Black comedies are the home of all those who detest the insufferable, sugary political correctness that tries never to offend anyone.
However, genuine humor always comes from provocation and sometimes even vulgarity, usually unacceptable from the mores of everyday life.
We can thoughtfully reflect on our society’s problems while laughing by hitting the viewer in the face with out-of-the-box jokes.
For example, I want to recall John Landis‘s legendary Animal House, a distant but still relevant 1970s black comedy.
The hapless students of the Delta Tau Chi fraternity shredded all the rules of American society, led by an unforgettable John Belushi.
That movie was the forerunner of a genre that led to numerous, often poor, attempts at copying, such as the various Porky’s or American Pie.
Today we look at three comedies that bring this very black spirit to the stage. Not surprisingly, a wicked laugh is sometimes the best panacea for our restless souls.
So let’s get comfortable and let the fun begin, and if you have children nearby, you might want to cover their eyes and ears.
Burke and Hare (2010)
Having mentioned John Landis a little earlier, let’s start with the last movie that the great American director has given us.
The story takes place in 1800s Edinburgh, inspired by the real-life story of two Irish criminals who made national headlines at the time.
These friends live by the day by petty theft and ramshackle frauds, often against the patrons of a small inn.
Besides not having much luck in their scams, one night, they must quickly make an older man’s dead body disappear.
By sheer coincidence, they meet a famous doctor who teaches anatomy at the university and is always in need of fresh bodies.
Unexpectedly, they discover an absolute gold mine for their business, quickly becoming the cadaver suppliers for the doctor’s autopsies.
But their success does not go unnoticed. When the disappearances of people in the city increase dramatically, the police, of course, begin investigating.
In addition, a dangerous gang of rival criminals constantly threatens them, demanding a share of their earnings.
Everything finally comes to a head when even the wife of one of them begins to be suspicious.
The woman cannot explain where all that money is coming from, besides being jealous of her husband’s affair with a young actress.
At that point, it is only a matter of time before the noose tightens around the throats of the two unfortunate criminals.
The latest laughs of a great anti-Hollywood author
For those expecting a comedy full of gags and jokes all the time, perhaps this little gem of black humor is not the right place to watch.
Burke and Hare is a film that aims to keep a constant smile on the viewer’s face. This social metaphor, absurdly, is derived from a real-life news episode from the 18th century.
John Landis proves that he is one of the best modern comedy makers. However, he remains true to the classic style that has made him famous since The Blues Brothers.
His love for these formidable loser characters is as blatant as it is sad, and he resigned to their inevitable defeat.
The technical side of his direction is always top-notch. With his mastery, he perfectly blends magnificent costumes and sets for a modest production of only $10 million.
Perhaps not everyone will recognize his face at first glance, but the actor has brought Gollum from Lord of the Rings to life with motion capture.
These characters are the best cinematic embodiment of the essence of a black comedy.
Despite being almost like naive children, they are relentless in their slaughter, searching for fresh corpses.
Although they are murderers, we understand their fundamental quest for a secure place in a society of relentless capitalism.
So far, Landis signs the last movie in his filmography, sadly falling into public indifference and at the box office.
However, we can get beyond commercial logic, so let us enjoy the final brushstrokes of one of the greatest comic auteurs of his generation.
Seven Psychopaths (2012)
The second movie has a less classical setting than the previous one, a black comedy of Quentin Tarantino-inspired pulp.
It all begins with a mysterious vigilante who is taking out, one by one, a series of dangerous criminals in Los Angeles.
Taking a cue from these violent news events, a writer resumes work. He has long had a screenplay left unfinished, titled Seven Psychopaths precisely.
The characters in this story are a series of killers, one crazier than the other. In one way or another, they converge on the same path of a massacre by misfortune and coincidence.
Very soon, the script slips off the pages into the real world when a friend of his kidnaps the dog of a dangerous gangster.
Indeed, the writer based some of the characters on absurd tales he heard on the street, which are true events.
To make matters worse, his friend publishes an ad in a magazine under his name. Inside is an invitation for actual psychopaths across America to come and tell of their experiences.
As the gangster sows terror through the city looking for his dog, the situation quickly escalates. In addition, the writer finds some raving lunatics at his door wishing to participate in the script.
