The British comedy group known as Monty Python reveled in dark and twisted humor, with plenty of bloodshed, inspiring many great horror comedies.
I have a pretty warped sense of humor, and the roots of such can be traced back to the television I watched as a child. Saturday morning cartoons like Woody Woodpecker, Tom and Jerry, and Looney Toons, and classic shows like The Three Stooges all had, as their modus operandi, a penchant for violence-for-laughs that did have a curious way of desensitizing one to the actual consequences of violence (I mean, Curley and Larry would have definitely been blinded for all the times Moe had poked them in the eyeballs, right?).
S till, in reflection, I must attribute the largest portion of my twisted sense of humor to one unlikely source — PBS — or more specifically, the fact that despite its more high brow proclivities (ballet, nature specials and the PBS Newshour), it also exposed me to Monty Python’s Flying Circus and its spinoff films.
In the late 70s and early 80s, PBS would air Monty Python episodes and films uncensored, which exposed my still-developing brain to a gaggle of irreverent foul-mouthed, (often) cross-dressing Brits who poked fun at, and even poked holes through social mores and conventions. Not only were my young eyes exposed to (gasp!) occasional nudity, but also to some of the most violent imagery that were presented in a disquieting ho-hum matter-of-fact manner.
Take, for instance, a sketch entitled “Salad Days”, in which a talk show host plays a clip of people having an idyllic picnic in the park. Then a man throws a tennis ball and it makes contact with a fellow reveler’s face, and his eye instantaneously explodes in a torrent of blood. From that point forward, tragedy befalls all of the other revelers as the piano key cover slams on a man’s hands, chopping them off, causing streams of blood to flow from his wrist stumps.
Another unlucky picnicker gets impaled by a tennis racket, and she rips off a man’s arm as she falls to the ground, and so on and so forth. As if this wasn’t enough, the scene ends and transitions back to the talk show host who is then, for no apparent reason, shot repeatedly by a machine gun in slow motion as the end credits of the show roll and the words “Tee Hee” flash on the screen.
1975’s cult classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail has forever changed the cinematic landscape, like morphing a serene Bob Ross painting into a twisted Salvador Dali creation.
In one scene, King Arthur and his men approach a cave that is purportedly guarded by some terrible beast, which actually turns out to be an unassuming white bunny rabbit. However, when one of King Arthur’s knights approaches, the bunny leaps at the knight’s throat and tears off his head. Not to fear, King Arthur employs the Holy Hand Grenade and he blows the bunny to smithereens.
And, of course, there’s the scene with the Black Knight who refuses to join King Arthur in his quest and also will not let him pass. As a result, the two engage in a sword fight and King Arthur chops off one of the Knight’s arms. Undeterred by this “flesh wound”, the Black Knight continues to fight and loses his other arm.
Still looking to inflict some damage, the Black Knight resorts to kicking King Arthur, who then chops off both of the Knight’s legs. Feisty to the end, the Black Knight threatens to bite King Arthur’s ankles off, since that’s his only recourse, being reduced to a mere torso.
Finally, I would like to present Exhibit E — E for Explosion, that is. Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983) has many hilarious, yet senselessly violent scenes.
However, I want to focus on one in particular, which I consider to be the perfect intersection of humor and horror. In this particular scene an impossibly morbidly obese man named Mr. Creosote walks into a fancy restaurant. It is obvious the waitstaff is familiar with this individual, as they rush to attend to him, but not out of a desire to serve as much as to do damage control.
In short order we see why, as Mr. Creosote projectile vomits all over the floor, himself, and on a cleaning lady who comes over to clean up his mess. The other diners are horrified at this corpulent man’s gastric eruptions, and some even vomit a bit themselves in their revulsion. The scene fast forwards to the end of the meal, and Mr. Creosote, covered in vomit and food scraps, is sitting back in his chair stuffed to full capacity after consuming everything on the menu and then some.
It is at this moment that his server, played by the eminently strange John Cleese, offers Mr. Creosote a “wafer thin” after dinner mint. After some coaxing, Mr. Creosote relents, but upon eating the wafer, he balloons up to twice his size until he explodes in a tidal wave of vomit that covers the entirety of the restaurant and of all its patrons. The final shot is of Mr. Creosote split wide open with his beating heart exposed within an impossibly large ribcage.
It is an utterly repulsive scene but, like Mr. Creosote, you will find your sides splitting, only with laughter.
I’m weird, and although I may come to it naturally, I can definitely credit the wildly imaginative and imminently inappropriate gents of Monty Python’s Flying Circus for helping me truly realize just how strange I could be.
M ovies like Dead Alive, Army of Darkness and What We Do In the Shadows owe a great debt to Monty Python for its intermingling of humor and horror — a hallmark of modern horror comedy. So go and watch some Monty Python today so you too can have that “Gosh, is it okay that I am actually laughing at this” kind of feeling.