Horror is an incredibly chummy genre. With every horror movie released, there’s a good chance – whether intentional or not – that it pays homage in some way to the films that came before it. It could be as obvious and generically broad as the color red, or it could be more intentional – something playful and cheeky like a J&B bottle on a liquor cart in the background.
These nods and flourishes are part of what make horror movies so fun and endearing for us, the rabid fans. They’re also probably part of the reason the movies themselves endure so long – at least partly so – even after multiple viewings. And spotting these homages doesn’t just make for an entertaining watch, it also makes for good internet: look at any horror blog today and I guarantee a majority of their film reviews, articles, and dissertations will make mention of just how referential horror movies are.
Some of these trends, though, however fun to spot, defy explanation. Whereas a blood-red color scheme or perhaps that ever popular hockey-mask-and-chainsaw trope need only the slightest understanding of the genre to make sense, the “hungry coroner” device (something not entirely restricted to ‘horror’) confounds interpretation, and seems to have been memetically passed along, inherited by successive movies and TV shows, with no real clarification or reasoning for its beginnings.
It’s such a recognizable conceit that other entertainment sites have made note of it, though they too seem befuddled as to its origins. It even pops up in Roger Ebert’s collection of clichés and conventions, Ebert’s Bigger Little Movie Glossary. As far as I was able to find, it first popped up in The Monster That Challenged the World, and it plays humorously – as it does in almost all of its other instances. Now why this character and trait are paired, I don’t know, but a few things are certain: it’s lasted several decades, been interpreted many ways by all sorts of genres, and isn’t confined to just American productions.
Below is a short collection of the few times “hungry coroner” has popped up in horror film and on TV. This is a far from comprehensive list. If you can think of any others, leave a note in the comments below!
(Lastly, Honorable Mentions go out to the following films, for which I was unable to get screen-grabs: The Howling, The New York Ripper, Night of the Creeps, Bride of Re-Animator, Jason Goes to Hell, Wolf Cop).