Combining comedy and horror seems like a natural mix. After all, what better way to lull teenagers into a temporary sense of security than with a gentle dose of humor before scaring them out of their wits? It’s the peanut-butter and chocolate of genres! Ever since Abbott and Costello met Frankenstein, creative folks have been trying to mash these disparate emotions together, but have met with wildly mixed results. For every Re-Animator or Shaun of the Dead, there are a dozen awful attempts to mix blood with yucks. And it’s dangerous territory to tread in for young filmmakers because while bad horror is almost expected, bad comedy.. is unforgivable. And both are incredibly tricky to pull off with no budget.
Horror films have long been seen as a quick ticket to stardom since the “three b’s” which are meant to lead to success – blood, boobs and beasts – can be assembled by anyone with a modicum of ambition and/or money. But when you add humor into the equation, you risk diluting the entire formula. If you swing too far towards scares the comedy might seem out of place. Too far towards comedy and it might seem like you’re not taking the material seriously, it’s hard to scare anyone if you’re continually winking at them.
Which brings us to Fabian Rush’s 2004 comedy/horror film So Mort It Be.
On first glance it bears the marks – and limitations – of most ultra low-budget horror films: inconsistent acting, some laughable effects, and low production value. But Rush chose to embrace these limitations while introducing a healthy dose of comedy, which helps create an endearing (and shockingly funny) mix that somehow manages to lift itself out of the genre muck.
Rush stars as Dante, a young and somewhat dorky college student who we first meet having his arm sliced off by a bevy of identical goth gals. The use of bluescreen and digital effects in this intro is.. rough, though ambitious, and is easily forgiven once we discover that it’s simply a particularly messy dream sequence. He wakes and calls up his friend Jack (the perpetually wisecracking Nathan Hall,), convincing him to help him woo the lovely Lillith (a stiff Michelle DeMars). Dante has been obsessed with super-goth Lillith since her transfer to the college and has decided to affect a British accent to win her over since – of course – Goths love British accents.
Dante, having overheard Lillith talking about some of her interests, convinces her that he’s interested in paying tribute to the “Dark Moon Goddess” and invites her over to the mansion that Jack is house-sitting for his dumbshit, redneck cousin Jobe. She accepts, much to the ire of the villainous goth Adam who is also obsessed with Lillith, despite the overbearing affections of his girlfriend Yvette. Of course, Dante’s actual plan is to invite a load of friends and Goths over to the mansion for an old fashioned party (which – with any luck – might evolve into the fabled GOTHIC ORGY).
Dante and Jack head over to clean up the mansion – the place is littered with crucifixes and Jesus paintings, which will clash heavily with the “gothic orgy” vibe (as well as Dante’s classic “Christ Sucks Cock” t-shirt). Heading into the basement the pair discover dozens of boxes of (very, very) expired food – Jobe is a bit of a survivalist – as well as a variety of rats. If you guessed that the rats would somehow end up eating the expired food, which would then transform them into GIANT MUTANT RAT-WORMS, then you’re obviously on the right wavelength. Jack tosses in a Princess Bride reference for good measure (“Rodents Of Unusual Size? I don’t think they exist.“).
These mutant rats are the highlight of the entire film, realized through some truly inspired muppet-ish design (with some echoes of the 80s classic The Deadly Spawn) as well as some amazing puppeteering. The gags come fast and furious with Dante and Jack attempting to rid the house of these (violent and ridiculous) pests with their wits, some Jack Daniels and a helpful scythe. I mean, we’re just talking about a whole lot of furry hand puppets here, but that just makes it all the better. Particularly when it’s revealed that there’s a gigantic rat still living in the basement.
But that’s not going to stop a party! Soon the throngs of leather and bodice-clad men and women start pouring into the homestead, and despite the occasional death by mutant rat (Dante’s casual discovery of a body are a highlight) things are going rather well. At least until the jealous Adam shows up and (after a brief scuffle) is tossed into the basement where he’s almost immediately eaten by the giant rat-worm – and is soon joined by Dante until the two fight their way out of the creatures’ stomach. Yes, this happens.
Jobe comes home to find his home semi-trashed, chasing our intrepid pair out of the house – Dante yelling at Jack from the window might be the most audaciously awful bluescreen effect in the film – where they end up re-living Dante’s dream from the beginning of the film. It’s a rather sudden (and, let’s face it, nonsensical) ending, but definitely in tune with the “throw it all at the screen and see what sticks” atmosphere of the film as a whole.
And it’s funny! The humor is legitimate and – frankly – surprising, as the most you can usually hope for out of these levels of productions is gross-out gags. But much of the comedy here comes out of the timing and rhythm of the two leads. Rush knows when to milk a crazed expression for all it’s worth, and there’s obvious chemistry between him and Nathan Hall that makes their interactions seem really natural and endearing. The flexible reality of the production allows for some fun stylistic moments, and the “mansion” (actually SEVEN different areas according to Rush) makes for a great location to stage the various kinds of action. Heck, even being able to make all of these different locations coalesce shows that some significant planning went into making things hold together. And it pays off in making for an occasionally flawed, but satisfying experience.
Two Nightmares out of Five
One Nightmare – No-Budget Perfection, Two Nightmares – Shocking Success, Three Nightmares – Shows Potential, Four Nightmares – Not Much Fun, Five Nightmares – Please Kill Me
Join us on Wednesday for an interview with So Mort It Be director Fabian Rush!
- [NO-BUDGET NIGHTMARES] PODCAST #80: PLAGA ZOMBIE (1997) - July 25, 2016