New article for Horrified Magazine!
Horrified is a new kid on the block but is producing some fine work in the realm of British horror, both in terms of analysis and original fiction, so I was delighted when the editor, Freddy, was keen on my pitch for a recurring series called ‘Horror in the Britcom’, unpicking the intersection between horror and comedy in British sitcoms…
For this second piece, I’m talking about an unexpected offering in the realm of horror, Only Fools and Horses…
This piece looks at the Only Fools episode Friday the 14th, which lampoons the American slasher genre and leans into the classic ghost story, as part of a broader exploration of the socio-political and parental psychology underpinning John Sullivan’s show, exemplified in how it trades on The Omen and fears of the Anti-Christ. It was a lot of fun to write.
You can find the article below, but here’s a short snippet:
While the spectre of horror might not come instantly to mind when considering the jocular working-class pathos of Only Fools and Horses, John Sullivan’s iconic sitcom debuted in the midst of the American slasher’s rise to dominance.
1978’s Halloween, from John Carpenter, popularised through Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode the theory of the ‘Final Girl’, as Michael Myers’ unstoppable, masked killer scythed his way through the youthful population of Haddonfield. Two years later, teenage campers at Crystal Lake in the American heartland were picked off in Friday the 13th by Mrs Voorhees and later, in the subsequent franchise, her son Jason Voorhees, victims themselves of the selfish whims of casually promiscuous teenagers. By 1981, the year Sullivan introduced the Trotter family to the British populous for the first time, both Halloween and Friday the 13th were about to debut sequels. A Nightmare on Elm Street was just around the corner. The traumatised, male victim turned monster had arrived in American horror, and the 1980s saw an increased boom in American cultural transfers to British shores.
This surely accounts for an episode like ‘Friday the 14th’, which aired on BBC One on November 24th, 1983, an episode which directly references not just the Friday the 13th franchise—now three films strong following the release of Friday the 13th Pt III–earlier that year—but the broader trend of the slasher movie generally. Sullivan uses the episode to place, as he often would, Del-Boy, Rodney and in this case Grandad (later Uncle Albert) in positions that would showcase them in out of their depth situations; indeed he would frequently across the run of the series play with cinematic tropes or spoof well-known movies as a means of doing this. ‘Miami Twice’, set in Florida, riffs on The Godfather. Numerous episodes reference popular films and play on them, such as ‘Fatal Extraction’, ‘From Prussia With Love’ or ‘May the Force Be With You’. Outside of Friday the 13th and this particular episode, however, there is one other horror film which consistently is utilised as a comical reference point in the series: The Omen.
What becomes clear is that Only Fools and Horses contains a surprising underbelly of anxiety in regard to horror tropes, and what they might reflect about the key socio-political factors at the heart of one of Britain’s most beloved sitcoms.