In an uncontrolled madness escalation, they must flee into the desert, trying to escape from this maze. Unfortunately, they will land directly in the middle of a clash of vendettas, ending up in the same place.
A wonderful composition of crazy different stories
Seven Psychopaths is a black comedy with a seesaw development, as unstable and unpredictable as the fragile psyches of its protagonists.
While beginning with brilliant dialogue and a furious pace, the story pulls the handbrake to describe each narrative strand’s background carefully.
While involving numerous characters, there is never any confusion. Martin McDonagh‘s solid script and direction never lose sight of the spirit of pulp madness to which it aspires.
Each dialogue becomes an opportunity to create a new chapter, inserting a new character even more insane.
In this context, Los Angeles becomes an open-air asylum where psychopaths roam fearlessly and uncontrollably, hunting each other.
Colin Farrell may be the only sane member of the group. As an alcoholic writer with no ideas, he doesn’t know how to complete his crazy novel.
Helping him is his faithful friend Sam Rockwell, a con man and serial animal kidnapper. Unfortunately, he abducts the wrong dog, enraging the city’s worst criminals.
They are joined by accomplice Christopher Walken, seemingly a harmless older man. Yet behind his mild and quiet appearance, he hides an incredible past.
Finally, we have Woody Harrelson, usually the sympathetic face of cinema in comic and romantic roles.
Here he is, instead, an emotionless psychopath. Except, hilariously, toward his beloved little dog, for whom he will turn all the city upside down.
Seven Psychopaths is a film for everyone, no doubt about it. It is violent but gentle with intelligence and black humor, thanks to an impeccable director who never fails to deliver.
If you love intelligent black comedies where the narrative style is as important as the plot, you will be just as at home with it as I was with it.
The Art of Self-Defense (2019)
We end with one of the best black comedies in recent cinema, for a story as absurd as it is damn funny.
The protagonist is the classic everyman who walks invisibly through the streets of Louisville, Kentucky.
He works an ordinary clerical job with no particular career aspirations, also constantly annoyed by his colleagues.
His life changes forever when one evening he goes out shopping as usual and is attacked by a pack of thugs.
At that point, he realizes he must do something to defend himself, so he goes to the nearest gun store to get a gun.
But when he learns about the long wait times, each day exasperates even more of him. So he opts for earlier by enrolling in a personal self-defense course.
The dojo does not have many students, but all are highly devoted to their sensei. Besides teaching martial arts, he is also a mentor of life for each of them.
When he befriends the only girl in the group, she tells him a reality very different from mere appearance.
The sensei is indeed the leader of a veritable cult whose devotees are willing to do anything to follow his will.
At that point, the shy boy realizes that he is trapped. Leaving the dojo is not as easy as entering, without severe personal consequences.
Therefore, he decides to endure for as long as necessary by learning the rules. With the girl’s help, however, he will try to overturn the power of that martial dictatorship.
Wrong, funny, and smart
First, do not think you are watching a martial arts show like those with Jean-Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal.
The film starts as a comedy about a bland everyman, becoming a grotesque psychological thriller full of black humor.
Riley Stearns directs an independent production that exaggerates personal individualism.
Exploiting the metaphor of achieving a supposed higher consciousness at any cost, he turns it into a parody.
This filmmaker seems to have a bright future ahead, as he will prove later with Dual, which I had already recommended on this site.
In this absurd dojo, the stupidity of the master’s teachings is superior only to the absurdity of his students. Eager to learn martial arts, they become a demented Fight Club to overthrow ordinary society.
Jesse Eisenberg soon becomes the favorite student of his master, who handles every aspect of his life. The actor is among the best at playing these outsider characters, with hilarious and believable mimicry.
In this case, he is a kind of evil and deviant Karate Kid, who instead of the wise and patient “Miyagi” Pat Morita meets the insane sensei Alessandro Nivola. He performs excellently with fixed, dull, lifeless acting, almost like a robot.
As funny as it is sad are its social beliefs. For example, the supposed inferiority of the woman, who in this case is Imogen Poots.
The actress will next return to star with Eisenberg in the sci-fi Vivarium, where she again uses her brain against dull, unimaginative men.
In conclusion, this film is unique in a way I had never seen before. I read without surprise that many have marked it as silly and tedious. But fortunately, we don’t all play by the same rules.