The 25 Best Horror Comedies

2022-10-25 01:12:32 By : Mr. Jason He

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The 25 Best Horror Comedies

People say comedy and horror are intrinsically linked because they both go for a visceral reaction. A laugh or a scream: Either way, your higher brain functions aren’t really supposed to be getting involved. But horror-comedy succeeds often not just because the genres have similar aims but because death is kinda funny. The failings of the human body are absurd, disgusting, and dumb. Many of the best horror-comedies are gross because the joke and the horror are coming from the same place: your disgusting, vulnerable body.

So it makes sense that all but the most dour of horror movies have at least a few jokes in them. That makes identifying the real genre spanners all the more difficult. Some movies, like Scream, are horror movies with jokes. Horror comedies tend to have an inherently absurd premise. Killer clowns, zombie sheep, zombie romantic-comedy. Horror movies with jokes usually involve the characters finding brief moments of levity in a more believable, less high-concept world.

Others, like the original What We Do in the Shadows film, are comedies about horror subjects. What We Do in the Shadows isn’t really trying to scare you. It’s just using horror characters to tell jokes. Nobody is imperiled — nobody who is important to the plot anyway. Not once in Young Frankenstein do you think that Gene Wilder is going to bite it, even when the townspeople are rioting.

Neither horror-with-jokes or horror-colored-comedies make it onto this list. That means no Scary Movies, no Hubie Halloween. The perfect horror comedy has the energy of a Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror,” a sense that anyone can die but you shouldn’t really give a shit. It’s low-stakes horror, perfect for scaredy-cats and the easily bummed out. So here are the movies you can safely put on in the background of your next Halloween party.

The Evil Dead series escalates in comedic tone — starting with the somewhat morose The Evil Dead and culminating in Army of Darkness, which is an action comedy that more closely resembles Xena than the horror films that preceded it. Evil Dead 2 is the perfect middle, the Goldilocks zone between jokes and scares. Ash (Bruce Campbell) and his hapless girlfriend, Linda (Denise Bixler), go to a remote cabin and run afoul of a hell dimension. Linda gets possessed, Ash is forced to fight his own possessed hand, and every time he thinks it couldn’t get worse, it does. As Blank Check pointed out in their episode on the film, Evil Dead 2 is so much funnier when you remember that Sam Raimi is punishing Campbell just as much as the Deadites are fucking with Ash. Bruce Campbell was Sam Raimi’s hot friend in high school, and this movie is one excuse after another to throw things at him for being so hot and likeable. It’s gleeful sadism.

Sorry to all the haters that put this movie near the bottom of their Nightmare on Elm Street rankings, but this movie slaps. Freddy Kruger has become an all-out cartoon character after five increasingly ridiculous installments, and if you don’t like that, you need to talk to your therapist about why you’re hostile to joy. Freddy’s Dead was directed by Cry-Baby producer Rachel Talalay, and if you think of it as being equally indebted to John Waters as Wes Craven, you’ll have a better time.

In the near future of (checks notes) 2001, Brecken Meyer and some other wayward teens are menaced by Freddy Kruger. Freddy is trying to escape Springwood, where he has killed all the teens, by jumping into the brain of his long-lost offspring. In order to do that, he has to pull off some of the dumbest kills in the franchise. The video-game death is S-tier. The film features cameos from Alice Cooper, Roseanne, Tom Arnold, and a mid–Jump Street Johnny Depp. Plus Yaphet Kotto is here. How can you be mad at that?

Blumhouse has been keeping the comedic slasher afloat with the Happy Death Days and Freaky, and we should be thankful for that. Happy Death Day is about a Groundhog Day–style loop that always ends with Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) getting killed by a weirdo in a baby mask. The day’s repetitive beats are well observed, Tree learns valuable lessons about the true meaning of friendship, and things get even funnier in the sequel. Which is more sci-fi, but did give us an iconic TikTok sound. Happy Death Day perfectly balances the comedy and the horror and keeps its momentum thanks to Rothe’s manic performance. What works best is how the initially scary prospect of Tree’s death becomes funny with repetition. Tree doesn’t even care that she’s dying anymore! It’s a rake joke, but the rake impales you.

