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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.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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