Horror comedies thread a particular genre needle. To laugh, as well as to be scared, are two of the most visceral reactions a movie can get out of its audience. Combining the two is often tricky to pull off. But when it’s done well, the film can stand the test of time as a classic.
With the terrific “Ready or Not” opening this week, what better time is there to chronicle some of the best horror comedies ever? Honorable mentions here include “Beetlejuice,” “Evil Dead II,” “Get Out,” “Gremlins,” “Planet Terror,” “Slither,” and “Tremors.” Plus, a special citation goes out to “Ghostbusters,” which doesn’t have the horror chops but is an absolute classic comedy.
dir: Ben Wheatley
Often, a hallmark of horror comedies is a pitch-black sense of humor. Here, Ben Wheatley takes that to the extreme in this road trip movie. “Sightseers” slowly evolves into something horrific, though it never forgets to be funny. There’s a surreal quality to much of the film. About as dark as a horror comedy can get, watching this couple inadvertently leave a trail of dead bodies in their path is a riot.
dir: Mitchell Lichtenstein
Vagina dentata is a relatively ludicrous urban legend. But the idea was excellent fuel for “Teeth,” which takes it as inspiration and runs to great horror comedy lengths. Filmmaker Mitchell Lichtenstein and star Jess Weixler invest the audience so heavily in the protagonist when she goes from terror concerning her condition to using it as vengeance, you can’t help but root for her. Along the way, there are several twisted laughs, making this a high quality horror comedy.
8“What We Do in the Shadows” (2015)
dir: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
The source material for this year’s popular FX spin-off, Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi first explored vampire habits with this farce. “What We Do in the Shadows” veers far more towards comedy than horror, playing to Clement and Waititi’s strengths, but the latter especially can honor the genre from which vampires came. This results in a well-crafted romp that looks like it could be a terrifying tale but is almost exclusively played for laughs.
7“Ready or Not” (2019)
dir: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
Out in theaters this week, not only is “Ready or Not” a terrific entry into the genre, it’s among 2019’s funniest films so far. What makes this an instant horror comedy gem is the laughs come from such an exciting place. Here, the set up is pure horror, but the execution is mostly comedic. Watching a rich family bicker over the need to hunt down the newest member of the clan is an absolute blast. Dark horror comedies like this are always a pleasure to discover, and audiences can do that in theaters soon.
dir: Ruben Fleischer
Mixing action, comedy, horror, and zombies is no small task. “Zombieland” manages to meet the challenge with a deft touch that makes it an insane amount of fun. Abigail Breslin, Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, and Emma Stone all sell each aspect of the flick entirely. Plus, the movie has an all-time cameo appearance by Bill Murray. Throw in a rigidly adhered to set of “rules” and the final product fires on all cylinders.
dir: Wes Craven
Wes Craven has long been considered a master of horror. So, when he re-wrote the rules of the genre with “Scream,” it was a delight to see it done with such a zany tone. While never descending into overt comedy, Craven and scribe Kevin Williamson paid careful attention to keep the vibe fresh and clever. Having seen it all in the genre, Craven thoughtfully decided to do something very different, setting the stage for many an imitator in the two decades since its release.
dir: Kevin Smith
Combining body horror with Kevin Smith‘s sense of humor was always going to be a tough sell for the masses. While “Tusk” didn’t make dividends at the box office, it does stand out as Smith’s most experimental film, as well as one of his most underrated. The laughter is uncomfortable, as the late Michael Parks, along with a rarely better Justin Long, inhabit their characters with an earnestness befitting high drama. For a film about a crazed man sewing a podcaster into a walrus suit, there’s as much care paid to characters and motivation as there is to silliness and horror.
3“The Cabin in the Woods” (2012)
dir: Drew Goddard
If we hadn’t already cited this as the best overall horror film since 2000, it might well have been at the top of this list as well. Here is what we wrote last time:
“Few films over the past two decades have demonstrated as much originality as “The Cabin in the Woods,” the overall most compelling and enjoyable horror film in a long time. Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon let loose with every scary movie trope in the business, stuffing their nightmare full of not just creatures, but wit and thoughtful commentary as well. In deconstructing the genre, they not only paid tribute but crafted one of its best examples as well. It’s truly a masterpiece. In particular, the third act is literally a dream (or nightmare?) come true for all fans of the genre. Eager to make audiences chuckle but more concerned with being a smart meditation on what makes horror what it is, this is a special work. Nothing else like it exists, which is part of what makes it so transcendent.“
That all remains true, but this time, we can highlight how funny and surreal the narrative is. Especially with the office drones played by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, it can be downright silly at times, in the best way.
2Shaun of the Dead” (2004)
dir: Edgar Wright
Any list of horror comedies needs “Shaun of the Dead” close to the top. Just as “Zombieland” brought the undead to life with a sense of humor, Edgar Wright‘s classic does it even better. Simon Pegg‘s vision, along with Wright, finds the scares as well as the laughs, often in equal measure. By poking fun at the zombie movie genre, they reveal how much they love it as well. This is one of the best balances between fright and funny that the genre has seen.
1“Young Frankenstein” (1974)
dir: Mel Brooks
No one does comedy better than Mel Brooks. How he pays homage to the classic “Frankenstein” films, however, sets this one apart. It’s so loving and accurate in its recreation of James Whale‘s monster movie classics, that “Young Frankenstein” ends up combining genres entirely. It may not be the most apparent horror comedy ever, but it is the best. Full of all-time comedic moments, as well as the look of a vintage fright feature, there’s something for everyone here, including a career best Gene Wilder performance.