In the junkyard of films you’ve already watched, and the backlog of recommendations one never seems to have time to sift through, some movies seem to rise from the wasteland with the more time that passes, and they cement themselves as monolithic precedents of the best of the genre – one such film is 2012’s horror-comedy, Grabbers.
Grabbers, directed by John Wright and written by Kevin Lehane, is a film that continually improves in my mind, as possibly the best cult comedy-horror film of the decade.
Comedy and horror often hold hands, and the inter-relationship between the two genres is often misunderstood by the creators of overly-moody-jump-scare-pieces and torture-porn trends in the field. The marriage of these apparently opposing moods, could be traced back to antiquity; studying the relationship between the Ancient Greek theatrical masks of comedy and tragedy. But for a more recent milestone, Sam Raimi’s classic trilogy Evil Dead (1981-1992) is a good example of how humour and horror are intrinsically linked.
Raimi, who was inspired by the Three Stooges in high school, was always aware of the wholistic value of entertainment, and that whilst consumers desire to be scared, the contrast of mood which allows fear, must be satisfactorily allied with humour. The transition from pure horror to straight out comedy follows perfectly through the Evil Dead franchise, from the quite morose opener, to the highly farcical Army of Darkness. One could also trace the development of popular humour periodicals such as Mad Magazine, which was born directly out of the EC horror franchise, initially taking horror plots to their sarcastic extremes, and snowballing to become one of the most successful lampoon magazines of its kind.
In Grabbers, Wright manoeuvres this satisfying balance perfectly. The film is set on a remote Irish island, and follows Ciaran O’Shea, played by Richard Coyle, an alcoholic, that’s slowly falling for Lisa Nolan (Ruth Bradley), a workaholic, who inspires the desire in Ciaran to be a better person.
When a series of mutilated carrion and whale corpses turn up on the beaches, the revelation slowly comes to the inhabitants of the town that they are being attacked by hideous tentacled monstrosities, which they begin to refer to as ‘Grabbers’.
The classic Irish humour begins to manifest fully when the town drunk survives an attack by one of the unnatural beasties, and they quickly theorise that their blood alcohol level is toxic to the alien invaders. The only solution to the situation seems to be, that the entire town must get raucously drunk in the local pub in order to fend off the looming catastrophe.
What’s particularly charming about the film, is it’s very convincing attempt to parody island life, and the escapist outlets utilised by the townsfolk to navigate the mundane. At every point, the story works on at least two levels; the metaphor of the alien threat as a symbol for the perils of ordinary life, and the humour the townsfolk utilise to overcome the trauma of living.
Yet, the humour is only a cathartic release between the genuinely horrific scenes. The monsters are well designed and move fluidly, and kept just ambiguous enough to make it scary, whilst still displaying many moments of visibility in displays of grotesque violence.
The cast are charming and, whilst not super famous, each fit perfectly for the role they are meant to fulfil. The mix of enormous Grabbers, with the smaller ones, who push the drunk community further up inside the second floor of the pub to hide out (a classic ‘monster in the house’ style device), provides sufficient variety in scares.
Whilst the story plays out to satisfying climax and action, and flows effectively from one moment of tension to another, audience satisfaction can always be reduced to that simplistic premise at the core of the film. The fact that the only thing which can stop the plagues of an Irish town is to get raucously drunk, never fails to make me smile.
This has the effect of a humorous person spinning you a yarn, and if at any point you are distracted from the ludicrous nature of the plot, the inherent jest at the core of the narrative reminds you not to be dismayed or bored.
Grabbers, which already has a significant cult following, will only continue to stand up to the test of time, and I thoroughly recommend the movie to fans of the horror genre who haven’t seen it.
Let us know in the comments what you think about the film, or other films which balance horror and comedy well.
Before shooting, director Jon Wright took actors Richard Coyle and Ruth Bradley out drinking and filmed them while drunk. Ruth Bradley discovered many quirks about herself while drunk that she used in her performance.