This months sub genre/category was chosen by Meredith from M. Carter at the Movies she is joined by three Bloggers hand picked and our host Heather. So I can now hand you over to Meredith for the second Groovers & Mobsters Present: Horace Walpole had an enduring observation about the world, calling it “a tragedy to those who feel, but a comedy to those who think.” Who says it can’t be both at once? Certainly not the writers, directors, producers and stars of films that fall into the grimace-with-laughter dark comedy genre. From the emotionally violent to the downright macabre, dark comedies buff a funny and acidic sheen on the devastating realities of everyday life. Read on to discover how “Heathers” accomplishes this and for a list of must-see dark comedies.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
In terms of dark, I’m not sure it gets any more gloomy than the thought of national and global annihilation and worse, the inability to prevent such an attack. But if you can find humor in the darkest of places, you can bet on finding it here. Yet for a story depicting an inescapable end of days, the characters here-in (when all else fails) take a surprisingly humorous “hey there’s a bright side to this” mentality. Bright side? Really? The unexpected humor is a result of the morbid hilarity that comes from actually having to deal with such inescapable events. Sellers and the crew are in top form, adding levity to the situations, even when their lines really are meant to be serious.
In Dr. Strangelove, the U.S. Military has been sent into a mad dash to counter-act the events caused by an insane base commander. He has initiated “Attack Wing Plan R”, a preemptive strike against a Russian sneak attack…only the Russians haven’t attacked. The film follows the events of the President and the country’s top generals in a War Room trying to abort “Plan R” and the one B-52 team which cannot be reached for recall. To make matters worse they learn the imminent attack on Russia will trigger their secret “Doomsday” device. That tamper-proof device will unleash nuclear fallout and the end of the world…well, for the next 93 years anyway. “The whole purpose of a Doomsday device is lost, if you keep it a secret!! Why didn’t you tell the word!?”
Peter Sellers (playing 3 characters including the zany titular Dr. Strangelove) has never been funnier. Each of his three characters tries to “right the boat” but to no avail. An equally funny George C. Scott, in the wake of the coming disaster, still tries to maintain his composure and U.S. supremacy even though neither has much time left. Further if a film features characters named Commander Jack D. Ripper, and Col. Bat Guano, you’ll come to find rampant insanity hiding in every corner of this film. Yet none more than the attempts to soften the mushroom cloud apocalypse with the song “We’ll Meet Again“. If that’s not darkly humorous, I don’t know what is. A simulcast of seriousness/lunacy abounds the whole ride is about as wild as Slim Pickens’ rodeo swan song.
By Marc form Go,See,Talk!
The King of Comedy (1982)
“Is Mr. Langford expecting you?” Langford’s Secretary - “Yes, I don’t think he is.” – Rupert Pupkin
Meet Rupert Pupkin – whose name is often mispronounced and misspelled. He’s an insecure, timid and dissolutional young man whose dream is to perform a guest spot on “The Jerry Langford Show”. His psychopathic friend Masha is deeply obsessed with Jerry and after numerous failed attempts of Rupert going to Jerry’s office for a meeting – the two devise a plan to kidnap Jerry.
“The King of Comedy” remains to be the greatest Scorsese film that no one has seen. It showcases Robert DeNiro’s finest performance as Rupert, a wickedly hilarious psychotic performance of a lifetime by Sandra Bernhard as Masha and a steady cool and calm of normality that’s brought to the film by Jerry Lewis as Jerry Langford – a Johnny Carson esq late night host.
This film has a nice polish on it, it looks and feels light and breezy but under the façade this is a deeply dark and sinister film. Rupert is so utterly delirious that his basement room is his Mother’s house is a mock studio with cardboard cutouts of celebrities where he performs in front of an invisible audience every night. The film is incredibly funny – yet you find yourself wanting to look away at how terribly humiliating situations in the film become.
After failing to meet with Jerry at his office, Rupert invites a woman who was in love with in high school, and is now a local bartender, to join him for a weekend at Jerry’s home. Rupert arrives at Jerry’s home and forces his way past the butler and maid. He then begins to walk around Jerry’s house telling this woman all about Jerry’s achievements and his life – speaking as if he’s known Jerry for an eternity. Once Jerry arrives home, he demands Rupert leave, he threatens Rupert with the police and begins shouting at him. This is one of many, many situations in the film that is so painfully humiliating to watch we find ourselves wanting to turn away – but we can’t. We are so mesmerized by the film.
This is film is the essence of black comedy, planting the seeds for future films. Will Farrell’s character in “Wedding Crashers” – the grown man living in his off screen mother’s basement who is constantly yelling at her. “The King of Comedy” started that all.
By Frank from Pompous Film Snob
Back in the 1980s, there was a clown car-esque release of movies about teens — their dweeby friends, their terminally unhip parents, their Saturday detentions, their proms and (most important) their neverending quest for carnal treasure. Then came Michael Lehmann’s vicious “Heathers” in 1988, which hammered a croquet mallet on the clichés and the squishy afterschool love-ins that came before. The film leveled an unblinking eye at the quick-n-dirty politics of high school as well as the obliviousness of the adults in charge and, in the process, became the standard not just for dark comedies but for all future teen comedies, too.
