From classic monsters to killer tomatoes, horror film satires have always been a real scream. Whether Dracula is meeting Aboot & Costello or running the Hotel Transylvania, he is often as good for a laugh as he is for a scare.
Halloween is coming. It's time for trick-or-treat, jack-o-lanterns, costumes and comedy. Yes, I said comedy, because some of the best movies shown at this time of year are horror-comedies. Every genre has been parodied at some point, and horror has often been great fodder for satire. Just this year, we've had Paranorman, Hotel Transylvania, and Tim Burton's new Frankenweenie. At the time of year when scares are the business of the day, let's look at some of those side-splitting horror parodies which remind us that monsters are funny, too.
Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) – By the mid-1940s, Universal Studios had used—and perhaps overused—their iconic unholy trilogy of Dracula, the Wolfman and Frankenstein's Monster to the point where the famous ghouls mayhave been able to draw blood but they could no longer draw flies to the box office. Universal thus decided to team their three featured creatures with the most popular comedy team of the day, Bud Abbott & Lou Costello. The popular pair of punsters appeared in the hilarious horror parody Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. The story had Dracula plotting some unspecified scheme of conquest which needed the help of the Frankenstein Monster to succeed in whatever he was planning. (We never do find out what his evil scheme was.) Bud and Lou team up with Larry Talbot---who unbeknownst to them is the Wolfman—to defeat the evil Count and his seven-foot sidekick. Lon Chaney played the Wolfman for the fifth time and Bela Lugosi reprised his role as Dracula for the first time in 17 years—and it was also his last time. The film was such it hit, it gave the three monsters one last cinematic hurrah and was also the biggest hit Abbott and Costello ever had, inspiring Universal to team A & C with some other popular beasties.
Abbott & Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1953) - After meeting Frankenstein, Bud and Lou paired up with former Frankenstein star Boris Karloff for Abbott & Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. (Perhaps some mad scientist could operate on that title to shorten it.) Karloff, the cinematic king of horror from the 30s-50s, had worked with Bud & Lou before in Abbott & Costello Meet the Killer, and enjoyed the experience so much, he turned in this film to play the cinematic doctor with the unpleasant alter ego. The story find two bumbling American cops transferred to Scotland Yard in the early 1900s, just as a series of murders are committed, so the inept pair try to solve the case, with their usual results. Lou even gets turned into a giant mouse. This film isn't nearly as funny as A& C Meet Frankenstein but it's worth it to see horror icon Karloff sharing the screen with a great comedy team.
Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy (1955) The third and final of Bud & Lou's monster meetings was funnier than A & C Meet Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, but not as good as A & C Meet Frankenstein. This time, the not-so-daring duo meet that gift-wrapped Egyptian, the Mummy. The Mummy was a popular film beastie who sadly never made it into any of Universal's previous monster team-up films, but he did get to share the limelight with Bud & Lou in their very last film for Universal Studios. In this film, out dim-witted duo are in Egypt where they get hold of an ancient pendant which is the key to resurrecting and controlling the ancient Mummy Klaris. This was not only the final film fling at Universal for Bud & Lou but for the Mummy as well.
Young Frankenstein (1974) - Director Mel Brooks has made his share of hilarious films, and this one is a fan favorite, especially with horror fans. Written by and starring Gene Wilder, this film is an affectionate yet scathing homage to the Frankenstein films of the 1930, with Peter Boyle as the zipper-necked monster, Marty Feldman as hunch-backed/bugling-eyed servant Eye-Gore, and Wilder as the grandson of the original Dr. Frankenstein. Gene Hackman makes a brief but memorable appearance in a riotous parody of the Blind-man-in-the-cabin scene from The Bride of Frankenstein. Kenneth Mars is a scene stealer playing a wooden-armed policeman. This parody worked so well because Brooks and Wilder loved the original films and there was much respect shown for the source material, mixed in with the clever comedy.
The Phantom of the Paradise (1974)-Brian De Palma's wacky rock-opera is basically a modern adaptation of the Phantom of the Opera, full of catchy tunes and surreal moments. The musical acts in the film were meant to be outrageous but most of them seem tame by modern standards. The film is about a young composer (William Finley) who is tricked by the demonic music tycoon Swam (surprisingly well played by Paul Williams, who also wrote all the music) and gets swindled, as well as arrested, deformed and driven crazy. He comes back to get revenge against Swan as 'the Phantom'. Jessica Harper plays the singer who the Phantom is obsessed with and Gerrit Graham steals every scene he's in as a singer named 'Beef'.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) - The ultimate cult film! This outrageous and rather kinky satire of 1950s horror and sci-fi films is chock full of sex, surrealism, transvestites, movie-clichés and rock-and-roll. It was an unlikely vehicle to launch the career of Susan Sarandon, but there you go! The movie has gathered a huge devoted cult following who gather weekly to re-enjoy the film and even act it out. Tim Curry steals the entire movie as the mad transvestite doctor from another planet. Singer Meat Loaf appears briefly. There are a lot of catchy songs, including "Let's do the Time Warp."
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1980) - A guilty pleasure, this silly film is a goofy parody on those mutant-monsters-on-the-loose films that were popular in the 50s. In this case, instead of giant bugs, we have killer tomatoes. The humor is all over the place but when it hits the mark, it's a scream. Where else could you see a large man in a tomato costume going undercover among a group of intelligent tomatoes and giving himself away when he asks for the ketchup? The theme song and opening credits are great.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988) - A clever mix of horror/sci-fi and comedy. The film runs with its premise at full tilt, giving us lots of ridiculous yet funny scenes of dark humor. The movie follows the adventures of a group of local teens and a young deputy sheriff as they defend their small town from alien invaders who look like circus clowns. The invaders kill using clownish props like cotton candy, balloons and even a shadow puppet. How do you kill a Killer Klown? You destroy its big, red nose--how else?
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)-Tim Burton unchained his imagination for this clever mix of comedy, Grand Guignol and music. Always visually interesting, with a few memorable tunes and some macabre humor. The film tells the story of the Pumpkin King of Halloween Land, who is bored with the same-old, same-old of October frights and decides to oust Santa and usurp Christmas, recreating it in his own creepy image. The best number is "Oogie Boogie's Song". A modern-day Halloween classic.
Rob Young is a freelance writer/editor and a walking encyclopedia of movie and TV trivia.