Pennywise from Stephen King’s ‘It’/Image courtesy of ABC
Most movie monsters are so utterly dehumanized that they wouldn’t appreciate a good one-liner if they heard it — let alone be able to deliver one. However, every so often you run across a creature who seems to take perverse pleasure in trying to relate to humans through humor, even if its victims rarely survive long enough to appreciate the gesture. Let’s take a look at a few infamously entertaining boogeymen and see which of them is the most likely to get a smile out of us (before ripping it right off our faces).
6. Pennywise, “IT” (1990)
This shape-shifting intergalactic menace may have taken the form of a circus clown, but his material (“Hello, is your refrigerator running?”) is groan-worthy even by 1957 standards, not even redeemable by the comedic chops of an actor like Tim Curry. That’s actually a good thing for mankind, because laughter proves to be one of the only effective weapons against It. Anyhow, it was clearly an intentional choice on Stephen King’s part to create a villain that’s a twisted parody of childish humor. The fact that this turns out to be just a mask hiding something unspeakably ancient makes it all the more terrifying.
5. Chucky, “Child’s Play” (1988)
One could consider Chucky’s sense of humor to be a coping mechanism. After all, if you can’t laugh at the fact that your soul has suddenly been transported into the body of an innocuous children’s toy, then where are you? Unfortunately he was the “Lakeshore Strangler” in his previous life, not George Carlin, so his snarky zingers aren’t terribly amusing to anyone but himself. Over the years, the “Child’s Play” franchise began to skew more deliberately into the realm of self-referential comedy — but while the films were definitely more absurd, you can’t exactly say they’re any funnier.
4. Count Dracula, “Dracula” (1931)
The Count isn’t anyone’s idea of a comedian, but you can’t deny he has a certain dry wit that’s been polished to a brilliant shine by centuries of world-weariness. The cleverness in Bela Lugosi’s delivery of “I don’t drink … wine” sails right over poor Jonathan Harker’s head, but it never fails to get a smirk out of the viewing audience. This is basically just how one might expect Dorothy Parker to carry on if she were a vampire (except she’d probably find a way to drink the wine). In fact, I can imagine Dracula reciting some of her famous verses with relish, particularly Resume: “Guns aren’t lawful; nooses give; gas smells awful; you might as well live.”
3. King Kong, “King Kong” (2005)
He may be awfully grouchy, but even the mighty Kong can appreciate a good pratfall. Remember that scene when Naomi Watts dances to entertain him, and then he knocks her to the ground over and over, losing himself in a fit of contagious ape-giggles? At the very least it signifies an appreciation for Buster Keaton-style physical clowning that is remarkably sophisticated for a character who stomps T-Rex skulls for exercise.
2. Freddy Krueger, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984)
Freddy’s basically got the same schtick as Chucky — except he got there first, and his ability to bend the laws of reality within his victims’ dreams gives him a much broader canvas to paint on. Hence we have classic moments such as the scene in “Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors” when Freddy (disguised as a sexy nurse) gets a teen boy all “tongue-tied,” literally tying him to the bedposts with disembodied tongues. Or that time when Freddy appeared on the Dick Cavett show — with Cavett himself and Zsa Zsa Gabor in cameo appearances — just so he’d have an excuse to bash his victim’s face against a TV screen and shout, “Welcome to prime time!” Say what you will about diminishing returns, the franchise’s death scenes were always creatively mined for maximum irony as well as shock value.
1. The Gremlins, “Gremlins” (1984)
It’s really no contest here: the Gremlins’ two defining characteristics are violence and mischief, and the latter winds up including everything from stairlift hot-wiring to unflattering celebrity impersonations. These ugly little jesters are easily entertained and don’t have a snobbish bone in their bodies; if there’s not a human around to antagonize, they’re perfectly content to howl with laughter as they maim and kill each other instead. Both the original film and the sequel are true horror comedies, in that they don’t skimp in either department. Instead of diluting genuinely frightening or disgusting moments with humor, they play with comic timing and kinetic puppet-work as a way to flip back and forth between thrills and chills. However ridiculous it may be to see an army of tiny green monsters watching “Snow White” in a movie theater or singing a chorus of “New York, New York,” you can’t deny the feeling of relief you feel at the end when all are reduced to piles of green cat-yack. And even then they’re still cutting capers — anyone else fondly recall the one in “Gremlins 2″ who dons a pointy black hat and quotes the Wicked Witch of the West as he melts to death? Based on that performance alone I’m willing to embrace this species as highly advanced life forms.