The teens in “Heathers” have adapted to the unspoken Darwinian laws of high school. Heather Chandler (Kim Walker) rules her clique of yes women – fearful Heather Duke (Shannen Doherty), bubbleheaded Heather McNamara (Lisanne Falk) and Veronica (Winona Ryder), a precocious student of human nature – with such ferocity that the likes of Pol Pot would bow before her. No one dares to question her authority until shake-up-the-establishment loner J.D. (Christian Slater) pops onto the radar. Not one to become any dictator’s collateral damage, he draws Veronica in his plot to murder Westerburg High’s aristocracy and make their deaths look like scandalous suicides. Soon Veronica’s “teen-angst bullshit” begins to amass a formidable body count.
Commonly labeled as a “teen movie” (and it is a stellar one), “Heathers” is, above all else, a spot-on dark comedy that spins stereotypes into macabre yet revealing jokes. Dark comedies, be they sneaky and subtle or bloody, are meant to shine unwelcome light on the twisted inner workings of human nature and society. They are meant to be fearless. In “Heathers,” scriptwriter Daniel Waters mercilessly skewers the fluffy clichés to get at the mean, cold truths about high school. Societal satires don’t come gutsier or smarter than this. Waters presents all the usual suspects – the fat girl, the lone wolf, the jock – in their natural habitat with a kind of ruthlessness not seen before in movies about teen-agers. Every offhand observation, particularly Veronica’s “She’s my best friend. God, I hate her,” is blisteringly and hilariously accurate. But these aren’t the belly laughs dumb comedy serves up; no, these laughs lump in your throat because it’s all truth and no artificial sweetener. That’s the kind of truth you need a Slushie to wash down.
By Meredith from M. Carter at the Movies
American Beauty (1999)
When I think of the “black comedy”, I always think of films that aren’t traditionally funny, or perhaps a film that I find humorous even though it doesn’t seem like it was intended that way. Two films come to mind when I think of that conundrum and they are American Psycho and American Beauty, but it’s my feeling American Beauty embodies those qualities better than just about any film ever made.
The first line of the movie Lester announces he will be dead in a year, an essential dark tone to begin the journey that has an inevitable conclusion, and yet even in the end when all the characters come to a head and everything explodes the satire underneath doesn’t fail to disappear. The first time I saw American Beauty it felt almost sad, and even a little off setting, but the more often I would watched it it became clear that it’s core was actually comedy. A dark, dark comedy, yes, but it’s there. Lester’s defiance, his wife’s delusions, and his daughters depression all become the source of delicately calculated humor, that to this day makes me laugh out loud as hysterically as a flick like Billy Madison. It is probably one of the most complex and yet simple movies of it’s time and impacted the film world because it was so different from other movies, but aside from thoughtful and beautifully written, impeccably acted by a very gifted cast.
What makes this movie so special even today is it’s constantly evolving. You find something new or enjoyable or funny that wasn’t before in each viewing. American Beauty is a rare and twisted gem in the film world.
By Heather from Movie Mobsters
Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006)
“Are you joking? Do you guys like it here? Who the hell likes being stuck in a place where you can’t even smile? It’s hot as balls—everybody’s an asshole. I just wanna go home.” Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon)
Wristcutters: A Love Story is your basic “boy meets girl” love story. Only, both boy and girl happen to be dead. That puts an awkward spin on your classic romantic comedy. But perfect for a surprisingly literary cinematic examination of damaged souls. Zia and Mikal are both suicides. (Try to place those gender-neutral names). As punishment for taking their own lives, these kids have each been sent to a dull, lifeless wasteland that is full of the worst kind of tedious, self-absorbed people (the kind who think that their deaths will somehow solve the world’s problems). But none of the residents seem to notice that there is anything much wrong with their fates. They continue on with their petty concerns without missing a beat. Mikal highlights this willful blindness when she demands, “Are you joking? Do you guys like it here? Who the hell likes being stuck in a place where you can’t even smile? It’s hot as balls—everybody’s an asshole. I just wanna go home.”
This film is a great example of dark comedy because it flirts with the taboo subjects of suicide and perdition. It examines why humanity almost universally condemns self-harm, and it plays with the idea that many cultures view hell (ironically) as a sort of voluntary self-imprisonment. But then in the midst of all this heavy material, the film goes on to create an absurd catalogue of all the different kinds of narcissists that end up in eternal damnation like this. The vain ones go for glamorous suicide techniques like wrist-cutting. Sad sacks take dull, quiet routes, like carbon monoxide poisoning. And the jerks who really want to stick it to the man go for something really public and messy, like jumping from a building. Sure, it’s weighty stuff, but really, is there anything more comical than human vanity? Dantean references abound as our attractive lovebirds explore every corner of this wasteland, looking for answers and meaning—or just a way out.
By Allison From My Film Habit
Other Recommended Viewing:
- Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
- Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
- Some Like It Hot (1959)
- The Graduate (1967)
- Harold and Maude (1971)
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
- Life of Brian (1979)
- Blood Simple (1984)
- After Hours (1985)
- Delicatessen (1991)
- Swimming with Sharks (1994)
- Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995)
- Fargo (1996)
- Citizen Ruth (1996)
- The Cable Guy (1996)
- Funny Games (1997)
- Happiness (1998)
- The Big Lebowski (1998)
- The Opposite of Sex (1998)
- Election (1999)
- American Psycho (2000)
- Hedwig & the Angry Inch (2001)
- Storytelling (2001)
- Buffalo Soldiers (2001)
- Bad Santa (2003)
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
- Thank You for Smoking (2005)
- Charlie Bartlett (2007)
- In Bruges (2008)
- Burn After Reading (2008)
- A Serious Man (2009)
If you would like to take part in a future Groovers & Mobsters Present email me at: