Only for those who like their comedy very dark!


Apr 9, 2001


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The Bottom Line Dark comedy may not be for everyone, but for some of us "weirdos" this edgy style is the only comedy we can truly enjoy.

Forget the standup comics who deliver Bob Hope styled punch lines or deliver lame Jay Leno styled humor. I donít care for the bathroom humor of an Adam Sandler, and Jim Carey is hit and miss for me. Give me satire instead -Ė deep and dark.

Many great directors have used elements of dark comedy in their works: Woody Allen and Alfred Hitchcock come to mind. And much of the Monty Python farces are based on dark elements Ė just a quick examination of the famous black knight scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail is sufficient proof. Iím not even sure why I left this film off the list other than it doesnít fit a pure definition of dark comedy and the fact that I can sneak in a promo of it right here.

Whether the following are the best dark comedies is debatable. A couple arenít even meant to be primarily comedies. What is not debatable is that they are my favorites, minus the ones that have slipped my mind.

I've tried to include some "older" movies but most of the edgier films have come in the more recent past. And I am positive that I've left out some deserving movies that I love, so feel free to mention your favorites in the comments section and write your own take on dark comedies.


Honorable Mention

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

Itís hard not to like this Frank Capra movie about the two elderly aunts who put suffering lonely men out of their misery, and the deranged brother who thinks heís digging the Panama Canal and burying yellow fever victims. Even my parents like this movie, and they definitely donít like dark comedy as a genre overall.


Chuck and Buck (2000)

Quirky comedy that features childhood obsession and is far more serious than it appears.


Pink Flamingos (1975)

John Waters early guerilla films arenít for everyone, but if you like dark satire this can be worth a look. Pink Flamingos is the most coherent of these early films that poke fun of pop culture, and you will never see a 300 lb. transvestite eat doggie doo doo anywhere else.


Top Ten Favorites

10. Slaughterhouse Five (1972)

Kurt Vonegut immediately comes to mind when I think of novelists who use dark humor, and George Roy Hillís film version of Billy Pilgrim getting unstuck in time is the best adaptation of a Vonegut novel put to film. Even Vonegut likes it, saying that it was like putting a camera inside his head!


9. Gates of Heaven (1978)

How can a documentary be listed on a top 10 list of dark comedy? If you ask, then you have not seen any of Errol Morrisí documentaries. He has a knack for finding weird and quirky people, and a visual eye and ear for juxtaposition that cracks me up. Imagine interviewing grieving pet owners about their loved ones, and interviewing people who live next to a pet cemetery who end up telling you far more than you ever wanted to know, and you may have an idea about how wacky this ďseriousĒ film can get. By all means check out Morrisí other humorous documentaries Ė Vernon Florida, Mr. Death, and Fast Cheap and Out of Control.


8. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

I love this landmark film, and itís held up over the years. Perhaps itís not a comedy in the truest sense, but the point of view of the film puts us into the shoes of the famous gangsters so that we can sense their humanity and their sense of humor. The comedy is necessary to keep them relatable and to get through the bloodshed. Two of the funnier scenes: Estelle Parsons running through a shootout with a meat cleaver and Gene Wilderís chase and brief ride with the Barrow gang.


7. Harold and Maude (1971)

Teen angst and death wishes may not sound like fodder for comedy. But if youíve seen Harold and Maude, youíll realize how such negative thoughts can be ripe for comedy. Like many dark comedies, Hal Ashbyís film isnít for everyone, but itís certainly on the mark for many of us who may have hated high school or contemplated suicide.


6. The Graduate (1967)

If you had to pick just one film to represent the 1960ís, this would be a good choice. Many from the 60ís generation didnít want to become ďplasticĒ copies of their parentsí generation, and just felt that there had to be something different out there. Some of the comedy is a bit dated and doesnít hold up for people who didnít grow up during these turbulent times, but the film still works on other levels.


5. Dr. Strangelove (1964)

Kubrick became obsessed with nuclear holocaust during the 1950ís and early 1960ís and started to craft a serious movie. He realized that it worked better as comedy, and we are blessed with this classic that will stand as long as nuclear weapons exist. The film has made dark humor icons out of George C. Scott and Slim Pickens.


4. Happiness (1998)

If someone asked me to name the darkest comedy I could think of, Happiness fits the bill. What can be darker than a bunch of lonely people with relationship problems that ďsolveĒ them by getting abused, making obscene phone calls, masturbating, or practicing pedophilia? How can I explain how sad yet funny these characters are? Did I enjoy Happiness? Well, itís in my top ten list in this category. If youíre not sure about whether youíll like this one, try Todd Solanzís previous safer film first about teen angst in Jr. High Ė Welcome to the Dollhouse.


3. Election (1999)

Set in a high school to satirize the American political process, this film works on multiple levels and is about the most perfectly created film that Iíve seen in the past few years. Mathew Broderick has never been better, as this is Ferris Bueller grown up as a responsible and caring history teacher. Reese Witherspoon plays the classic over-achiever while other characters take on the role of the popular but empty jock and the ďslackerĒ who puts things into broader perspective. If youíre open minded and love satire, youíll enjoy Election. More traditional and conservative thinkers will want to look elsewhere.


2. Blood Simple (1984)

The Coen brothers are the supreme masters of dark comedy. True fans will check everything out that they have done, but Iím reserving the top two places here for the Coen films that I think work the best in this genre. This film starts simply enough when a jealous husband hires a private eye to kill his wife and her boyfriend, but the plot takes a humorous roller coaster ride when things go awry. Just hop in for a great time in spite of any bloody knife through the hand scenes. Blood Simple also contains the most perfect ending in cinematic history, and I'll tell your about it the next time I see him.


1. Fargo (1996)

Iím a self confessed Fargo addict and I donít know why. Perhaps itís the Midwestern humor, with the attitudes and the Minnesota accents. Or it could be the ludicrous plot devised by William Macyís smarmy character of kidnapping his own wife and demanding ransom from his rich father in law. Or the interplay between the kidnappers Ė the Marlboro man and the funny looking guy. Or perhaps itís just Frances McDormandís portrayal of the very smart but very pregnant sheriff. Actually itís a combination of all these and more that have compelled me to watch Fargo at least 15 times so far. Or it could be just those little touches that add up to one great comedy Ė the 2-cent stamps are important, you know.

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