As the modern master of terror Jordan Peele recently said, “Like comedy, horror has an ability to provoke thought and further the conversation on real social issues in a very powerful way”. Combine the two genres and suddenly you have arguably one of cinema’s most enjoyable hybrids, where horror and comedy create both unsightly terror and maybe even something socially pertinent to consider.
A consistent genre-hybrid throughout the history of cinema, from Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein to This is the End, starring Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, horror-comedies break down the boundary that the bloodthirsty genre often puts up against general audiences. Two sides to the same emotional reaction, there are many similarities that link a clever comedy set-piece and a tension-filled horror moment, with both being carefully calculated until its final climax.
Composing the perfect horror-comedy is no easy task, however, and riding the line between funny and horrific is crucial to maintaining a film’s credibility. From the creative genius of John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London to the contemporary joy of Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, let’s take a look into ten of the very best horror comedies of all time.
Top 10 essential horror-comedies:
10. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (Scott Glosserman, 2006)
A lesser-known modern genre classic, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is a hilarious mockumentary tracking the life of a generic psycho slasher villain as he prepares and recovers from his grisly murders.
Starring Robert Englund, the actor behind the iconic Freddy Krueger, in a leading role, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon knows full well its role in the landscape of horror. In equal parts sharply comedic and genuinely frightening, Scott Glosserman’s film may not be a popular horror flick, but it’s one of the 21st century’s best genre hybrids.
9. Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard, 2012)
A meta horror-comedy that shines a light on the farce of the comedy cliche, Cabin in the Woods from director Drew Goddard and co-writer Joss Whedon, is a smart, violent and genuinely funny merge of classic and modern horror.
Starring Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison and Richard Jenkins, Cabin in the Woods follows five friends who go on a trip to a remote cabin where they discover a violent family of murderers and much much more. Taking the violence to joyously excessive limits, Goddard toys with the horror genre and creates a modern classic that both celebrates and picks apart its own genre.
8. What We Do In The Shadows (Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, 2014)
From the Flight of the Conchords creators comes an equally hilarious comedy that utilises the dry humour of New Zealand culture to create a dynamic horror film with one foot in the past and the other in the future.
Having since helmed Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Thor: Ragnarok for Marvel, and the multi-award-winning Jojo Rabbit, Taika Waititi has become a director firmly in the public eye. His 2014 comedy, co-directed by Jermaine Clement, follows a group of vampires living in the same gothic mansion as they each attempt to navigate the peculiarities of modern life, despite their immortal existence.
7. Little Shop of Horrors (Frank Oz, 1986)
Frank Oz’s 1986 pop musical adaptation of a dull 1960s comedy of the same name makes the story a loopy but enjoyable success, with inspired casting such as making the lead singer of Motown group The Four Tops the voice of the deadly plant.
Also starring the likes of Rick Moranis, Steve Martin, Jim Belushi, John Candy and the great Bill Murray, this classic from The Dark Crystal filmmaker Frank Oz is a bizarre, luscious horror-comedy classic. Its bombastic story follows a nerdy florist, Seymour Krelborn (Moranis), who finds his chance for romance with the help of a giant man-eating plant who demands to be regularly fed.
6. In Fabric (Peter Strickland, 2018)
A deeply unsettling horror comedy with a truly innovative edge, In Fabric, from Berberian Sound Studio and The Duke of Burgundy director Peter Strickland, is a strange and wonderful horror-comedy.
Rooted in the realms of surreal British comedy akin to The Mighty Boosh, In Fabric is the haunting story of a bewitched red dress from a mysterious department store owned by a coven of strange witches. As the dress is passed from person to person, horror and comedy heighten simultaneously, leading to one significant moment involving Steve Oram, Julian Barratt and a discussion about washing machines. You’ve never seen anything like this.
5. Hausu (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977)
Possibly the most idiosyncratic film of all time, Hausu is a psychedelic trip like no other, featuring a flurry of animation, surreal violence and enigmatic Japanese energy.
Conjured into the mind of director Nobuhiko Obayashi after a conversation he had with his daughter, Hausu follows a group of seven schoolgirls who travel to one of their aunt’s country homes that turns out to possess an ancient evil. For lovers of Japanese culture, and particularly their surreal sense of humour, Hausu is an absolute must, possessing a bizarre energy that is in equal parts unnerving and hilarious.
4. Braindead (Peter Jackson, 1992)
Though he may be well known for his Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson’s career sparked in 1987 upon the release of Bad Taste, giving cult horror audiences a unique take on body horror that continued in 1992s Braindead.
The film follows Lionel and his mother, Vera, who soon becomes a victim of the ‘Sumatran Rat Monkey’ and physically decays until she is reborn as a zombie, infecting the town around her. Possessing a homemade aesthetic of rubber props, thick exaggerated blood and theatrical performances, this culminates in the film’s conclusion, described by author Mark Jancovich as a “30-minute non-stop parade of zombie dismemberment”.
3. Evil Dead 2 (Sam Raimi, 1987)
Departing from the tone of the iconic original, Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II, turns the horror genre into a sandbox playground, injecting a good dose of manic comedy to create one of cinema’s most innovative films.
Surviving the horrific onslaught of the previous film, Ash (Bruce Campbell) becomes the leader of another group of strangers hoping to survive against the evil dead, barricading themselves inside a cabin to fight off the flesh-eaters, whilst they each become increasingly insane. In Raimi’s inventive, slapstick approach to gory horror-comedy, he had subverted the bad taste of the genre like few others had ever done before. His bombastic journey into the depravities of hell’s most ghoulish and malleable creatures is campy horror fun, and equal parts grimy horror and deranged hilarity.
2. Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004)
A contemporary horror classic, Edgar Wright’s parody game-changer Shaun of the Dead is one of the finest films to ever blend both the terror of a zombie apocalypse as well as the hilarity that can ensue as a result.
Starring longtime collaborators Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Bill Nighy and Dylan Moran, Shaun of the Dead follows Shaun (Pegg) and his best friend Ed (Frost) as they try and survive a zombie attack in central London whilst protecting their family and friends.
In a recent interview, Wright claimed that he will never return to the unique genre of horror-comedy because he feels like he has achieved everything there is to achieve with his magnum opus Shaun of The Dead. According to Wright, it is more challenging as a filmmaker to branch out into uncharted territory instead of repeating the same things, “I haven’t gone back to horror-comedy, because with Shaun Of The Dead I felt like I had said much of what I wanted to say with that movie,” he confirmed.
1. An American Werewolf in London (John Landis, 1981)
Teetering on the borderline between horror and comedy is no easy feat. Too funny and the horror will be ridiculed, too grisly and the comedy could be seen as sadistic. John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London perfectly tows this line, miraculously producing a film both unforgettably disturbing and joyously camp.
A predecessor to the late ’80s horror-comedy classic Evil Dead II, Landis’ film is the grandfather of the genre, following the tale of two American college students who are attacked by a mythical werewolf whilst on a walking tour of Britain. However, this brief description does a disservice to the wide breadth of chaotic imagination that Landis creates. Featuring one of cinema’s greatest ever transformation sequences in a true feat of practical effects, as well a satisfyingly strange scene of Nazi mutant house invasion, this is true horror at its most playful.