Genre cross-pollination has always been a concept that — unintentionally or not — can push audiences into directions they might not otherwise go. For horror fans, Monty Python was always a source of humor that traversed the boundaries of acceptability on both TV and at the movies… and consequently, the British troupe’s output helped its audience acquire a taste for material beyond the domain of comedy.
While their style is over the top, absurd, and downright silly, Python’s content typically contains gratuitous violence, heaping amounts of gore, and very surreal imagery. While the carnage itself appears fake, it was subversive for its time. The tonal qualities baked into many of their sketches ride the line between dread and comedy — making them predecessors to movies like RE-ANIMATOR, EVIL DEAD 2 and DEAD ALIVE.
For many of us growing up, there were many more instances of movies and TV shows stepping outside the norm and touching upon other genres — but personally, Monty Python began my appreciation for the unconventional. For your amusement, here are some examples to help back that up…
The Dead Parrot Sketch (MONTY PYTHON’S FLYING CIRCUS)
This is pretty much Ground Zero for much of what was to come later in Monty Python’s work: A dissatisfied customer comes into a pet shop and complains about his newly-purchased parrot being apparently deceased. Meanwhile, the clerk insists — over and over again — that it indeed is alive, regardless of its lack of movement. Doing everything from yelling at the bird, beating it on the counter, and tossing it into the air, only for it to land lifeless on the ground, the Pythons highlighted their willingness to slide the morbid card into play. Eventually, the sketch itself became one of their most noteworthy and well-remembered moments.
Sam Peckinpah’s SALAD DAYS (FLYING CIRCUS)
On the other end of the spectrum, SALAD DAYS was a grotesque paean to the bloodshed found in an average Sam Peckinpah film of the day (e.g. THE WILD BUNCH). Discussed in more detail by Rebekah McKendry in a previous article, it’s a brief snippet about a group of clumsy, snobby upper class twits whose idle activities quickly descend into hemoglobin-spurting and appendages falling off. Topping off the mayhem is a pretentious film critic being shot to pieces, with the aforementioned crimson stuff spewing out of him in slow motion. It truly is one messy piece of hilarity.
The Undertaker Sketch (FLYING CIRCUS)
Besides just wanton destruction, Monty Python also proved that they could write the most distasteful jokes one could imagine. In this gross-out sketch, an undertaker informs one of his customers about the advantages of burying, burning, dumping, or eating a dead body… a list which builds and builds until the studio audience simply can’t take it anymore and storms the stage in collective outrage.
The Agatha Christie Sketch (FLYING CIRCUS)
Monty Python also acknowledged the classics from time to time — as in this Agatha Christie-inspired situation, in which a detective bursts into a room to point a finger at an unknown murderer, only to be murdered himself. The bodies pile up fast, as detectives and policemen enter the room and are bumped off ad infinitum. While not necessarily bloody or overtly violent, the sketch further emphasized that the Pythons could have a laugh or two at the expense of a tired trope.
The Black Knight Scene (MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL)
Anyone who’s anybody knows this scene backwards and forwards; even if you’re not a fan of Monty Python, the scene in which King Arthur wishes to cross a bridge, only to walk into a swordfight with a stubborn Black Knight who will not allow him to pass, is likely burned into your pop-culture synapses. The fight ensues, and the overzealous Black Knight is both bested and dismembered by his opponent — all in hilarious fashion, with blood ejecting from his wounds.
The Tale of Sir Lancelot (HOLY GRAIL)
Sir Lancelot, after receiving a note containing a desperate cry of help (from a very well-shot arrow), storms a castle and slaughters nearly everyone inside in order to rescue whom he believes to be a damsel in distress. While Monty Python was mainly poking fun at Christian Crusaders — whom history remembers being violent individuals — the scene winds up being more of an exaggerated massacre, as Lancelot slices and dices his way up to the tall tower of Swamp Castle.
The Killer Rabbit Scene (HOLY GRAIL)
Later in the film, King Arthur and his knights wind up at the Cave of Caerbannog, only to be thwarted by the most unlikely of animals. Who would have thought that such a cute little bunny could be so deadly? Seemingly harmless, the rabbit quickly decapitates one of the knights before massacring several more. Being one of the sillier plot points of HOLY GRAIL, it’s also one of the most memorable.
Live Organ Transplants (MONTY PYTHON’S THE MEANING OF LIFE)
When it comes to the red stuff, THE MEANING OF LIFE is really special: Of the three original feature films that Monty Python made (minus AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT, which revisited their television skits), their final production is definitely the most aggressive — as this scene illustrates perfectly. It begins with a couple of blokes forcing their way into a British Rastafarian’s apartment, later hacking out his organs while he’s still alive. Terry Gilliam’s screams in this scene — as well as the butchery itself — make it one of the more unsettling moments in the Python catalog.
Students vs. Faculty Rugby Match (THE MEANING OF LIFE)
After failing to pay attention in class, students in a very strict English school are subjected to a cutthroat Rugby match between themselves and their masters… and they are violently decimated. Again, not necessarily a graphically bloody scene, but the violence here is highlighted by the ominous organ strains of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor — which most fans of Gothic horror know back-to-front.
“Find the Fish” (THE MEANING OF LIFE)
While not horror per se, this scene is certainly one of the more surreal moments in any Monty Python project. It’s basically a nightmare of sorts, with no real point other than to be surreal for the sake of it. In a funny kind of way, it winds up being a work of art in its own right — both totally captivating and absurd. Only the open-minded need apply here.
The Autumn Years: “Mr. Creosote” (THE MEANING OF LIFE)
Last, but certainly not least, is Mr. Creosote (mentioned here previously), an impossibly obese man who enters a restaurant, vomiting violently and frequently. He then proceeds to eat a gargantuan amount of food, promptly exploding and expelling gore and his half-digested meal all over the restaurant and its horrified patrons. It’s then a madhouse of revolted people making a break for the door, dodging rivers of puke. If you can watch this scene without feeling the least bit nauseous, then my hat’s off to you. Regardless, once you’ve seen it, it truly becomes the pièce de résistance of disgusting Python moments… and all without a single drop of blood.
There are many more examples of Monty Python pushing the envelope in shocking, off-the-wall ways… but to bring the point to its conclusion, I leave you with this clip of what would have been a boring piece of exposition in any other movie. However, through the Python prism, it’s bloody good fun…
HONORABLE MENTION: “A Famous Historian” (HOLY GRAIL)