It’s time to laugh and jump with fright, with these great comedy horror films…
The horror genre is currently experiencing a resurgence, as comic book movies and studio action films are faltering. The budget-friendly genre is also more driven by concept over star power. One genre that seems to have disappeared from the big screen, is the comedy genre with filmmakers more fearful of falling into the cancel culture trap than they are of getting pulled under the bed by the boogeyman.
It’s also been all too rare that we’ve seen the fusion of horror and comedy that can be so effective when best utilised and has produced a number of cult favourites.
So with the Halloween season in full swing, if you want to laugh as well as jump in fright, look no further than these great comedy horror films:
Dead Alive (Braindead)
Before Peter Jackson took the seemingly impossible to adapt Lord of the Rings books and created a stunning trilogy of films (followed by an underwhelming Hobbit trilogy), he was known as an indie filmmaker who got his start in backyard horror, peaking with his blood and guts comedy horror opus, Dead Alive (or Braindead in some territories).
An infected monkey starts a zombie outbreak in a backwater New Zealand town and ground zero is the home of Lionel, a nerdy delivery boy with an overbearing mother. High on gross-out humour and physical comedy, this beautifully swings full force on the comedy meter and opts for cartoonishly excessive blood letting and crudely effective low-tech effects. From Kung-fu priests to a lawnmower-wielding final hero, Dead Alive is still riotous. It’s blazing with unbridled frenetic energy with Jackson definitely falling in the Sam Raimi camp of dazzling visual storytelling.
Evil Dead 2
After an original film that punched well beyond the weight of its tiny budget to become a cult favourite and notorious video nasty, Sam Raimi made a semi-reboot-sequel that would perfect and iron out the edges of the first. At the same time, Evil Dead 2 sets a foot even more firmly rooted in the comedy genre but balances the Buster Keaton physical comedy (exceptionally performed by Bruce Campbell) with brilliant horror visuals.
Evil Dead 2 will offer no layers of subtlety, but it never sets out to. What it has always garnered fans for, is the incredibly imaginative style with which Raimi approached directing it. He just threw caution to the wind and conjured up these amazing camera moves that make Evil Dead 2 as visually stunning as anything in the genre. It remains Raimi’s crowning glory and far and away the best of a pretty damn good franchise.
Joe Dante has always sat in a tier below the likes of Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg, in spite of being a genre director with a fine lineage of iconic cult favourites like the Gremlins movies and The Howling. However my favourite and possibly even my favourite Tom Hanks film, is The ‘Burbs. Now it’s not the ‘best’ either made, and by a stretch as far as Hanks but The ‘Burbs is just such a quirky and fun film.
The film’s legacy has certainly grown in time, from initially indifferent responses from critics and even fans to now being a cult favourite. It’s one of the pinnacles of Hank’s as a physical comedian too as he revels in dialling it up here, even when playing the straight man in a neighbourhood full of eccentrics who are all fascinated with the creepy and mysterious Klopec family who move in. In hindsight, we of course know Hanks’ range far exceeded the lighthearted fare he made in his early career, but it’s a side I do occasionally miss. The ‘Burbs blends satire with black humour and takes delight in sketching the goofy squad of male neighbours who become obsessed over the oddballs next door. Hanks is ably abetted by Bruce Dern, Corey Feldman and Rick Ducommun while Carrie Fisher is great as Hanks’ level-headed wife.
Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil
Take a daft concept and throw logic out the window, then see how long you can keep it going and how much fun you can have. In the case of Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, director Eli Craig brilliantly guides us from start to finish with a film that is hugely entertaining. A group of teens happen upon a pair of affable hillbillies but see them as threatening and then spend most of the film escaping the ‘killers’ whilst Tucker and Dale are left oblivious as to how or why these teens are killing themselves in gruesome ways.
The film could fall apart at the seams in so many ways but never does thanks to some great set pieces, a perfect Deliverance-style horror setup and the great performances by Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine as the titular characters. It’s a comedy of errors and perpetual misunderstandings offset by great deaths and plenty of gore.
Little Shop of Horrors
This is one of the most infinitely repeatable and enjoyable films ever made. Little Shop of Horrors is a hoot which gets surprisingly dark in places (especially the director’s cut) but is also uproariously funny with incredible practical effects. The puppetry in this is, pardon the pun, out of this world. Especially the killer plant Audrey II that dropped in from outer space.
