Scary Movie at 20: How the comedy franchise killed off the spoof film

By the end of the 2010s, parody had become shorthand for cheap gags and scatalogical riffs, rapidly metastasising much the way viral memes do now, writes Annabel Nugent

Wednesday 18 March 2020 08:04
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Surely you can’t be serious?: the genre went from the 1980 high of ‘Airplane!’ through to ‘Scary Movie’ in 2000 and the asinine tribute to Judd Apatow a decade ago
Surely you can’t be serious?: the genre went from the 1980 high of ‘Airplane!’ through to ‘Scary Movie’ in 2000 and the asinine tribute to Judd Apatow a decade ago

The 41-Year-Old Virgin Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall and Felt Superbad About It. The brain scrambles to decipher the references in this abomination – and then short-circuits after realising someone was paid real actual money to make it. As the name suggests, the movie is an amalgamation of Judd Apatow’s greatest hits – and when it premiered in 2010, it acted as an obituary for the decade of spoof movies that preceded it.

At their best, parody films are the barnacle on the cinematic whale, piggy-backing along for the ride. At their worst, they are the hand shoved inside the whale’s corpse, turning it into a puppet for fart jokes and sexual innuendos. If this article had been written at the end of the 20th century, with the likes of Airplane, The Naked Gun, This Is Spinal Tap and Mel Brooks as its subject, it would likely be a love letter. Instead, it’s an anniversarial autopsy. Still, the genre’s demise was not sudden or unexpected; Nineties parodies like Spy Hard and Tim Burton’s star-studded Mars Attacks had lazy jokes that would characterise the next period of spoof cinema.

Cinematic parody is a territory traditionally dominated by four big names: Mel Brooks (Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, High Anxiety), the Zucker Brothers (Airplane, The Naked Gun, Top Secret), the Wayans Brothers (Blankman, Scary Movie, Dance Flick) and the Friedberg-Seltzer duo (Meet the Spartans, Spy Hard, Vampires Suck).

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