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Death Becomes Her (1992)
Black/horror comedies notoriously, but sadly, have had difficulties finding audiences. For whatever reason, many people have a problem accepting a comedy about horrific subjects. It's a shame because black comedies are among my favorite types of film, but on the other hand, their rarity makes me appreciate an excellent example of the genre -- such as Death Becomes Her -- even more.
It's a guess, but probably about one-third of the films I watch I feel work better if a virgin viewer knows absolutely nothing about the plot. So if you haven't seen Death Becomes Her, I recommend holding off on my review until you've seen the film -- there are many spoilers to follow. Just trust that if you have a taste for black/horror comedies -- that is, anything from American Werewolf in London to The Frighteners to Ghostbusters -- you'll probably enjoy Death Becomes Her, even if you don't agree that it deserves a 10.
I'm sure I'll provoke arguments along the lines of, "Death Becomes Her should not in any way be classified as horror, although calling it black comedy is acceptable." And no, I don't think that every black comedy is a horror flick, although I do think most of them are. Hear me out on this one for a second though. Let's forget about the first half for a moment. The second half is essentially a zombie film. We also meet Lisle Von Rhoman, who, if she isn't a manifestation of Satan, is surely one of Satan's favorite demoness nymphettes. Von Rhoman's mansion is a traditional gothic haunted castle. Despite the unusual cast in this context, and the fact that Death Becomes Her is shot in a bright, attractive, Hollywood style, all the overt elements of the second half are horror.
What about the first half? If the entire film was in this vein, I wouldn't classify it as horror, no. It wouldn't even really be a black comedy. Just a very quirky, enjoyable film. But there is a dark side that dominates the first half and that shows through the comedy. The theme is more psychological, but it concerns the horror of aging, the angst of entropy, the fear of death and the futility of battling the same. This is the primary theme that runs through the film, which is why it so naturally turns into a bleakly comic zombie flick.
To know that Death Becomes Her is a big-budgeted, engaging extravaganza with amazing and timeless special effects, all you have to know is that it was directed and written by Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump, Contact, What Lies Beneath). Granted, some people dislike Zemeckis' style -- he's not a director for whom you'd ever use adjectives like "gritty" or "rough-hewn" -- so if you only like Fulci and Troma films, say, I suppose you should skip this one.
But in contrast to the usual high-quality, high-sheen Zemeckis characteristics, watching Meryl Streep stumble around with a broken neck and limbs -- so that her head is oriented backwards, or watching Goldie Hawn have a thoughtful conversation with a gaping hole in her midriff from a rifle blast, provides a pleasantly disturbing, contrapuntal balance. I'm sure this will be controversial, but I think that Death Becomes Her features some of Streep, Hawn and Bruce Willis' best work. Obviously, I'm biased towards this type of film, but it's hard to deny the quality of the performances.
As for the other technical aspects, what the sets lack in traditional horror atmosphere they make up for in artistic beauty. Von Rhoman's mansion is every horror fanatics dream home. Menville (Willis) and Ashton's (Streep) palatial home is also excellent, and is the basis for many of the aforementioned contrasts -- such as Ashton's brutal tumble down a beautiful marble staircase. The cinematography is excellent and often subtle -- such as the use of shadows. The score is grandiose and gothic.
As a black comedy, it's not for everyone. But if you can stomach laughing at rotting flesh and suspend disbelief enough to enjoy completely dismantled bodies that still remain animated, Death Becomes Her may be just the gourmet fast food that you need.
Tracey Ullman had a part as Willis's bartender girlfriend. She was cut out when the happier ending involving her character wasn't used.