Welcome to Funny Bones, Nightmare On Film Street’s look at horror comedies. Each month, we’ll examine the skeletal structure of a horror-comedy, how the film connects its unique brand of funny and creepy, and the metaphorical fleshy details laid over that skeleton which bring the movie to life!
It’s “End of Days” month at Nightmare on Film Street, where we give 2020 the send off it truly deserves, by killing it with fire, demons, zombies, cannibals and other apocalyptic threats. We’re doing that via a look at films and stories that chronicle a world ending cataclysm and the dystopias that emerge in the aftermath of those events. So, for this month’s Funny Bones I chose a horror comedy that not only fit our monthly theme, but also captured some of our complicated feelings about 2020. It’s a movie that satirizes celebrity culture and living in quarantine, but it’s also about what happens when life in Los Angeles becomes a literal living hell complete with demons and a giant sized Satan. I’m talking of course about 2013’s This is the End; the directorial debuts of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.
The idea of the apocalypse was in the zeitgeist in 2013 probably because a lot of press was given to the 2012 phenomenon of the previous year; the belief by some that a series of cataclysmic events would end life as we know it on December 21, 2012; which was the end of a 5,000 year cycle in the Mayan calendar. So, life during and after a pending apocalypse was on the mind of a few horror comedy filmmakers who had movies released in 2013.
February of that year saw the release of Warm Bodies writer/director Jonathan Levine’s apocalyptic zombie rom-com. This is the End debuted in June of that year, and two months later Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s The World’s End premiered. What’s especially interesting about that is the original title of This is the End was actually The End of the World. Rogen allegedly changed the title at the request of Pegg who was his co-star in the 2011 alien comedy, Paul.
Anxiety about 2012 undoubtedly informed Rogen and Goldberg’s script for This is the End, but the idea for the film came several years earlier in the form of Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse; a 2007 short film written by Rogen and Goldberg and directed by Jason Stone where Rogen and actor Jay Baruchel (Random Acts of Violence) play themselves living in an apocalyptic and nightmarish version of L.A. This is the End is a full length remake of that film where Rogen and Baruchel once again play themselves and so do a number of well known Hollywood celebrities, many of whom are friends with Rogen.
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The movie begins with Baruchel flying into Lost Angeles to visit his old friend Rogen. The two hang out and Baruchel is reluctantly dragged along to the housewarming party of Rogen’s friend and frequent co-star, James Franco. Once there, all hell literally breaks loose as the good people of L.A. are raptured into the sky and the self absorbed, idiotic, and petty celebrities at Franco’s party are left to contend with earthquakes, sinkholes, raging fires, their own insecurities, and later cannibals and a whole host of infernal creatures.
So, first and foremost This is the End is very much a comedy and a lot of the humor comes from the cast playing exaggerated and satirical versions of themselves. That’s pretty much the whole first act of the film, but in the second half the movie takes a turn and becomes something that is both funny and painfully relevant to this year. That’s because once Rogen, Baruchel, James Franco, Craig Robinson (Tragedy Girls), Jonah Hill, and Danny McBride (Alien Covenant) start to come to grips with what’s happening to the world they realize they have to quarantine themselves.
The disaster lockdown portion of the film is especially well done. It perfectly captures a frustration that many of us felt this past year; dealing with the annoying eccentricities of a person you’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time with. It also captures the wild creativity of this year as well. At one point, the film’s six main characters make a fake trailer for a sequel to Rogen and Franco’s 2008 film Pineapple Express. It’s a pretty funny sequence that feels especially authentic in 2020; a year where several film makers and actors trapped at home created the horror film phenomenon that is Host.
There aren’t a whole lot of genuinely scary elements in This is the End, but the films does have some scenes that horror fans will especially appreciate. In the second act there is some tension about murderous people that might be lurking outside of James Franco’s estate. That leads to a pretty gory and goofy gag involving a severed head. The third act of the film is where the horror elements really kick into high gear though. It features a pretty funny homage to Rosemary’s Baby and a hilarious exorcism scene.
The third act is also where we start to see some of the film’s infernal creatures. They’re CGI creations, but they all look great and pretty creepy. Each of the monsters have different physical traits, but the unifying characteristic they all share is a magma like skin that looks perfect against the hellish backdrop that Hollywood becomes in the latter part of the film.
There’s an especially harrowing sequence with a giant, horned, hellhound, but the true standout monster is Satan who appears in the film’s finale as a kaiju sized magma monster. The look of Satan somewhat matches the monstrous hand at the end of 2011’s Cabin in the Woods, which has lead to some people viewing This is the End as an unofficial sequel to that film. I’m not sure how well that holds together, but a back to back viewing of both of those movies would make for a hell of a double feature (pun somewhat intended).
There were a number of decent performances in This is the End, which is weird to say since everyone was playing exaggerated versions of themselves. Two actors/characters really stood out for me though. The first is Craig Robinson, who played the eccentric supporting character he often plays, but he got to grow and change over the course of the movie, and ended up being the most likable character in the film. The second performance was from Danny McBride who also played a character type he often portrays; the clueless iconoclast. He’s playing that character though in a film about the crumbling of society. Watching his transformation from actor to what he eventually becomes was both funny and unsettling.
So, there were a number of great elements to This is the End, but as I close out this article and we close out this year, there’s one that seems especially resonant; the fact that there is hope even when hell literally erupts on Earth. That’s because in the final act of the film the surviving characters realize that if they strive to be kind and make sacrifices for each other that there’s a chance they could be reborn into a better world. That’s a great metaphor for where we are as a society because now that a Covid-19 vaccine is a reality we too can enter a better world if we look after each other during the long process of inoculating the public.
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