Some horror films wriggle into your mind and make you seriously question ever switching off the lights. But when you just don’t wanna invite something like Hereditary into your nightmares, there are also horror movies that aim to make you shriek with laughter and fright, often with a bonus helping of gore.
With well-established movies like the Evil Dead series, Shaun of the Dead, and Dead Alive already sitting high atop the horror-comedy pile, we wanted to dig a little bit deeper and highlight some of the genre’s cult classics. Share your own favorite offbeat horror comedies in the comments!
As we mentioned, this list doesn’t contain many of the horror-comedy genre’s most prominent titles, but one slightly lesser-known “Dead” is here to represent, if only because its genius is fresh on our minds after our annual Fourth of July re-watch. That’s the holiday in the background of this screamingly great 1985 zombie classic, about a pair of bumbling medical-supply warehouse workers who accidentally re-re-animate one of the corpses from the real incident that inspired Night of the Living Dead, and the similarly bumbling characters that get caught up in the ensuing chaos—including an excellently eccentric mortician, a gang of good-natured punk rockers, and several talkative ghouls. Do you wanna paaaarty?
The legendary comedy duo kicked off a successful series of monster capers with this 1948 exercise in goofballery; the title doesn’t begin to contain the all-star line-up that Florida baggage clerks Wilbur (Lou Costello) and Chick (Bud Abbott) encounter when they become mixed up with a couple of crates destined for the local wax museum. Count Dracula (Béla Lugosi) is the main villain, though the persnickety wax museum owner (Frank Ferguson) and a pair of conniving dames (Lenore Aubert and Jane Randolph), both of whom are pretending to be in love with Wilbur for different reasons, aren’t far behind.
Meanwhile, Frankenstein’s monster (Glenn Strange) just kind of wanders around waving his arms at people, the nervous Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.) gets to be the hero, and the Invisible Man (voiced by Vincent Price) drops by for one well-timed gag. Obviously, there’s not a drip of gore to be found in this particular entry; the big fun is in seeing all these classic monsters interact on such a lighthearted level, but Costello’s exaggerated scaredy-cat routine is never not a delight.
Horror veteran Steve Miner (Friday the 13th Part 2 and Part III, Halloween H20) directs this 1999 when-nature-attacks throwback written by David E. Kelley (Big Little Lies, Mr. Mercedes) and starring an airtight ensemble cast that includes Bridget Fonda, Bill Pullman, Brendan Gleeson, Oliver Platt, and a delightfully saucy Betty White—as well as a huge-ass crocodile that has no business lurking in an otherwise tranquil Maine lake. When the massive beast starts snatching up humans, a ragtag posse of law enforcement and reptile experts try to capture it, with lots of shrieking, gruesome flesh-chomping (the croc also manages to annihilate a helicopter at one point), and cornball banter along the way.
A year after 1985's Re-Animator, director Stuart Gordon reunited with stars Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton, along with new addition Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead), for another H.P. Lovecraft-inspired tale. Like that previous film, it’s an ooey-gooey tale of weird science, shot through with a knowing jolt of very dark humor. Combs plays Dr. Crawford Tillinghast, assistant to out-there scientist/bondage enthusiast Dr. Edward Pretorius (Ted Sorel), whose Bride of Frankenstein homage of a name drops a huge hint as to his, uh, adventurous spirit in the lab.
In the opening scene, we witness his invention, the “Resonator,” a machine that enhances the psychic awareness and forbidden pleasure receptors of all within range; as the movie progresses, it proves its ability to unleash ghoulish results, most spectacularly a version of Dr. Pretorious that emerges “from beyond” as a hideously deformed, squishy monster with an insatiable appetite for human brains.
Not the 1996 comedy starring Chris Farley and David Spade—this Black Sheep is the 2006 New Zealand zombie romp starring a herd of outrageously vicious sheep, the result of genetic engineering gone very wrong (and then accidentally set loose upon the countryside, where the monstrous mutation soon spreads to humans). At the heart of the film is a decades-long conflict between two brothers—one is afraid of sheep, the other loves them a bit too much—but despite its good-natured cast of New Zealand actors, Black Sheep’s real stars are its tone, which perfectly balances quick-witted humor and goofy terror, and its grisly, woolly, flatulent special effects, created by a just-post-Lord of the Rings Weta Workshop.
Make it a New Zealand double feature with the 2014 Taika Waititi-Jemaine Clement mockumentary that spawned the hit FX TV series, in a rare example of both source material and spin-off series being equal works of comedic genius. Wherever vampires go, it’s a given that there’ll be plenty of blood-soaked carnage in their wake; What We Do in the Shadows also has a blast exploring what it might be like to be a centuries-old creature of the night trying to get along with roommates whose supernatural similarities don’t mean they’re easy to live with. Not to mention navigating the challenges of fitting into an exhaustingly modern world. Also, the movie has way more werewolves than the show, as well as a pair of clueless cops so funny they got their own series in New Zealand.
The 1974 original is still a nerve-jangling, stomach-churning tutorial in why you should never, ever get off the main highway and go poking around a house filled with body parts, especially in Texas. But the sequel, which director Tobe Hooper waited until 1986 to unleash upon the world, is easily the most magnificently macabre, barbecue-and-cannibalism-themed comedy ever put to film.
Dennis Hopper plays it ramrod straight as a revenge-seeking lawman, while nearly everyone else (especially Jim Siedow and Bill Mosely as the chattiest members of the Sawyer family) camps it up big time. Perhaps most remarkably, Leatherface (played here by Bill Johnson), transcends his slasher-monster pigeonhole to become the movie’s sad-clown character—if a clown can wear a mask of human skin, that is.
Eli Craig’s 2010 clever send-up of slasher films imagines that good ol’ boy besties Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) have just bought the ramshackle cabin of their dreams—only to have their first vacation complicated by a group of hard-partying college kids, who take one look at them and assume they’re about to become the victims in a backwoods horror movie. The grand misunderstanding is a storytelling gimmick, but it’s genuinely funny enough to propel the entire movie, as the kids—and, eventually the pesky local sheriff—keep dying off in a series of intensely gory accidents (seriously, why would you go anywhere near that woodchipper?), and a secondary plot about an actual homicidal maniac lurking in the forest begins to emerge. Plus, there’s an unexpectedly cute romance as an added feel-good bonus.
Have you heard the one about the tire named Robert that comes to life in the desert and starts making people explode? And when we say “the one,” we really mean it—there’s no other movie quite as bizarre as Quentin Dupieux’s 2010 Rubber, which wraps that singular premise in equal parts bone-dry wit and enthusiastic violence.
Just to prove that horror comedies are still alive and thriving, here’s an entry from last year—Ready or Not directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, together known as Radio Silence (they’ll be helming Scream 5 next). Samara Weaving, soon to appear in Bill & Ted Face the Music, plays Grace, an orphan who marries into the ludicrously wealthy Le Domas family only to discover—on her wedding night, while still wearing her wedding gown no less—a bizarre sort of hazing ritual awaits her, in the form of a deadly game of hide and seek. A few maids get slaughtered by accident first, then Grace starts fighting back with as much brutality as she can muster. And then... just when you think the battered bride is done for... Ready or Not’s demonic flair kicks in and we get some splat-tastic action. KA-BLAM!
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