This movie kicked off Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy: Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End. Also known as the Blood and Ice Cream trilogy, the three films really live up to that name in tone. They’re childish, sweet, and gory. While the latter offerings go action and sci-fi, Shaun starts the series off in pure horror. Watch Every Frame a Painting’s video on Wright’s use of visual language to heighten jokes if you want to learn more about how every other comedic director is phoning it in. The whole thing is funny, and even both audio commentaries have jokes I’m quoting decades later. But what Shaun does perfectly is play the creeping horror in its beginning. Wright lets the zombie apocalypse play out in the background of Shaun (Pegg)’s breakup and man-child bullshit. Having recently survived a calamitous world event, it hits even harder. We really do ignore the end of the world until it’s in our back garden.

This one goes out to all the horror-comedies aimed at kids, often the training wheels that get horror freaks started down the path. Your Are You Afraid of the Darks, your Halloweentowns, your Hoci Poci. These shows and movies are fundamental texts for getting into the habit of choosing to be scared by content, with enough low-stakes silliness to take the edge off. Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island is a beloved entry in the franchise for being the first where the supernatural threat doesn’t turn out to be a guy in a mask. Before Mindy Kaling or James Gunn could get a crack at it, Zombie Island went the darker and edgier route by making the monsters real. Those werecats are scary! The comedy comes from how well observed each member of the Scooby Gang is and how frustrated they are with their roles in the group. Plus it has the best original song of all the Scooby-Doo movies (apologies to Hex Girls stans).

The Child’s Play movies get dumber and gayer with every installment. Just as God intended. Seed of Chucky builds on 1998’s Bride of Chucky’s unhinged tone and Jennifer Tilly involvement. That movie does have a doll-on-doll sex scene, but this movie has Redman.

Seed of Chucky sees killer doll Chucky go Hollywood, as he uses Jennifer Tilly to reincarnate his girlfriend. Tilly does double duty as both killer doll Tiffany and as an extremely unglamourous version of herself. Hit on by Redman, pestered by paparazzo John Waters, and kidnapped by demonic dolls, she just can’t catch a break! Seed is also notable for the introduction of Glen/Glenda (LOTR’s Billy Boyd) — a huge win for the British genderfluid haunted-doll community.

Rocky Horror Picture Show is a riff on B-movie horror and sci-fi movies. It’s the template for a certain kind of knowing camp horror still found in such works as Scream Queens and Psycho Beach Party. But is it really scary? The camp musical uses horror tropes to mock heterosexuality and orthodox ’50s morality, but does it use those tropes to spook? Multiple people told me they found this movie deeply disturbing when they saw it as a kid and that was good enough for me. They all used that same word: disturbing.

Hapless herbs Brad and Janet (Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon) get stranded at the castle of Dr. Frank-n-Furter (horror GOAT Tim Curry), who seduces them, feeds them human flesh, and gets a couple of iconic songs off along the way. According to Bruce Campbell, Rocky Horror also kept many indie cinemas afloat through midnight screenings. That’s commendable as hell.

Oh, and those people who were disturbed by Rocky Horror as kids? They’re all gay now. The “unsettled by Rocky Horror” to “hello LGBTQ community” pipeline is strong.

The apotheosis of Joe Dante and everything he’s about. Meta, goofy, and gross, Gremlins 2 has it all. The Key & Peele sketch is right: They left no ideas on the cutting room floor in that flick. Someone really went “What if the Gremlins were more toyetic, and had one-note personalities that differentiated them?” That person deserves a dump truck full of money. G2 is also so much sillier than its predecessor. Phoebe Cates gets a comedic monologue mocking her serious one in G1. Leonard Maltin pans the movie — in the middle of the movie — and gets eviscerated for it. This is meta comedy before it got annoying. And yet the threat of these killer little guys is still present. Even more than the first film, these Gremlins work as a team to bring people way bigger than them down. Plus Gremlins 2 gave birth to one of the great movie-sequel characters: the Sexy Lady Gremlin. A girlboss if there ever was one.

