The close rapport between horror and comedy seems to us evident from the beginning of life to the end. Lacantells us that when an infant looks in the mirror and recognizes him or herself for the first time, the response is one of jubilation, if not laugher. This joy is founded in the act of identifying oneself with a unified image. No longer is one’s infant body a fragmented mass, with limbs disjointed and orientation skewed. In doing so, perspective is gained at the expense of being alienated from what one actually is. Our merriment, such as it is, is short-lived. Just as the image presented to us in the mirror can confer order upon an otherwise messy body, so that veil can just as easily be removed, provoking not laughter, but horror. Anxiety is one such situation that hovers between horror and comedy, between the farcical and the visceral, and for this reason often plays a key role in the horror genre.
Consider Stuart Gordon’s masterful 1985 adaption of H.P. Lovecraft’s tale, “Herbert West-Reanimator.” The story concerns a prodigious student, Herbert West, and his experiments in reanimating dead life with a neon green slime. Many of these experiments end badly, producing malformed semi-living beings. Part of the comic-horror inherent in the film stems from the slapstick bodies produced in West’s trials. The reanimated bodies become grotesque exaggerations of their previous incarnation, now with renewed strength or heighted libido. Bulging eyes and decapitated heads are recurring motifs, as West murmurs to himself: “Parts…I’ve never [reanimated] parts.” In a key scene in the film, the severed head of one character sits in a metal tray while his body twitches on the ground. As West interrogates the head, the remaining body approaches from behind to attack him. These scenes of the body becoming inverted, with the torso now carrying the head, play upon the primal anxiety that the parts of our corporeality are ultimately contigent. The nightmare is already known to John Locke: "Cut off a hand...and it is then no longer a part of the body which is himself, any more than the remotest part of matter." Lovecraft’s grotesque vision of Herbert West confronts us not only with a slapstick depiction of the disassembled body but also with a horrifying realization that the body was never unified to begin with.