Contrary to what Ryan Murphy may say, Scream Queens did not invent the idea of mixing horror and comedy. It’s been like that for decades, ever since Abbott and Costello met Frankenstein, Dracula and other Universal monsters. Yes, horror is frightening but there’s also a dark humor to it and many movies are able to use it. It’s not just flat out parody like the Scary Movie franchise or Freddy Krueger doing one-liners as he slashes people up. It’s movies that are smart about using the horror motifs and even honoring them as they also send them up nicely for laughs.
Picking the best of the horror comedies is a task but there are plenty of great picks out there, movies that mix the scares with the laughs equally and backed by smart writing, great acting and more to provide true entertainment. Here are 15 movies that put horror films in a new light for a great time in both frights and laughs for this month.
15. Little Shop of Horrors
The 1986 film adaptation of the musical hit packs some great actors with Rick Moranis, Steve Martin, Bill Murray and more. The plot is fun as Moranis gets a small plant that feeds on blood, soon turning into a large talking monster that encourages him to get him bigger (read human) food so they can achieve their dreams. The songs are a fun mix like “Dentist” and the chorus girls chiming in like a Motown group while the growing dread of Audrey intensifies as the movie goes along. It’s famous for how the original ending (where the alien plants conquer the Earth) was changed to a “happier” one but either way, the mix of music and horror makes it a standout among this list.
14. Army of Darkness
The first two Evil Dead movies were a lot more into the horror side of things but the third film threw in tons of fun comedy. In his iconic role as Ash, Bruce Campbell finds himself transported to medieval times and having to stop a demonic invasion in his usual bungling style. It’s home to classic moments (“This…is my boomstick!”), a fabulous musical score by Danny Elfman and what other movie can boast Ash fighting zombie skeleton warriors with moves out of the Three Stooges? The original ending was wild but even the regular one is fun and perfectly sets up the upcoming Straz series. If nothing else, it’s a role only Campbell could pull off and makes Ash a demon hunter who may not have the smarts or the skills but is surely the guy you’d want at your back when things go to hell.
Coming in with little hype, this 1990 film ended up becoming a surprise sleeper hit and kicked off several sequels. The first is the best as Kevin Bacon, Michael Gross, Reba McEntire and Fred Ward are among the residents of an incredibly small mining town that suddenly find themselves cut off from the rest of the world. Soon, they realize they’re under attack by monstrous worm-like creatures that burrow at high speed underground before emerging to attack. The thrill of the movie is watching the characters having to leap about buildings or rocks to avoid the ground but the smart lines and script keep it flowing well and a charm that is undeniable. It not only helps you connect slews of folks to Bacon but shows you don’t need fantastic FX to make a good creature flick as less is often more with the thrills and the laughs too.
12. Tucker & Dale vs Evil
Wonderfully sending up the classic horror movie tropes, this 2010 film has a group of college students ending up running into the title characters (Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk) who capture a pretty colleague and plan to use and kill her. At least, that’s what the kids, brought up on horror movies, think is happening. In truth, Tucker & Dale are really a pair of nice guys who are helping the girl out but the beliefs in all those horror clichés cause the kids to attempt “rescues” that just end up killing them off in brutal (if hysterical) ways. Things escalate wildly as the movie continues and makes you realize how easily we take the clichés of horror movies for granted and how you can’t be sure who’s the real monster in some cases.
11. Return of the Killer Tomatoes
The cult classic Attack of the Killer Tomatoes was a fun send-up of B horror movies but the 1988 sequel is even better. It not only mocks that style of movies but throws in shots at merchandising, sponsorship and shattering the fourth wall brilliantly. The “plot” involves the tomatoes pushed to evil by a mad scientist and one tomato clone turning into a beautiful woman but the way it just plays with all the tropes of cinema is brilliant. The highlight is undoubtedly a young George Clooney playing himself as an egotistical actor and even in this stage, you can see his stardom. It’s more a parody but a smart one and the idea of tomatoes as a source of fear is a sight to behold.
10. The Lost Boys
This 1987 cult hit helped boost Keifer Sutherland to stardom while also introducing the world to “the two Coreys.” Jason Patric is a teen who falls in with a gang led by Sutherlan who turn out to be actual vampires, soon turned and doing his best to get back to normal. Corey Haim is his younger brother who teams with a group of comic book loving hunters (led by Corey Feldman) to try and stop this outbreak. The movie mixes brutal scares one minute, laugh out loud comedy the next with lines sending up the vampire tropes even as it freaks you out with the vampires attacking. The final showdown has a good twist to their leader and a fun final line to cap off a movie that remains one of the best mixes of comedy and true scares with a fine cast to make it work.
9. What We Do in the Shadows
This 2014 New Zealand mockumentary does a terrific comic spin on the vampire mythos. We follow a band of vampires living in modern days with takes on the classic clichés of the genre such as how one guy can’t quite get shape-shifting right and the hanger-on newbie vamp who sees nothing wrong telling people what he is. The rivalry with the werewolves is hysterical as is trying to hide a dead body from cops and how one vampire rants on this evil monster called “the Beast” only to have it turn out to be his attractive ex-wife. It shows them as monsters but you still love them with the wild shooting style and making this a fantastic comedy romp.
