BY: SAM PARKER
Originally, in honor of #SpookySZN, I was tasked with writing a review of the newest “not comic book movie, comic book movie,” about the not Jared Leto, not Heath Ledger, not Batman-fighting (technically), failed sadistic comedian played by Johnny Cash and written by the guy that produced A Star is Born (2018) and directed by the guy that wrote The Hangover franchise. Of course, I’m talking about Joker, written and directed by Todd Phillips.
For this review, I’m going to keep it short. I liked the movie. I thought Hookedon Phonics did an amazing job showing the transformation of such a well-known, deeply disturbing character, and gave a performance that should definitely be nominated for an Academy Award. After the perfect performance that Heath Ledger gave in The Dark Knight, it would be hard for anyone to take over as The Joker. Because of that, I thought it was wise of Phoenix to pull a Rick Barnes and wait for someone else to fail miserably at the job, after the loss of an all-time great, then slide in and prove that someone else can actually do a good job in that role. In terms of the movie’s legacy, I think it will do for comic book movies what The Jungle Book (2016) did for Disney movies: it will usher in a new way of making them, whether that’s good or bad, and allow directors to put their own spin on classic stories and characters while making a metric buttload of money.
The moments and images from Joker that I’ve been thinking about the most aren’t the ones that made the audience gasp or shield their eyes from the gore and blood, it’s the moments that were genuinely funny and that made me laugh (Disclaimer: I’m not one of those guys that security ushered out after literally LOLing while watching The Joker murder people). There are moments in Joker that are purposefully very funny. Most people have been talking about how violent the film is and how it will spark riots and acts of hate, but all I could think about were the funny moments.
Sure, it might just be some good ole-fashioned comic relief, like watching a little person struggle to reach a lock on a door while trying to leave The Joker’s murder scene, but it’s still hilarious. It’s scenes like these that show that juxtaposition can be a filmmaker’s most powerful tool, and prove that comedies and horror movies are two sides of the same coin. This is the reason why Todd Phillips was a perfect person to direct this movie. Phillips wrote and directed The Hangover movies as well as the “frat pack” classic Old School. The latter is essentially a comedic version of Fight Club that features Vince Vaughn in the “Tyler Durden” role, which further proves Phillips’s ability to take a story and change the tone completely while peppering in bits of both humor and suspense (YOU’RE MY BOY BLUE!!).
The more I thought about reviewing Joker, the more I thought about other movies and other directors that have subverted the scary movie genre and blended it with comedy and vice versa. Joker is just the latest example of a writer/director displaying their amphibious filmmaking skills. In just the past several years (sure an argument could be made that Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin mastered the scary/comedy crossover by showing death-defying stunts that made audiences question if they should laugh or cower in fear 90 years ago, but that’s a different essay entirely, you nerds) we’ve seen multiple directors perfectly blend the two genres, or make a complete crossover to one genre while still throwing in a dash of the other. In honor of Joker and #SpookySZN I’ve provided a list of directors who have either blended comedy and horror or successfully crossed over and made movies that fall under both genres respectively:
*Disclaimer: I kept Quentin Tarantino off this list because he’s a genre on his own
Goddard wrote the screenplay for Cloverfield, World War Z, and The Martian. He’s only directed two movies, but both of these movies are what earns his spot on this list. When the trailer for The Cabin In The Woods came out in 2011, I immediately said, “Nope, I’m good.” I’m a wimp when it comes to scary movies and don’t particularly seek them out. But after a friend saw it and told me it was “different” and swore I’d actually like it, I hesitantly agreed to see it. And I gotta say I loved it. I want to call it a “spoof” on scary movies, but that doesn’t seem to do it justice. It is the perfect blend of horror and comedy and is extremely entertaining.
The next movie that Goddard wrote and directed is 2018’s Bad Times at The El Royale. It’s another perfectly written mystery movie that freaks you out, but leaves you wanting more out of its charismatic characters and nostalgic setting. I should mention that everyone’s favorite Greek God from Australia, Chris Hemsworth, is in both of these movies. I think his insanely good looks and perfect body cloud people from seeing his legit acting chops. Bad Times is a perfect mix of his stellar abs and stellar acting. Hemsworth is a great metaphor for Goddard’s ability to draw you in with one thing, then bodyslam you with something entirely different.
If you Google “best horror movie directors” James Wan is No 3. Wan directed Saw, The Conjuring, and Insidious – on top of writing and/or producing three more movies in the Insidious franchise and roughly 80 more Saw movies. The reason he’s on this list is because from 2004-2015 he was undoubtedly the king of horror.
However, his reign ended in 2015 because that’s the year he switched over and directed the seventh installment in the Fast and Furious franchise, aptly named Furious 7. I will assertively state that Furious 7 is the third best movie in the franchise, which says a lot considering the franchise has made over $5 billion and includes seven other movies (not including Hobbes & Shaw). Wan really doubled down on his action-comedy franchise directing skills when he directed Aquaman in 2018. Say what you want about Aquaman, but it’s the best movie in the DC Universe that isn’t called Wonderwoman. Aquaman cashed in on the comic book sense of humor and hokiness, while still featuring some good scares and suspense (Wan could easily turn The Trench scene into a horror DC spinoff).
One could argue that you don’t have to be a particularly outstanding director to make a successful movie in either of these franchises. However, as I stated, they are the second and third best movies in their respective franchises. But what might be even more impressive is that Aquaman and Furious 7 are the highest grossing movies within their respective franchises.
Aster has written and directed only two feature length films. However, both of his movies were among the most talked about and critically acclaimed movies of the years they were released. His first movie, Hereditary, received an 89 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and an 87 percent on Metacritic. I typically never pay attention to either of those scores. However, after literally pissing my pants out of fear after just watching the trailer, I decided this movie wasn’t for me and have yet to look back. So, for you horror fans out there, you should probably check it out and wear some Depend Adult Diapers.
Aster’s second movie, one that I actually saw, was 2019’s bizarre horror/thriller/romcom/travel movie Midsommar. The movie revolves around a group of American grad students who travel to Sweden to take part in a midsummer festival at their friend’s small village. Already, it’s a great premise. It’s a fish-out-of-water story that’s more of an “annoying little ass American guppies that just want to do drugs out of water at a Swedish bear colony where the bears act like nice welcoming Swedes but they’re actually super into death” story. You know the one.
But what’s most riveting and innovative is that because Midsommar takes place in Sweden in the summer, the entire movie is in daylight. Aster finds a way to use this bright setting, which is typically the opposite in horror movies, to show the audience even more than they’d typically bargain for. He proves that scary things don’t only happen at night when the lights are off. Although this movie is deeply demented and unsettling, you feel like you, too, are tripping on shrooms because you are laughing at some of the darkest moments and looking at other viewers saying, “you’re seeing this too, right?!” It’s got romance, it’s got some genuinely funny dialogue, and it’s got bizarre moments that are unlike anything I’ve ever seen on a screen. I hate scary movies, but I loved this one.
I almost don’t have to write anything about Jordan Peele to prove my point that he’s great at using horror and humor. Get Out and Us made everyone say, “Holy shit, half of Key and Peele is really really scary.” In the past two years, he’s upped his creativity, kept some humor, and dropped an atomic bomb of horror on us. He established himself as a comedian, then right when we got comfortable, he scared the shit out of us. And for that, he gets even more fake points that I just now came up with.
Now all I have to ask is: When is Seth Rogen coming out with a horror film?