George Romero and John Russo parted ways after Night of the Living Dead, and brought completely different visions to their different franchises. Romero went the serious social commentary route with Dawn of the Dead. Russo…did not. Return of the Living Dead is an acid-dripping horror satire, making fun of both the military industrial complex and self-serious goths in equal measure. The film starts from the premise that Night of the Living Dead really happened, and the dead rose thanks to a chemical devised by the US Army called Trioxin. Two unwitting medical supply workers accidentally rain a cloud of Trioxin over a cemetery, and things get worse from there. Return gave us the brain-eating model of zombies that “Treehouse of Horror” solidified into canon. And is there any better joke delivered by a zombie than “Send more paramedics?” I think not.

This is the oldest movie on our list, and one of the oldest movies, period, in which the jokes still hold up. Comedy ages like milk, but most Abbott & Costello routines have turned into some kind of rare comedy cheese. A scared-shitless Lou Costello with his eyes bugging out is impervious to age.

Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein sees Dracula and the Wolfman battle over Frankenstein’s creature. And poor Chick and Budd (Abbott and Costello, respectively) are caught in the middle. Without this movie, there is no Alien vs. Predator, no Freddy vs. Jason, no Verzuz rap battles. Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein spelled the death of the Universal Monsters because who could take Dracula seriously after being bested by these jabronis? Apparently, my mother, who saw this movie when she was 8 and was so scarred by it that she hasn’t watched a horror movie since.

Maligned in its time, Jennifer’s Body has finally gotten the critical reappraisal it deserved. Megan Fox stars as Jennifer, the coolest girl in school who is sacrificed in order to launch a band to superstardom. The film is quip heavy, with a script by Juno’s Diablo Cody, and performances by Amanda Seyfried, Adam Brody, and Johnny Simmons. Karyn Kusama brings tenderness to the ultimately pathological relationship between Jennifer and Needy (Seyfried), one that is very recognizable to a lot of girls and women. It’s so easy to let a charismatic friend devour you. Just try not to let it be literal. (Sidebar shout-out: Ginger Snaps covers a lot of this territory with a dryer wit and less obtrusive CGI, but it falls under the “horror movie with jokes” category.)

The only entry on this list that also doubles as a work-com! The Cabin in the Woods is about why we need horror movies, and why audiences are kind of assholes. Some part of our lizard brain demands sacrifice. Not just sacrifice, but for people who aren’t us to be punished. The film follows a cohort of dumb horny college kids (including a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth) who don’t know they’re being manipulated into a horror-movie-esque death. Meanwhile, shadowy guys at a base somewhere (Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins) plot their doom. Most of the comedy comes from juxtaposing the worst (and last) day of these kids’ lives against the office, where it’s just another Tuesday. The speakerphone scene is a prime example. And then the designated final girl and dumb stoner (Kristen Connolly and Fran Kraz) find their way into the shadowy home base. That’s when things get really nuts.

No other movie on this list so clearly delineates the “horror” and “comedy” in this horror comedy. Without giving anything away, One Cut of the Dead is about the lengths one will go for the magic of filmmaking. It actually has a 37-minute continuous shot, the titular one cut, during which the director literally throws real zombies in the path of his actors, in order to get motivated performances. The film touches on the insane things people will do for their art, the ways capitalism gets in the way, and how the best movies have people come together like a family in order to make them. It’s touching, gross, and so, so fun.