8. The Toxic Avenger
The film that put Troma Pictures on the map, this gleeful mix of comedy, horror and super-hero antics focuses on a classic 98-pound weakling who’s transformed into a hideous agent of justice. It’s pure wild violence and gross-out humor but damned if it doesn’t come off well with a terrific ‘80’s soundtrack, gory deaths and yet you still root for “Toxie” as he battles for justice and wins the girl over. It spawned multiple sequels and ignited Troma as a real studio while proving that you didn’t have to be pretty to be a hero and gore can lead to plenty of belly-laughs.
7. The Rocky Horror Picture Show
The cult classic to end all cult classics. 40 years later and it’s still packing people into midnight showings with its songs, its campy attitude and how it wonderfully mixes scares and laughs equally. The “plot” has Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick as the high schoolers pulled into an experience with a transvestite count (Tim Curry), Rocky, aliens and Meatloaf but it’s secondary to those classic tunes like “Time Warp” and others. It’s a delightful experience and you owe it to yourself to attend at least one live showing as it’s a cinematic treat to see hundreds of people fire off water pistols, sing along, throw popcorn and more. The movie itself has its charms for its off-the-wall material but better remembered for the cult it sprung to life.
A wonderful skewering of the zombie experience, the opening of this 2009 film is terrific as we see zombies in wild stuff (a stripper attacking a customer, a bride on her wedding day) and shows just how fast the world goes to hell. Jessie Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson and Emma Stone are drifters who unite together as they travel cross-country looking for survivors and killing zombies along the way, Harrelson having a grand time of it all. The genius cameo by a certain major star is a highlight as the film wrings plenty of laughs out of circumstances to show how funny the apocalypse can be.
5. Gremlins & Gremlins 2
It’s set at Christmas time but Joe Dante’s 1984 hit is scary no matter the time of year as Zach Gilligan plays a teen who brings home a loveable furry creature named Mogwai. However, he ends up breaking the rules of feeding it after midnight and letting it get wet. This causes Mogwai to spit out replicas that soon turn into vicious gremlins that run all over town, causing sheer havoc across the place with wild stuff (like one blown up in a microwave) and all done with a nasty darkly funny tone (witness Phoebe Cates’ story of her father).
The underrated 1990 sequel is actually better with its sendup of the yuppie culture as the Gremlins run wild in the building of a Trump-like mogul, some wicked parody of pop culture and more. Together, they’re a throwback to some of the wicked humor of their decade and pushing a new edge by helping create the PG-13 rating to show how nasty they could be.
4. Young Frankenstein
In 1974, Mel Brooks gave us two classic movie spoofs with Blazing Saddles and this. Gene Wilder plays the descendent of the infamous doctor (“That’s Fronkensteen!”) who’s pulled into continuing the family business. Shot in glorious black and white, the movie is a beautiful homage to the classic Universal films with a fantastic cast of Marty Feldman as Igor, Terri Garr as Inga, Cloris Leachman as Frau Blucher (NEIIIIGH!) and Peter Boyle as the Monster (not to mention Gene Hackman stealing the show as a blind drifter). The wordplay is brilliant, the situations wild and the way it honors while also mocking the story is a mixture only Brooks could pull off. 40 years later, you still crack up at the “Putting on the Ritz” number and marvel at how well it makes you laugh.
3. The Monster Squad
This 1987 film has attained such a cult following that the “making of” documentary on the DVD is longer than the actual movie. A group of horror movie loving kids realize their town has been invaded by Dracula, the Wolfman, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Mummy and Frankenstein’s Monster (who they manage to win to their side) and have to defend it. The comedy is juvenile but it works with some classic bits (“Wolfman’s got nards!”) and the great touch of the kids saving the day. But it still packs surprising drama such as the elderly man who talks of “knowing all about monsters” as we see concentration camp numbers tattooed on his arm. Plus, Duncan Regehr plays one of the most bad-ass versions of Dracula ever put on screen, a man who stalks across a street brushing off police officers like they’re insects before threatening a little girl. A fantastic ‘80’s experience that retains its charm today.
2. Shaun of the Dead
The movie that boosted Simon Pegg to stardom, this 2004 film beautifully subverts the zombie tropes as Pegg plays a London shopkeeper trying to find some point to his life even as a zombie apocalypse occurs. The opening is wonderful as Pegg is so hung over that he doesn’t even realize these are zombies before having to fight them off and having to gather his friends to combat them. It has fun with the zombie tropes of getting at the head but also mixes in a bit of real heart and Pegg selling his character as a loveable loser to win you over. It all combines to a terrific romp that gives the zombie genre the loveable British comedy touch for a modern classic.
It’s a perfect storm in so many ways. A high-caliber cast of Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, Harold Ramis, Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson and Rick Moranis at the top of their game. Ivan Reitman providing direction with then-cutting edge FX. The clever idea of a “professional paranormal containment team.” And of course, that famous theme song. Put together, it’s a true classic, mixing blockbuster Hollywood antics with great comedy, funny lines (“Cats and dogs, living together, total hysteria!”) and yet still providing some wild scares to you along the way. It still stands the test of time as a fantastic comedy experience and while it can be freaky (the library ghost and the demon dogs), the laughs are what make it so great.