead, using methods pulled straight from zombie movie plotlines. Married with Zombies is first in the Living with the Dead series and is a charming take on zombies.
Resume with Monsters by William Browning Spencer- This is what you get when you mix Cthulhu and The Office. This satire places Phillip Kenan on a mission to rescue his ex-girlfriend, Amelia, from working for Lovecraftian monsters, just as he did at their first job together, but are they real?
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith- An expanded edition of Jane Austen's classic featuring brain-munching zombies and butt-kicking Bennet sisters, this story is a slightly terrifying parody.
Gil's All-Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez- A road trip buddy comedy turns horrific when Duke and Earl stop at an all-night diner and end up needing to save the diner from other-worldly forces. This funny novel takes on zombie, vampire, werewolf, and supernatural horror.
Damned by Chuck Palahnuick- When 13 year-old Madison Spencer winds up in Hell, she and a group of teen misfits journey across the abyss to confront Satan himself. Hell is bizarre and disgusting, and filled with Palahnuick's characteristic twisted humor.
Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks- In a parody of survival guides like Worst Case Scenario, Max Brooks creates a meticulous guidebook to the zombie apocalypse.
Fat White Vampire Blues by Andrew Fox- In this vampire comedy, 350 year old vampire Jules has a mountain of problems. He's over 400 pounds from the fatty food his victims eat, and a healthy, young vampire has come to take over his territory.