The only movie to do the “how to survive a horror movie” rules thing since Scream and not be annoying about it. Zombieland follows four survivors of the zombie apocalypse (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin) as they travel across America on various quests. Eisenberg wants to see if his parents made it, Harrelson is tracking down every last Twinkie, and Stone and Breslin want to go to Disneyland Pacific Playland. Turns out, the real apocalypse was the friends they made along the way. Zombieland was super-inventive for its time, with dynamic text, freeze-frame comedic asides, and Bill Murray cameos before all those things got old. Years later, Zombieland: Double Tap gave us a gorgeous comedic performance by Zoey Deutch for which we should all be grateful.

Killer Klowns From Outer Space is a singular, fabulous product. These puppets be looking cah-razy. The film is the brainchild of the Chiodo brothers, who wrote it, directed it, did the practical effects, and did the makeup. That’s why nothing else is like it. Killer Klowns looks so weird and is so fun that it has been the inspiration for multiple Universal Halloween Horror Nights mazes, okay? Plus it has an incredibly crotchety performance by Animal House’s John Vernon. And killer shadow puppets! The shadow eats some guys!

Also known as Hausu, this bonkers horror-comedy is actually in the Criterion Collection and for good reason. House was created when director Nobuhiko Obayashi asked his preteen daughter what scared her. She said “a house that eats girls,” and Obayashi replied “Bet.” It’s definitely about a house that eats girls, but beyond that? Unclear. The film is borderline plotless, just one weird thing happening after another. And most of the actors were amateurs, giving the film almost the vibe of outsider art. The nonsensical story, intentionally rudimentary special effects, and colorful visuals make House a perfect movie to watch on mute at a bar.

Before it was the name of an elevated sci-fi Apple TV+ show, Severance was a lowbrow slasher comedy. Severance is the comedic counterpart to those “peril in eastern Europe” action and torture-porn films like Hostel and Taken. A team-building exercise for an arms-dealing company goes awry when the co-workers are picked off by psycho poachers. The film stars several British comedy mainstays: Blackadder’s Tim McInnernay, Andy Nyman, and joke of a human Danny Dyer. Oh, Danny Dyer. He is a uniquely British phenomenon and should be studied.

An early leading role for Parasite’s Song Kang-ho, The Quiet Family is a stylish black comedy that only becomes horrific once the bodies start piling up. The Kang family has moved from the big city to run a bed-and-breakfast that was supposed to sit along a new highway. However, the alleged highway has yet to appear, so they’re really struggling financially. Then every guest they get winds up dead by increasingly absurd means. The Quiet Family is stylishly shot with an interesting soundtrack and understated performances. If you want a weirdly shot version, with musical numbers and over-the-top performances (plus some claymation), check out the Takeshi Miike remake, The Happiness of the Katakuris. 

Horror movie anthologies are hard to categorize, because each short has its own distinct tone and vibe. Tales From the Hood is funny in its wraparound story, but deadly serious in its final, anti-hate segment. And Creepshow is sometimes only unintentionally funny. (Stephen King may be a writer, director, and blues-rock musician, but an actor he ain’t.) Trick ‘r Treat, however, is beloved in the horror diehard community for its pulpy vibe and interconnected plots. Each story has the macabre dry wit of an EC horror comic. Death by irony, jump scares, and so much fake fall foliage it’s scary. It’s also one of the rare recent films to launch a true horror icon, short king Sam. Sam menaces Brian Cox in a home-invasion freakout that anchors the end of the film. Trick ‘r Treat also features performances from Anna Paquin, Leslie Bibb, Dylan Baker, and Tahmoh Penniket. If you’re looking for a movie that absolutely screams Halloween, this is your guy.

A sweet rom-com meets hilljaxploitation slasher, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is a comedy of misunderstandings until people wind up dead. Tyler Labine (Reaper) and Alan Tudyk (Firefly) star as two rural fellas who have sunk their savings into a fishing cabin. Do they know their cabin used to be the lair of a spree killer? No, but that’s hardly their fault. Their trip to the cabin is interrupted by a group of rowdy city folk (including 30 Rock’s Katrina Bowden) who think the men are murderous hillbillies. But Tucker and Dale are actually sweeties. Take that, coastal elites!

