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2 new films join others at the junction of horror and comedy

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

There are a couple of movie titles coming out this month that were designed to catch your eye and also maybe scare you a bit. Check this one out, "Winnie The Pooh: Blood And Honey." It reimagines Winnie as a feral, bloodthirsty beast.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WINNIE THE POOH: BLOOD AND HONEY")

NIKOLAI LEON: (As Christopher) Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, we were friends for many years. And they're out there.

NATASHA ROSE MILLS: (As Jess) There's someone else outside. What was that?

MARTÍNEZ: And then later this month, "Cocaine Bear." That one's loosely based on a true story about a black bear that got into a stash of coke. And then this one goes on a kill-crazy rampage.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "COCAINE BEAR")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Millions of dollars' worth of cocaine fell from the sky this morning in Knoxville, Tenn.

ALDEN EHRENREICH: (As character) The bear did cocaine.

CHRISTIAN CONVERY: (As character) You're safe. Bears can't climb trees.

JESSE TYLER FERGUSON: (As character) Of course they can.

(SCREAMING)

MARTÍNEZ: Both films are somewhat at the junction of horror and comedy, a blend that's become quite common in recent years. So when did slaughtering people become just so darn funny? For that, let's bring in Jordan Crucchiola. She writes about film and even talks about it occasionally. Jordan, welcome.

JORDAN CRUCCHIOLA: Hi. Thank you so much for having me.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, killing people, really funny, right (laughter)?

CRUCCHIOLA: Well, it's long been at least on the scale of somewhat funny to uproariously so. If you take it, really, into the slasher genre, obviously, as it commenced formally with Bob Clark's 1974 film "Black Christmas," very not funny. Very somber and harrowing. Then you have "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" by Tobe Hooper, also more on the not funny side, same thing with "Halloween." But then you bring in the fourth horsemen of the apocalypse, Freddy Krueger in "A Nightmare On Elm Street" in the 1980s. And Freddy has always been quite the cut up.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER")

KEN SAGOES: (As Kincaid) I'll see you in hell.

ROBERT ENGLUND: (As Freddy) Tell them Freddy sent you.

CRUCCHIOLA: And then the "Child's Play" franchise that starts in 1988. And Chucky has always been...

MARTÍNEZ: (Laughter).

CRUCCHIOLA: ...Always been practically a man of the stand-up stage.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CHILD'S PLAY 3")

BRAD DOURIF: (As Chucky) Nothing like a strangulation to get the circulation going.

CRUCCHIOLA: The relationship between horror and comedy structurally is quite similar. You're doing build-ups to pay-offs for your bits. But instead of the breakthrough of those bits being laughter, the breakthrough of those bits is shrieks and terror. So the relationship with horror and comedy, I mean, we can take that all the way back to, like, the "Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein" kind of in the 1940s. But the relationship, like, between the "Body Count" movie and comedy has been entrenched since the slasher really was settling into its first heyday in the 1980s.

MARTÍNEZ: Let's take a pacifist view for just one second, Jordan.

CRUCCHIOLA: Sure.

MARTÍNEZ: So let's - violence played for laughs. I mean, is that cool? Or are we kind of at a point where that's OK if it's in a movie?

CRUCCHIOLA: The thing about horror is, is that it has always been a mirror of our social anxieties. So you have this genre of film that is the sledgehammer instead of the scalpel of cinema. Like, it's not coming in here to deliver a subtle message of what's going on around you. It's the wrecking ball dropping the word upon you. And so, I think, in times of great social stress, the horror film is our pressure release valve. And so having an option within that to have the pressure release valve include laughter, that makes the horror genre, to me, our most textured genre of film...

MARTÍNEZ: Wow.

CRUCCHIOLA: ...In terms of the communal experience that you can share with people in that great, like, church of the theater.

MARTÍNEZ: But, Jordan, do we know that we love horror comedy films? Because for someone that goes to the movies a lot, if I were to give that person, you know, a pen and a paper and said, write down the best movies you've seen this year, they may have loved a horror comedy film that year. But they won't, probably, put it in their Top 10 of best films of 2022 or 2023. Why do you think that is?

CRUCCHIOLA: Horror fans are not people who are looking for the institutional validation to validate their own tastes and what they know to be true. But I think that kind of validation, were it to become more commonplace, would give others in the broad populace of movie watchers more permissions to be like, I can celebrate what these movies achieve on the same level as an "All Quiet On The Western Front," these Best Picture nominees. But that conversation, unfortunately, does, in some way, need to start at the top so that the general population may understand what horror watchers have long known, which is that our movies are better than yours.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Jordan Crucchiola. She writes about films. And sometimes she even talks about them, like she just did with me. Jordan, thanks a lot.

CRUCCHIOLA: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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