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Five horror movies by comedy directors

Five horror movies by comedy directors (photo)

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Before this weekend, Kevin Smith was always known as a comedy guy. “Clerks,” “Chasing Amy,” “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” plus his Smodcast podcast and Q&A-slash-stand-up films like “An Evening With Kevin Smith.” He stretched himself a little into drama, animation, and acting, but until his new film “Red State” — available now on VOD — the scariest thing Kevin Smith had ever directed was “Jersey Girl” (I kid).

The transition from comedy to horror is rarely an easy one for directors. Few guys as entrenched in the comedy genre as Smith have ever tried to break out of it, and even fewer have made their break successfully. Here are five interesting — and very different — examples of horror movies made by guys we’d typically classify as comedy directors. We’ll get to see soon enough how Smith’s big move compares with theirs.

“Misery” (1990)
Directed by Rob Reiner
Comedy Resume: “This is Spinal Tap” (1984), “The Princess Bride” (1987), “When Harry Met Sally…” (1989)
Outcome: Very solid. The film earned $60 million, respectable dollars for 1990, and today is widely regarded as one of the best cinematic adaptations of author Stephen King’s work. “Misery” holds up well, too: if you haven’t watched it in a while (or ever) revisit it and check out Kathy Bates’ crazy performance as obsessed fan Anne Wilkes. In 2011, she looks like a prescient figure, the prototype for the ultimate Internet fanboy. George Lucas better hope his car never breaks down on a snowy mountain road…

“An American Werewolf in London” (1981)
Directed by John Landis
Comedy Resume: “Kentucky Fried Movie” (1977), “Animal House” (1978), “The Blues Brothers” (1980)
Outcome: Exceptional. From a practical perspective, the film made $30 million at the U.S. box office in 1981 and went on to earn untold millions more on home video. Its cult grew large enough to justify a sequel, 1997’s “An American Werewolf in Paris.” But even if “American Werewolf” hadn’t made back its money, this one would still rate as the all-time great comedy-to-horror directorial switch. Landis managed to bring his comedic skills to a truly scary movie and made what I think is still the best horror comedy of all time, a film that’s equally good at wringing laughs and screams from audiences. Landis has remained a predominantly comedy-oriented director in the thirty years since, though he’s returned to the horror genre a few times, notably in the big-screen adaptation of “The Twilight Zone” and 1992’s “Innocent Blood,” his version of vampires.

“The Day the Clown Cried” (1972)
Directed by Jerry Lewis
Comedy Resume: “The Ladies Man” (1961), “The Nutty Professor” (1963), “The Family Jewels” (1965)
Outcome: Legendarily bad. Strictly speaking, “The Day the Clown Cried” might not be considered a horror movie. But its horrifying subject matter — a clown (named Helmut Doork, played by Lewis) who leads Jewish children into the Nazi gas chambers during the Holocaust — and the supposed quality of the final product qualify it in my eyes. I say “supposed” and “legendarily” because only a handful of people have ever seen this movie, which has never been released to this day. “The Simpsons”‘ Harry Shearer, one of the few men who’ve watched the finished film, told Spy Magazine in 1992, that seeing “The Day the Clown Cried” was “really awe-inspiring, in that you are rarely in the presence of a perfect object. This was a perfect object. This movie is so drastically wrong, its pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is. ‘Oh My God!’ Thats all you can say.” Lewis reportedly refuses to speak about the movie in interviews, or even acknowledge its existence. He only directed two more movies in his career after “The Clown Cried.” Both, not surprisingly, were comedies.

Shearer talking about “The Day the Clown Cried” on “The Howard Stern Show:”

“Dragonfly” (2002)
Directed by Tom Shadyac
Comedy Resume: “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” (1994), “Liar Liar” (1997), “Patch Adams” (1999)
Outcome: A quiet flop. “Dragonfly” was Shadyac’s follow-up to his surprise 1998 hit “Patch Adams,” and it’s another movie about an altruistic doctor. This guy, played by Kevin Costner, has lost his wife and is starting to think she may still be hovering around him like a ghost (or a dragonfly, her favorite animal before she died). The problem, as identified by critic Stephanie Zacharek in her review of the film, is that Shadyac never quite figured out just how frightening his movie should be. “[Shadyac] layers the movie with lots of mystical-spooky touches that don’t really need to be there,” Zacharek writes. “In fact, they raise more questions than they answer: If [Costner’s wife] is a benevolent spirit who’s simply trying to get her husband’s attention, why does she seemingly cause her cranky, beloved pet parrot to suffer a seizure?” The film made $30 million at the box office, the same as “An American Werewolf in London,” but these were thirty million 2002 dollars, not 1981 dollars, which are quite a bit different.

“Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant” (2009)
Directed by Paul Weitz
Comedy Resume: “American Pie” (1999), “About a Boy” (2002), “In Good Company” (2004)
Outcome: An even quieter flop. In fact, I had to double-check this movie ever came out at all in the U.S.; I remembered covering it at Fantastic Fest 2009, and never heard about it again. The film did open in theaters, earning just $13 million domestically and a 38% rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. The film was more of a horror-fantasy hybrid than a straight-ahead scary movie, one clearly designed in an attempt to capitalize on “Twilight,” another teen-oriented vampire movie franchise. In a strange twist, Weitz’s brother Chris — who he collaborated with on his early hits like “American Pie” and “About a Boy” — wound up directing the second “Twilight” film, “New Moon,” which opened a few months after “Cirque du Freak” in 2009. That one, as you may recall, was a massive hit.

Do you have a favorite horror movie by a comedy director? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.