Apart from nailing the horror tropes brilliantly, we also get one of the all-time great soundtracks that you’ll sing for weeks after watching and some brilliant performances from Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene. Throw in a roster of unforgettable supporting roles and cameos from the likes of Steve Martin, Bill Murray and John Candy and it’s easy to see why this one has endured so well.
Shaun of the Dead
Cornettos at the ready, it’s the film that announced Edgar Wright as a big screen director. Shaun of the Dead just hit the right notes from the very beginning, quickly obtaining a legion of cult fans quoting the film ad nauseam and it’s remained a massive cult favourite. Wright and co-writer Simon Pegg approach the film with an undying love of genre cinema and zombie staples whilst Pegg plays loveable losers to perfection.
The film pays homage to the greats like George Romero and delivers the zombie horror to perfection. Sometimes the fusion of comedy and horror doesn’t quite blend in films. Maybe one or more element fails (if you’re not scary OR funny, you’re in trouble) but Wright and Pegg completely nail both facets. Quotability is at a maximum, alongside brilliant sight gags but apart from all this, the film also manages to be endearing with plenty of heart and dramatic heft. Wright has made some great films since, but never quite matched Shaun.
Scary Movie 2
Sometimes for an inexplicable reason, objectively terrible movies just seem to strike a chord and gather a big fanbase right from the off and accumulate even more fans as the years pass. Perhaps more so than its predecessor, Scary Movie 2 (from the Wayans clan) captured some kind of zeitgeist that preceded but perfectly suited the meme and TikTok generation.
I saw this at the cinema and to say Scary Movie 2 is a guilty pleasure might be an understatement. It makes fun of everyone and everything mercilessly as well as a whole host of well-known horror films (and no cult movie is really safe, including The Matrix). It’s a film sliced into skits and replayed infinitely on the web, regularly popping up (mash potatoes anyone?). Yet watching the film as a whole still never fails to entertain me – in spite of how scattershot it is, it’s just great goofy fun. Remarkably, it’s also survived the heavy blade of the cancel axe. The Wayans would be replaced by a safer more sure spoofing hand of the Zucker brothers in the remainder of the series but the first two films remain the best and the second film, arguably the most iconic.
What We Do in The Shadows
Before taking Thor to new heights and then to new lows, Taika Waititi made brilliant films with a distinct and quirky humour. Among those was What We Do in The Shadows which was so good it spawned a series. The mockumentary features a household of vampires who are being filmed as part of a documentary and much of the comedy comes from the mundanity of being a vampire and the struggles of this clan living together.
Waititi and co-writer/director/star Jermaine Clement create goofy but charming characters, not least themselves in the leading roles and they lovingly spoof every vampire trope and memorable image you can think of.
An American Werewolf in London
A couple of hitchhiking American friends run afoul of a Werewolf on the Yorkshire moors. One becomes a werewolf himself whilst his buddy is cursed to roam in purgatory as undead unless the curse can be broken (which would require David to kill himself).
An American Werewolf in London is John Landis at his best with plenty of comedy but also a lot of gruesome horror (iconic transformation scene notwithstanding). Arguably it’s one of the first perfect blends of the two aspects, where previous comedy-horrors would tend to lean more heavily on the chuckles at the expense of any true horror (think Abbot and Costello). David Naughton and Griffin Dunne are a great double act and Jenny Agutter is, as always, delightful.
The Lost Boys
Ah, The Lost Boys. It is perfection. Joel Schumacher certainly had a career of mixed results with his unrestrained style sometimes derailing a picture and leaving a mess, but at his best, when that style worked with the material, he produced films like The Lost Boys.
It feels like it treads the dangerous line between being a kids’ adventure movie, a comedy and a pure horror film but nails every landing. The film just feels unique. Very few films have instantly allured such a wide spectrum of ages, appealing to kids (I first saw it around 10), teens and adults. There’s a gang of rebellious young adult vampires who befriend Michael (Jason Patric) who wants to embrace that rebellious side. Then you have the two Coreys (Haim and Feldman) alongside Jamison Newlander who start to investigate the vampiric goings on at the small beach town. Amazing visuals and lines, as well as a great cast on song, make a near-perfect film.
How do you shift from near-perfect to perfect then? Throw in a killer soundtrack and a totally random, buff sax dude.
What’s your favourite comedy horror? Let us know on our social channels @flickeringmyth or hit me up @jolliffeproductions…