The Addams Family: Beauty in the Macabre

September 1, 2019
The Addams family has amazed us over the decades. What's the secret of its success and what has it got to do with our fascination with death?

The Addams Family is, quite simply, iconic. It has been adapted in countless ways over the decades. What are the keys to its success? Why do we like to laugh at terror? What’s beautiful about the cult of death? In this article, we’ll try to answer these questions.

The Addams Family is, without a doubt, one of the best-known families in the TV and cinema world. Just by hearing its name, we can’t resist the urge to snap our fingers to the rhythm of its unforgettable tune. The world’s most peculiar family has been entertaining our Halloween (and other) nights for many years, making fun of death and surprising us with their taste for the macabre.

Why are people fascinated by horror?

When we think of horror movies, we look for films that will surprise us. We want to experience fear from the comfort and tranquility of our armchair. We want to feel scared, but, at the same time, know that what we’re seeing is nothing more than a work of fiction. Somehow, we find pleasure in this experience.

Some people find horror movies funny due to how far-fetched they can be sometimes, and due to the many clichés that usually appear in them. However, others simply steer clear of them.

Making a spectator feel scared is much more complicated than it may seem. Different emotions and subjectivity come into play. This same premise could be applied to comedy as well. Making us laugh is also a really complicated task, and especially so if we want everyone to laugh at the same things.

And if we take all those horror clichés and mix in a bit of comedy? That’s exactly what the Addams Family does, and there lies the key to its success.

The history of the macabre

Throughout history, there have been countless artistic manifestations linked to death. Likewise, the number of religions and cults dotted throughout human history show how much we think about what comes after this life. Human beings feel really curious about death and the unknown.

This has been reflected in many ways. Even cemeteries can become artistic outdoor areas. A good example of this would be the Monumental Cemetery in Milan or the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires. We also have to mention the Egyptian pyramids, as well as examples of the prehistoric cult of death seen in the dolmens.

Memento mori

In short, there are plenty of examples from the past regarding the cult of death. Regardless of culture or geographic location, we’ll always be able to find some evidence that reminds us of the famous Latin saying Memento mori. Because if there’s something we’re certain of, it’s that we’re all going to die, even though the way of interpreting it differs from one place to another. This cult, in turn, has been shrouded in mystery and, over time, has shown itself in horror movies.

Anything unknown or that poses a threat to our lives in some way will always produce a certain amount of terror. The horror genre feeds on these fears, the occult and, above all, death, to create books or films that connect with our desire to remain alive. However, is there another way of looking at this?

The Addams family in black and white.

Of course, the horror genre has been evolving and adapting throughout time. However, it has certain aesthetic elements that are easily identifiable and can often lead to comedy. And, if there’s something more daring than horror itself, it’s the ability to laugh at it. In this way, monsters that were frightening can become friends or even laughable objects.

Gothic fiction

In the nineteenth century, Gothic fiction gained a significant foothold, and, as a consequence, different subgenres were created. In recent times, we’ve had a very good example that defined what would later be known as “comedy-horror”. We’re talking here about Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving. In this case. it’s horror mixed with a rather black form of humor. From then on, countless films followed this portrayal of horror.

In film and television, some movies such as Gremlins (Joe Dante, 1984), The Little Shop of Horrors (Frank Oz, 1986), Hocus Pocus (Kenny Ortega, 1993), Mars Attacks (Tim Burton, 1996), or Beetlejuice (Tim Burton, 1988) stand out.

In Spain, director Alex de la Iglesia also stands out for offering us terror mixed with comedy. Two examples of his were The Day of the Beast (1995) and The Witches of Zugarramurdi (2013). Cinema sometimes invites us to make fun of our fears and to laugh at the absurd conventions that often surround our lives.

But there’s no doubt that the family that we’re talking about has made fun of death the best. It has captivated fans from all over the world, and of all ages. It has managed to combine laughter and terror in a way that has never been equaled. The Addams Family, for obvious reasons, and for many people, has become the definitive definition of what comedy-horror really is.

A member of the Addams family.

The Addams Family: Macabre comedy

American cartoonist Charles Addams surprised people in 1933 with a series of cartoons in The New Yorker. They featured macabre characters who embraced black humor and parodied everyday life.

A few decades later, in the 60s, these cartoons ended up inspiring the Addams Family itself. But this wasn’t the only strange family that reigned on TV at the time. On a different channel, you could see a fairly similar series entitled The Munsters.

The black humor and the adoption of horror cliches – in order to subsequently parody them – served as the foundation for a real satire on contemporary values. Somehow, people considered that everything normal was weird and strange. On the other hand, they revered everything that was unconventional. This technique shows us a kind of upside-down world that entertains the viewer with strange things, but, at the same time, invites them to question their own values.

We’re all born in a society that influences our decisions and allows us to tell right from wrong. However, these types of genres invite us to consider a new perspective. One that uses humor to break down our tradicional perspectives.

The Addams Family on the big screen

The success of the Addams Family meant that it didn’t stay confined to the TV screen. Movies, animated series, and even a musical followed.

Its characters come from horror movies, but live out normal everyday lives. They’re no longer monstrous characters that should frighten the neighborhood, but rather they become neighbors themselves, albeit rather peculiar ones. In some ways, all of this points to the idea of the freak – all those individuals who, for whatever reason, don’t seem to fit into society’s norms.

The Addams Family break all our human conventions, but they do have their own morals, and their own rules. They observe our world and try to make some sort of sense of what for them is strange.

The interesting thing about the laughable element is how it manages to break down conventional values and rules, and question them using irony. This isn’t something exclusive to comedy-horror, but is something we can also apply to everyday life. What if “normal” were totally the opposite? Surely, we would then criticize all behavior that went beyond those norms.

Let’s take the example of Morticia from the Addams Family, who was taught that roses are more beautiful without their flowers and only with their thorns. In that case, we would surely cut them and be carried away by the beauty of the thorns. We’d find it strange if someone actually admired the flowers and the petals. In the end, everything depends on perspective and on what society has taught us.

Beauty in horror

Playing around with these contrasts produces laughter. Values ​​are reversed; the macabre si considered beautiful, and everything is questioned. In addition, we mustn’t forget that many people find a certain beauty in horror. And this beauty is something that’s totally subjective.

Our life is ephemeral, our passage through this world is intrinsically linked to death. Why fear it? Why not make fun of it? The Addams Family has done it successfully for decades and has given us a kind of relief that makes our passage through life (or death) more enjoyable.

Our life is often very tragic. It can be bitter and not as we had dreamed. Because of that, laughter is a therapy, a catharsis that relieves us in our darkest moments.

In this way, the Addams Family manages to captivate us with their particular take on beauty, right and wrong, morals, and humor. They have captivated us so much that, even many decades later, they continue to break records and inspire us.