P.J. Griffin is back with more insight on the Caesar & Otto series
It’s so ingrained in our psyche, but if you think about it, it’s weird that peanut butter goes so well with jelly… or chocolate, or marshmallow fluff. Goddamn, peanut butter goes well with a lot of things. The point is, you wouldn’t think that certain things would mix together well, but sometimes they do. The same goes for the horror genre. Many would think that blood, guts and terror would only be mixable with certain emotions and concepts, but instead it blends well with all sorts of styles and situations. One of the most famous examples is how well horror meshes with comedy.
Comedy and horror both tap into our most basic emotions. Not just fear, but the desire for carnage and humor both play into our baseline drive for excitement. We don’t go to haunted houses and the like to legitimately go home crying in fear. Another example would be how vomiting in terror because we genuinely felt like we were going to die isn’t really the aim of roller coasters. Often times patrons find themselves laughing and exhibiting the same reactions they would with lighter entertainment. Comedy/horror has been evolving and making its mark for a while now, but just recently has it become commonplace in the mainstream consciousness to the degree that it has today. One of the more recent examples of the comedy/horror world that I have become a fan of is Dave Campfield’s Caesar & Otto series. With the newest film Caesar & Otto’s Paranormal Halloween having just been released fairly recently, I figured I might as well take a look at what makes them so good within the sub-genre of comedy/horror.
I’ve talked about the Caesar and Otto series before, as I really think these films are prime examples of comedy/horror done correctly. A huge number of my favorite films are of the comedy/horror variety. I fell in love with Peter Jackson’s early work as well as the comedy/horror films Troma studios released, and thus began my lifelong obsession with the genre. The Caesar & Otto series are part of this fine tradition and make their mark in shining form. For those who haven’t seen any of the entries or read any of my previous pieces on the subject, the films follow brothers Caesar (Dave Campfield) and Otto (Paul Chomicki) as they battle all sorts of different horror concepts. The series has gone into such popular territories as summer camp, the holiday season, and tackles the slasher genre in quite a unique way. They even have a cluster of shorts going after the “monster attack” subgenre, unleashing a monster known as Piggyzilla.
Sharing a father, played to absolute perfection by Scott Aguilar the brothers often find their dear old dad in the mix as well as a sinister character of changing names and consistent evil played by Ken MacFarlane. The series has the odd ability to tap into the classic dynamic set up by Abbot & Costello or Laurel & Hardy while simultaneously feeling fresh and new. I wasn’t in the best place when I first came across Caesar & Otto’s Deadly Xmas. The the fun nature and style of the film really helped me get through some of the less-than-stellar emotions I was dealing with at the time. The series itself really made me examine what fills the spaces in our brains between laughing and being afraid.
Caesar and Otto encounter murder and mayhem at every turn; with bodies piling up all around them, there’s still a way to work in clever wordplay and hilarious character interaction. I had the good fortune of crossing from fan to player when creator and star, Dave Campfield, was kind enough to let me visit the set of Caesar & Otto’s Paranormal Halloween; he even gave me a cameo! As a fan, this new project which was recently unleashed on the world, was a treat enough in its existence alone, but having the opportunity to be involved was a true honor. The atmosphere was just as I was hoping it would be. Everyone took what they were doing seriously in terms of commitment and professionalism, but the underlying tone was one of playful energy and joyous spirit. Even more so, my interest in the subject of comedy-horror intensified, and I don’t think it’s something that we’ve analyzed nearly enough. The two colliding tones are so natural together we all just kind of go with it, which is fine, but I wanna examine the roots.
Even though it’s the most natural concept in the world and at times can be a blessing, death is one of the scariest realities of which our species is all too aware. There are plenty of people who claim they’re not at all scared of death and I’m not here to call anyone a liar, but the vast majority of us get anxious about the universe’s greatest mystery. My personality is such that I get worked up wondering what a normal day has in store, so the idea of immortality is overwhelming and terrifying. But movies are among the best distractions there are, so it’s logical that they would try to deal with the subject head on. Some works dealing with the subject of death and violence are utterly tragic and deadly (get it?) serious. But others seek to take the edge off the big sleep and its surrounding factors. They turn our greatest fears into something less paralyzing, almost as if saying, “I’ll work with you death, but maybe let some hi-jinks come into play.” That’s largely what comedy-horror films do, they present us with our greatest fears and laugh their asses off. And soon, that’s what we’re doing as well; it’s an exposure that takes on the big fatal fear.
Caesar & Otto’s Paranormal Halloween follows the series’ traditions to lampoon famous horror situations, entering into the popular territory of Paranormal Activity and haunting-based movies. It puts its own spin on the concept and has quite a few surprising twists and turns, but still stamps its brand of humor on one of the most primal fears: what goes bump in the night. I especially appreciated this as my personality isn’t the way that most would view a horror fanatic. My love of blood and guts, torture and blood is in direct contrast with my natural fear of my own shadow. In the world of movies I can handle whatever is thrown at me. In the real world, so much as the idea of upsetting someone sends me into the realm of terror; movies allow me to push myself and experience horror with a big ‘ol smile on my face. Horror has saved me and fills me with the same joy that comedy provides for others, so it makes perfect sense that the two genres would mix, forming something truly amazing.
The obvious comparison in regards to C+O would be when Abbott and Costello met Dracula and Frankenstein. In fact, the series even has shorts between the features including one hilarious entry entitled Caesar & Otto Meet Dracula’s Lawyer. However, the series takes it even further, updating the concept into the modern age where new horror scenarios reign supreme and the films seek to insert themselves and hold a comedic edge up to all sorts of different styles. To me, horror couldn’t be any more fun than incorporating different elements of the horror world, while throwing in as many B-movie favorites as possible along with interactive features such as the “As Caesar & Otto Anything” series on Youtube.
I may be a worrier by nature, but I understand that the world of fantasy has such merit in helping us all get through those stressful, anxiety fueled times in our lives. By tackling serious subjects such as death, murder, and violence and laughing at it, we let ourselves become stronger. These types of films provide a service to those who are interested in such things, and although I can only speak for myself, that is a great thing. I appreciate each and every filmmaker that sets out to make us laugh at the dangerous and horrific. In the case of Caesar & Otto, there’s a lot of talent involved in making this notion of scary and funny becoming friends a reality.
It’s great to see a horror themed series have so much fun with itself. Filling the screen with cult legends such as Felissa Rose, Brinke Stevens, Linnea Quigley, Debbie Rochon, as well as many others including Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman himself, it’s all a real treat for the eyes. Even musicians like Deron Miller get involved with fantastic result as well as new faces to the series, but not to the screen such as Tiffany Shepis, Vernon Wells, Beverley Randolph and Sean Whalen.
With that in mind, thank you to all those involved; to everyone who helps make the darkness our friend as oppose to foe. Comedy-horror will always have a special place in my heart, as I feel a kinship with the concept of the macabre and humorous, and I think we could all use a little bit more of it.