This movie makes the cut for Paul Reubens’s death scene alone. Sure, Buffy: the Vampire Slayer is better known in televised, problematic-in-hindsight form. But there’s still meat on the bone in this precursor. The pre-TV Buffy stars Kristy Swanson as the titular vampire slayer with Donald Sutherland as her watcher. Buffy rejects the call to slayerdom only to wind up having to save her school at prom. Okay, she saves the school by burning down the gym, but still. Hillary Swank makes it out alive. The movie features plenty of familiar faces doing unfamiliar things: David Arquette floating, Luke Perry sporting a soul patch. If you want to see the ’80s get staked in its cold dead heart, watch the original Buffy: The Vampire Slayer.

No, not the Chris Farley vehicle. This Black Sheep is a New Zealand film about zombie sheep. It sounds so dumb, and in many ways it is. But it’s so beautifully done you can’t get too insulted by the premise. Black Sheep stars Nathan Meister as Henry, a man who grew up on a sheep farm but developed a deep phobia of them. He returns to the family farm in order to sell his shares to his brother (Peter Feeney), only to find out that the sheep farmer has been doing some wild experiments on his flock. What really sets Black Sheep apart from the zombie-movie fad of the early aughts is its use of practical effects. Done by Weta Works, Black Sheep uses puppets for most of its infected ruminants. Throw in an oddly gentle sense of humor, well-calibrated performances, and those stunning Aotearoa vistas and you’ve got a surprisingly good movie.

The movie that launched Peter Jackson’s career had to be hugely creative, as it was made for approximately zero New Zealand dollars. Jackson and his mates star in this sci-fi horror comedy, with all the kinetic motion and yuck factor he came to be known for. For people that first knew Peter Jackson for Lord of the Rings, his earlier splatter work must come as quite a shock. Aliens have harvested an entire town for their fast-food consumption. It’s up to a ragtag group of agents known as the Boys to stop the alien menace, as long as their brains don’t leak out of their skulls first. Again, cannot stress enough how gross this movie is. Do not watch while eating.

This is the movie that let Devon Sawa join Bruce Campbell in the annals of great evil-hand acting. Idle Hands is a stoner comedy about a teen who is so lazy it allows a demon to take possession of, well, his idle hands. The movie is late-’90s-core as hell, with co-starring roles for Seth Green, Jessica Alba, and Vivica A. Fox, plus the Offspring, credited as “Themselves.” That’s always fun. Sawa plays Anton, a stoner who is the latest victim of a wandering murderous spirit that possesses hands and makes people kill the ones they love. Anton offs his parents and his besties before figuring out what’s going on. And just like every good ’90s teen movie, it ends at a big school dance — this time, a Halloween costume dance. The pageantry of a ’90s teen comedy cannot be ignored.

This is one of the most stylized films on this list, a ’50s-themed zombie movie with the vibe of the Kids in the Hall sketch “Meet Your New Male Slave.” Fido is set in a post-zombie-apocalypse world where science has innovated away the problems of an undead horde. Behavior-modifying collars have neutered the zombie threat, and zombies have become worker-pets in most suburban homes. But little Timmy Robinson (K’Sun Ray) accidentally breaks the collar on his new pet zombie (Billy Connolly) and the guy runs amok. Fido has an absurdly stacked cast of character actors: The Good Wife’s Dylan Baker, Ready or Not’s Henry Czerny, Coen brothers’ regular Tim Blake Nelson, and motherfucking Matrix-ass Carrie-Anne Moss — who manages to bring real chemistry to her scenes with zombified Billy Connolly. Shaun of the Dead is not the only ZomRomCom.

The 25 Best Horror Comedies

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