A narrative needs to convey a substantial number of points to function properly. A lot of the time, this requires genre-blending. A film’s tone can be overall comedic, but the central protagonist still has to face some sort of adversity. In comedy, this is usually portrayed in a rather innocuous way. However, not every movie follows suit.
Some comedies contain at least one scene that has the capacity to outright scare the audience. Maybe it’s a PG-13 rated film with a particularly unexpected scene or a dramatic comedy with a horrifying carnival game. No matter the rating and regardless of genre-blending, the comedy genre is actually responsible for some fairly frightening scenes.
Zoltar In Big (1988) – Stream On Starz
Big stars Tom Hanks as Josh Baskin, a 12-year-old boy who grows into his 30s overnight. Now, Baskin has to step up to his true physical form, all the while navigating the New York City job scene.
The cause of Baskin’s transformation is, of course, magical, and Big utilizes a carnival game to explain the age jump. Called Zoltar, it’s a fortune-teller machine that apparently works without even being plugged in. The first time young Baskin uses the machine, its glowing red eyes alone are enough to warn the audience that things will soon go south. The moving mouth and the game’s sound effects help sell its creepy nature.
The Council In Hot Fuzz (2007) – Stream On Max Go
Edgar Wright’s action movie-referencing classic, Hot Fuzz, mostly sticks to the comedy and hard-action genres. It’s a film that wears its love for the ’80s and early ’90s action films on its sleeve, but there’s also a love for horror.
Wright is not averse to horror, as seen via Shaun of the Dead and his Giallo throwback, Last Night in Soho, but Hot Fuzz also delved into the genre. Namely, the two protagonists discover that all of the murders they’ve been investigating have been committed by the very townspeople who surround them.
Dorian Tyrell In The Mask (1994) – Stream On HBO Max
The Mask was one of three Jim Carrey movies from 1994 and, while Dumb and Dumber is never scary, the Carrey Dark Horse Comics movie comes close. When Carrey’s Stanley Ipkiss is taken over by The Mask, he’s a delinquent, but an overall harmless goofball. Ambitious gangster Dorian Tyrell, however, grows bulky and even meaner.
The Mask accentuates and intensifies repressed desire, then releases it to the world. The more violent and sadistic the individual wearing The Mask, the more excessively evil they’ll become while green-faced. In the case of Tyrell, his green-faced appearance is monstrous.
Most Of The Cable Guy’s Behavior In The Cable Guy (1996) – Stream On Starz
The Cable Guy came on the heels of two very successful years for Jim Carrey, and it didn’t measure up in terms of box office results. Carrey blew through Hollywood’s doors in 1994 with a near-unprecedented line of successes: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber. Then, 1995 brought Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls and Batman: Forever.
The Cable Guy represented a notable downturn in Carrey’s box office drawing power, as he was given an inordinate salary for a comic actor, yet the film underperformed. Carrey would still continue to dominate, but there’s little doubt his edgy and unsettling performance in what was ostensibly a straightforward comedy took the audience by surprise.
The Drug Tripping Scene In Booksmart (2019) – Stream On Hulu
Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart is a coming-of-age comedy with one freaky scene. When Molly Davidson (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy Antsler (Kaitlyn Dever) are dropped off at the wrong party, they end up eating one of Gigi’s (Billie Lourd) drug-laced strawberries.
The hallucinogenic fruit “turns” the young women into Barbie-type dolls, at which point they knock the toys’ ridiculous and sexist accentuation of female attributes. The big-eyed design for the dolls during the bad trip is impressive, and the image of them screaming and running around can prove as unsettling as Gigi.
Large Marge In Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985) – Stream On Kanopy
Tim Burton’s well-aged Pee-wee’s Big Adventure marked the director’s first foray into theatres. It also was a display of traits he’d bring to more personal, less family-friendly projects later down the line, like in Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
Specifically, the display of horrific moments in films that are not primarily of the horror genre. Every Burton film includes morbid imagery, even Mars Attacks! and Dumbo, but Large Marge’s swift transformation to a screeching stop-motion monster is his best, made all the better and more morbid by the fact that it’s in a kids’ film.
The Biker In Raising Arizona (1987) – Stream On YouTube
Former professional boxer/martial artist/actor Randall “Tex” Cobb is an intimidating figure standing still. With appearances in movies like Liar Liar and The Golden Child, Cobb was one of Hollywood’s go-to actors for brawny, antagonistic characters during the 1980s and ’90s.
The actor brought his towering presence to the Coen brothers’ Raising Arizona as Leonard Smalls, a ferocious biker who moonlights as a bounty hunter. Arguably Cobb’s most iconic part, Smalls is an exhaust-spewing wrecking ball with his eyes set on black market baby-selling.
The Penguin In The Blues Brothers (1980) – Stream On Peacock
Jon Landis’s Chicago-set comedy, The Blues Brothers, features an intimidating scene early on that may give the viewer nightmares about nuns.
When Jake and Elwood Blues go to visit the orphanage where they were raised, Sister Mary Stigmata gives them some information that sets the plot in motion: the orphanage will be closed unless it can pay $5,000 in property taxes. The way Sister Stigmata aka “The Penguin” is lit, it’s as if she’s staring down to the hellfires below. Then, when she starts whacking the Blues brothers’ knuckles for cursing, it’s enough to make the viewer sit up straight and wince.
Relax In Zoolander (2001) – Stream On Paramount+
When Mugatu, one of the best comedy movie villains of the 2000s, has Derek Zoolander strapped to a chair for his brainwashing, the played movie has a familiar accompanying tune. “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood is in and of itself an eerie-sounding song. It was also used to great effect in Brian De Palma’s surreal Body Double.
Mugatu’s appearance in Zoolander is frightening on its own, with an absurd amount of makeup around his eyes and oddly intimidating crisp white curls. However, seeing his head spin around, chanting, while “Relax” plays is nightmare fuel.
The Library In Ghostbusters (1984) – Available To Rent On Amazon
The late Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters starts off on a memorably creepy note with the library scene. The film’s central villain of Gozer and, particularly, the demon dogs, have their scary moments later in the movie, but there’s a charm to seeing the film’s scientists’ first legitimate paranormal encounter.
Ray Stantz’s plan of “Get her!” is immediately followed by an effective jump scare, which is a perfect first taste of the movie’s unique big-budget comedy-horror tone.
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