Horror films allow us to explore our fears. They find the ideas and concepts that frighten us the most, and then they bring those things to life. One of the most universal concepts explored in horror films is death. A universal fear among the living. Death, it turns out, is actually an excellent topic for comedy as well. Since death is something that haunts us all, it is a perfect universal target for comedy. Different perspectives can paint death in a less frightening light. In doing so, it gives our fears a new perspective. We can laugh at them.
Horror-comedies are, therefore, not as juxtaposed as they might first seem. They play off of each other in an entertaining way. It shouldn’t be surprising that there have been many successful films that have combined horror and comedy in different ways. This is our list of the ten best examples:
10. Slither (2006)
James Gunn’s criminally underrated feature-film debut was a box office bomb. In an era when horror movies relied on violence and gore more than tone and suspense (Saw, Dawn of the Dead, Hostel), Gunn’s film took that trend and ran with it. People probably assumed that it was more of the same so they didn’t go see it in theaters. That’s a shame becuse in reality it was playing off of what horror movies had become. Slither relishes in gorey disgusting excess, but it does so in tongue-and-cheek fashion. At it’s heart it is a gross-out comedy, think Animal House, but with a horror film plot and setting. Eli Roth did something similar with Cabin Fever, but that film isn’t as enjoyable as this one. Throw in a great cast that includes Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, and Michael Rooker, and Slither is a great movie night flick that will make you wonder whether you are supposed to be cringing or laughing. Either way, you’ll have a great time.
9. Scream (1996)
Scream is not only a great horror-comedy film, it’s one of the greatest horror films ever made. It took the over-used idea of a slasher movie, and found a way to made it cool again. That was a really risky premise in the 1990’s when audiences had mostly written off horror movies because they hadn’t really seen anything new in a while. Plus, although today we look back fondly at 70’s and 80’s slasher films, they weren’t mainstream. Slasher movies are genre films that many people simply didn’t find entertaining. Scream made horror suddenly relevant again, and it made horror mainstream. It proved that horror would have to become smarter in order to find a connection with audiences. Wes Craven’s film finds its wit as an excellent commentary on traditional horror movies. It’s so effective in its design and self-referencing that it is both shocking and remarkably funny at the same time. That’s a hard trick to pull off. It’s a satire without having to become parody.
8. Cabin in the Woods (2011)
The cabin in the woods setting is a common one among horror movies, including one film on this list. In fact, that setup has been done so many times before that even if you haven’t seen any of those films, you can understand what will happen. Joss Whedon and Draw Goddard teamed up for this film which, for the most part, seems like yet another one of those cabin movies. The filmmakers go so far as to make the film follow all of the traditions. But there’s more to it that that. Whedon called it is “loving hate letter” to horror films, and that’s a great summary of what you can experience here. Cabin In The Woods sets up everything that you would expect in a traditional horror film, and then burns it all to the ground in a chaotic explosion of insanity at the end. It’s the type of horror film that revels in the ridiculous, not only to create a unique viewing experience, but also to call out all those other horror films that take themselves seriously despite not accomplishing anything new in the genre. In both those areas, Cabin in the Woods is very entertaining.
7. Zombieland (2009)
Combining horror and comedy is not easy to do. By their nature, these genres are the opposite. Horror frequently involves death and body dismemberment, which is definitely not scary. Zombieland came up with a great solution. Approach horror like you would a comedy. The film finds its footing by making witty observations from an almost ambivalent perspective. Survival is no longer a fete of great strength, it’s a daily inconvenience. It’s a satire of Millennial’s presumed outlook on the future, come to life in violent and bloody detail. The film’s highpoint is a celebrity cameo that ranks as one of the best all-time. More importantly, Zombieland is fun to watch. The horror elements add a thrill while the type of comedy gives it a fresh tone.
6. Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987)
While Army of Darkness may be the most fondly remembered of Raimi’s original Evil Dead films, I don’t really count that film as a horror movie (it is an adventure film). Evil Dead 2 is classic horror, but with a goofy fun tone that only Sam Raimi could provide. Evil Dead 2 is essentially a remake of Evil Dead, but with a larger budget to allow for more ridiculous shenanigans and special effects (chainsaw hand anyone?). Bruce Campbell is at his lovable best against an onslaught of dark forces, and the film’s hectic pacing keeps you on the edge of your seat. It’s a perfect blend of horror and comedy, and would surely have ranked higher on this list except for the fact that it’s special effects have aged considerably. To today’s audience, Evil Dead 2 can’t be taken seriously because of this. But that’s okay, you don’t need to be frightened to have a good time watching it.
