When you’re a mortician, you expect to see a lot of interesting stories come up. Most likely ranging in strange requests of decorations and music, to perhaps having a completely non-western funeral event take place. We’ve all heard them and loved some of the interesting facts. Heck, there’s even a YouTube channel where people can ask a professional random questions out there.
However, one would never expect the events in “The Funeral” by Richard Matheson to ever take place. However, the mortician experiences them and has to find his way through it.
Now, would I label this story as a horror?
It definitely starts out that way. We have a dark man who is very threatening and obviously backed by wealth. We also see different creatures of the night enter the funeral home for a service. Each one more menacing than the last and just as deadly.
This changes quickly, once our vampire-like friend decides he wants to test out the coffin. He squeezes into it and snuggles up tight as if testing out a mattress. The proceeding service then turns into more of a bad family reunion which had one too many uncles you didn’t want to invite.
The vampire starts arguing with the witch about her comments and behavior all while the poor mortician is trapped between it all unable to escape. Yes, this is certainly horrific for him as he is constantly being told he looks tasty by those sitting next to him, but do I feel horrified in the least bit? No, I’m too focused on the fact that the vampire can’t even get a proper funeral for himself and the other monsters are crying as if he is gone forever.
So, is it a Comedy?
In the end, it is a comedy in my eyes versus a horror short story. A comedy horror if you will because the comedy is what continued to drive the story forward. We could just as easily trade out all of the monsters for a dysfunctional Addams’s family style group and still have a very closely related story. The monsters are appreciated in the story, as now we can sense there is still a bit more danger for the mortician, but not enough to pull us from the comedy.
In the end, what really pulls us into a comedy is literally the ending. You have an eldritch horror stepping into your office asking for similar services and it leaves us laughing at the end. For me, a horror should fill me with dread or satisfaction that the main character has won, or the monster has won in some fashion. We don’t get that with The Funeral.
Overall, it is still one of my favorite short stories now that I have ever read, and it makes me want to continue to read more of his works as time goes on. Where “I Am Legend” places us in a grim world where you cringe at sexism and some slight racism mixed in, The Funeral takes us in another direction where we devour the cringe of a dysfunctional group of monsters that can’t even perform a proper funeral without attacking one another and still loving the outcome of it all.