The Addams family is, without a doubt, one of the best known in the world of television and film. Just by listening to his name, we want to snap our fingers to the rhythm of his unforgettable tune. And is that the most peculiar family in the world has spent many years entertaining our Halloween nights, mocking death and surprising us with his taste for the macabre.
When we think of horror movies, we look for films that surprise us, that make us experience the sensation of fear from the comfort and tranquility of the armchair. We want to feel terror, but knowing that what we are seeing is nothing more than a fiction. In some way, we find some pleasure in these manifestations.
There are people who find horror movies funny because of the improbability that can sometimes result and because of the large number of clichés that usually appear in it; and there are those who would never see a film of the genre alone.
To make a spectator fear is much more complicated than it seems, because different emotions and one’s own subjectivity come into play. This same premise could be applied to comedy, making people laugh is a really complicated task and more if we want the laughter to be unanimous.
And if we take all those clichés of terror and read them in comedy key? That is precisely what the Addams family does and that is where the key to their success lies.
A review of the history
Throughout history, there are many artistic manifestations linked to death. Equally, the amount of cults that we already find from our first steps in the world remind us enormously of the ephemeral nature of life. The human being feels an immense curiosity for death, for the unknown.
Thus, this concern has been reflected in various artistic manifestations. Even cemeteries can be turned into outdoor art spaces, a good example of which would be the Monumental Cemetery of Milan or the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires; Without forgetting, of course, all those previous manifestations such as the Egyptian pyramids or the cult of prehistoric death embodied in the dolmens.
In short, there are many traces of the past that pay homage to death. Regardless of the culture or the corner of the world, we will always find some manifestation that reminds us of that popular Latin topic known as Memento Mori. Because if we know something with certainty is that we are all going to die, although our way of interpreting it differs from one place to another. This cult, in turn, has been wrapped in mystery and, over time, has led to terror.
Everything unknown or that supposes, in a certain way, a threat to our life will produce terror. In this way, the genre was fueled by fears, the occult and, above all, death to build works (whether literary or cinematographic) that connect with our desire to remain alive. But… is another reading possible?
Of course, terror as such has been evolving and adapting to the different canons and eras that it goes through. However, it has certain aesthetic elements easily identifiable and susceptible to comedy. And it is that if there is something more daring than terror is, precisely, to laugh at it. Thus, the terrifying monsters can become friends or even laughable objects.
In the nineteenth century, Gothic fiction acquired a fundamental importance and, as a consequence, derived in some subgenres. In this century, we have a good example that draws what will later be known as “horror comedy”; We’re talking about Washington Irving’s Sleepy Hollow. From this moment, endless titles would follow this wake.
In film and television, some well-known films such as Gremlins (Joe Dante, 1984), The Little Shop of Horrors (Frank Oz, 1986), Hocus Poccus (Kenny Ortega, 1993), Mars Attacks (Tim Burton, 1996), stand out. Beetlejuice (Tim Burton, 1988).
The director Álex de la Iglesia stands out for offering us clichés of terror (including eschatology) in the key of comedy with titles such as The Day of the Beast (1995) or The Witches of Zugarramurdi (2013). The cinema, at times, invites us to circumvent our fears, to laugh at the absurd conventions that, sometimes, involve our lives.
But there is no doubt that the family that concerns us today is one that has best laughed at death, has survived intact over time captivating admirers from all corners and ages, combining laughter and terror in a tune without equal. The Addams family, for obvious reasons, is part of the imaginary of multiple generations in terms of horror comedy.
The Addams family, a macabre laugh
The American cartoonist Charles Addams surprised in 1933 with a series of cartoons in The New Yorker. These were macabre characters who embraced black humor and parodied everyday life. A few decades later, in the 60s, these cartoons would end up deriving and inspiring a well-known television series: The Addams family. But this was not the only family that reigned in the television of the time, in another different chain, a series of a quite similar family called The Munsters was emitted.
The black humor and the adoption of the clichés of terror to later parody them served as the basis for an authentic satire of the values of contemporaneity. Somehow, the normal thing happened to be the strange, the strange; while everything that went beyond the conventional was venerated. This technique draws a kind of world upside down that entertains the viewer by the strangeness, but, simultaneously, invites you to question your own values.
We are all born in a society that influences our decisions, makes us capable of discerning between what is right and what is wrong. But this type of genres, invite us to adopt a new perspective, a point of view that, from the humor, breaks our traditional schemes. The success of the Addams family is such that it was not enough with a television series, but films, animated series and even a musical were made.
His characters are scary movies, but taken to everyday life. They are no longer ghostly apparitions that should frighten the neighborhood, but rather peculiar ‘neighbors’. In a way, all this brings us back to the idea of the freak, of all those individuals who, for whatever reason, do not correspond to the normative in a given moment.
The Addams escape all conventions, but they have their own morals, their own rules; and they look towards our world trying to find the meaning.
The interesting thing, besides, of the laughable element is to see how it is possible to break with the conventional values, break with the rules and question them from the irony. And this is not something exclusive to horror comedy, but we can apply it to everyday life. What if the normal thing was totally the opposite? Surely, we would criticize any behavior that goes beyond our norm.
For example, if they had taught us, like Morticia, that the roses are more beautiful without their flowers, that is, leaving only their thorns, surely, we would cut them off and let ourselves be carried away by the beauty of the thorns, finding stranger who admired the flower and its petals. In the end, everything depends on the point of view and what we have learned in society.
This game with the contrast, in short, produces laughter, but does not leave aside the reflective component. Values are inverted, the macabre is taken as beautiful and it ends up questioning everything. In addition, we must not forget that, for many people, the aesthetics of terror can be exceptionally beautiful. And is that beauty, like taste, is something totally subjective.
Our life is ephemeral, our passage through the world is deeply linked to death … Why fear? Why not make fun of it? The Addams family has done it successfully for decades and it has given us a kind of sigh, a relief that makes our passage through life (or death) more pleasant.
Our life is tragic many times, it is bitter and it is not how we dreamed it, for that reason, laughter is a therapy, a catharsis that relieves us in our grayer moments.
In this way, the Addams managed to captivate us with their particular point of view about the aesthetic, the right, the moral, the comic. And they captivated us so much that, even many decades later, they continue to devastate the theaters of our cities.