5. Young Frankenstein (1974)
Mel Brooks is revered today because he has made some of the funniest films ever made. Young Frankenstein is one of those films. While technically a spoof, the approach is more like the filmmakers decided to make a sequel of the original Frankenstein movie series, but with complete lack of sensibility. It starts with the black and white picture itself, a throwback to the original (serious) films that also creates this sinking, haunting feeling in the audience. It’s also a bridge for many of the films’ jokes which remark on the seen-it-before nature of yet another old-school horror film with familiar story lines. The films’ script is top notch, with so many witty and hilarious lines. More importantly, the cast is fully committed to the film, really bringing it to life, even injecting their own improvisations to create something really unique. Sure, it’s haphazard, and at times a bit obnoxious, but never dumb and never insulting. It’s a great comedy dressed up to look like a traditional horror film.
4. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Like Young Frankenstein, Shaun of the Dead is ultimately a spoof, but one that tries to frame itself as a serious film. More importantly, it’s not just making fun of what had come before. It’s injecting a new energy and modern-day perspective into a genre film. Three things stand out in my mind which make Shaun of the Dead one of the most enjoyable horror/comedy movies of all time. First, you have the pacing and innovative direction of Edgar Wright. He gives the film an attitude with its structure and pacing that matches the characters’ personalities and the plot itself. Second, you have the actors. Shaun of the Dead made Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and even Bill Nighy stars. They created memorable characters, lovable losers if you will, that didn’t have us screaming at the screen because of their nonsensical decisions. In fact, one of the film’s strong points is how it plays off of the stereotype of previous zombie films, taking an almost absurdist perspective. Finally, Shaun of the Dead’s success lies in its British humor and charms. While #7 on this list may be the American version of a comedic zombie film, this one is ranked higher because its humor is not just playing off of the setting. Like the tagline says, it’s a “Romantic comedy, with zombies.”
3. Ghostbusters (1984)
What horror-comedy list would be complete without Ghostbusters? Sure, maybe it’s more comedy than horror, but it’s a film about paranormal activities, so it’s definitely part of the horror genre. I think that’s also probably what makes it so great. Ghostbusters was so much different than anything that came before it. It wasn’t a gore-fest reveling in violence, it wasn’t making fun of genre stereotypes, and it wasn’t trying to be anything besides a fun film. It’s got a catchy theme song, fun special effects, and that deadpan comedy of Mr. Bill Murray. In fact, it’s difficult to think of a film that’s as much effortless fun as Ghostbusters is. More importantly, the humor it exhibits is universal. Despite the horror background, everyone will find something to laugh about. It appeals to kids without dumbing anything down, and it appeals to adults without going crude or vulgar. I think that the campiness of the film helps it in both these regards. Everything just fits together perfectly.
2. Beetlejuice (1988)
Tim Burton’s movies have a style that is unique and easily recognizable. Beetlejuice is perhaps the most fully realized of his films, showcasing his trademark twisted gothic imagery but with an aura of charm and heart that is difficult to resist. The reason this film ranks so highly on this list is that it expertly combines many contrasting elements to make something better. This starts with the film’s tone, which is comedic while also being tragic. Somehow, the audience is coerced into cheering against the living, we find charm in the dead. There’s also a play off of how mundane life is pretty much being like being dead, and the experience of being dead is actually exciting in comparison. These thought-provoking contrasts, combined with a highly-entertaining performance by Michael Keaton, make Beetlejuice a beloved classic that is equal parts creepy and fun.
1. An American Werewolf in London (1981)
From the director of National Lampoon’s Animal House and The Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf in London seems like it would be an 80’s buddy comedy version of a traditional horror film. But that is inaccurate. It’s a straight-faced horror film with comedic moments. And in both the comedic and horror moments, it really hits home. Plus, not only are these elements well executed, they play off of eachother. That’s a must have for any horror-comedy to work. In this film, the main duo are faced with terrible dilemma regarding their mortality. The score, picture, and jaw-dropping makeup effects make the horror aspect really effective, but it’s the relationship between the two main characters as they deal with their respective problems that really makes this film entertaining. The transformation scene is one of the most shocking in all of cinema, but a few scenes later you’ll be rolling on the floor laughing at one of the funniest. That’s great comedy-horror.
Did your favorite comedy-horror film not make the list? Comment below to share your picks!