Horror comedy done right should aspire to be two things: horrific and comedic. Sounds simple enough, and yet it's hard to achieve, with one often overpowering the other, leaving audiences divided. Where some horror fans prefer to be drenched in blood, scared witless, and thoroughly shaken to their very core when watching a film, others are content to chuckle along at the silliness of a field of zombies being run over by a lawnmower.
So, how do you reconcile these two differing concepts? It’s not that simple a task. And yet, the best horror comedies, listed here in all of their amusing, blood-soaked glory, manage to land splat between the two with laughs galore and a great sense of tension. We’ve omitted horror gems such as Scream and Cabin in the Woods, because, while they’re great movies to watch around Halloween, they’re less funny and more scary. Without further ado, here are the best horror comedies.
15. Army of Darkness (1992)
Hail to the king, baby. Evil Dead 2 is often cited as one of horror’s funniest sequels but Ash’s third go-around with those nefarious Deadites leans harder into the slapstick, nudging its predecessor from this very spot. It’s a chucklefest from start to finish that milks every moment for its utter eye-rolling stupidity as Ash travels through time via the powers of the Necronomicon to Medieval England.
Sam Raimi is clearly having a hoot throwing whatever he can at long-standing lead Bruce Campbell, who fully commits to turning Ash into a blundering buffoon this time around. He winds up doused in more crud than a game show contestant. Regardless of its humour, it’s still an R-rated caper that’s packing equal amounts of spoof humour (Ash trying to cough his way through an incantation) and gruesome kills.
14. Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1992)
Watching a horde of pint-sized critters congregate in a sprawling skyscraper lobby, arms slung around each other like drunks on New Year’s Eve to sing "New York, New York" sums up the genius that is Gremlins 2. Despite being dubbed an inferior sequel, with critics citing its slapstick as being over-the-top, The New Batch remains hilarious. The action ups sticks from small-town Kingston Falls to the big bad city where Billy Peltzer, aka the boy who couldn’t be trusted to adhere to simple rules, is employed at a large corporation. Before long the building becomes overrun with gremlins.
The broader humour mashes together pratfalls, satire, and sight gags galore, told through new supporting characters and the personas of specific Gremlins. There are simply too many brilliant moments to mention, however, one to look out for is when a gremlin splashes acid in the face of another, who quickly grabs a Phantom of the Opera mask to cover his burned visage. It’s their conspiratorial glee crossed with an inherent nastiness that makes this a superb horror comedy.
13. Beetlejuice (1988)
On the surface, Beetlejuice seems innocuous enough – a Halloween movie for all the family, right? The dinner scene, where the entire Deetz family is possessed and begin to sing the Banana Boat song, is one example of its comedy pleasantries. Scratch a little past that and you’ll soon see the movie’s dark, dark underbelly. Tim Burton’s genre hybrid dances through a myriad of horrors, telling a story that’s pretty bleak. Adam and Barbara Maitland are killed in a car accident yet their ghosts haunt their old home, despite the arrival of new residents.
Enter: the world’s leading bio-exorcist, Beetlejuice. The film’s funniest elements find this deranged demon, Michael Keaton in arguably his widest-ranging role, attempting to first skirt his responsibilities, before unleashing a torrent of holy horrors on the new family. Being scary and being funny ain’t easy but Beetlejuice achieves both in spades.
12. Re-Animator (1985)
A glorious riff on the hijinks of the undead, brought back to life by mad scientist Herbert West. The film, directed by Stuart Gordon and produced by Brian Yuzna, takes pleasure in attempting to gross out audiences, by pushing the definition of excess to its limits. West revives his professor, kills him, revives a morgue corpse, kills it, revives a victim of the blood-hungry morgue corpse... on and on it goes, and never once does West recoil from the collateral damage of his experiments. Whatever will happen next? Everything, and anything.
This is trash cinema at its most carefree. Gordon, like his protagonist, is desirous for all potential outcomes. As the film heads into its final stretch, there's really nothing to do except laugh at the outright gall of West. Bloody, gory, and ready to wink at you every step of the way.
11. The Monster Squad (1987)
Imagine if The Goonies hadn't ventured off in search of One Eyed Willie's loot but instead encountered a bunch of monsters. There's the simple description of Fred Dekker's awesome kid horror, that ups the swear quotient considerably and yanks in all of Universal's iconic monsters to take part in an adventure that's still criminally underseen to this day.
Unlike the aforementioned Amblin' kids, this bunch of youngsters aren't so squeaky clean in their mission. They swear. They watch horror movies. They read Stephen King novels. And their goals are quite a bit loftier too: if they don't act fast, all of the monsters – led by Count Dracula – will take control of the world. Don't be fooled that this is for kids; Stan Winston's effects put other "serious" creature features to shame.
10. Return of the Living Dead (1985)
While Dan O’Bannon is recognised for his contribution to the genre in the shape of Alien, his lesser-known works showcase his penchant for comedy. He paired with his pal John Carpenter on Dark Star, then after several years of puttering away behind the typewriter, at last sat in the director’s chair on Return of the Living Dead. Zombies are unleashed after a couple of warehouse employees accidentally knock open a canister leaking toxic goop.
A spin-off of George Romero’s original iconic zombie pic, O’Bannon’s world of flesh-eaters is a happenin’ place, full of bodacious needle drops, graveyard boogies, and barrels packed with toxic corpses. Return is less interested in subtle social comment, and more interested in its knock-kneed shufflers sinking their teeth into as many skulls as possible. The first of the zombie kind to introduce its corpses love of brains, that’s not the only aspect of lore that O’Bannon wove into his comedy, with one of these hungry flesh-munchers grabbing a patrol car’s radio to ask that they “send more cops.” You know, as a snack.
9. Zombieland (2009)
While it may feel as if Scream took self-referentiality to its farthest point, Ruben Fleischer’s self-aware comedy picks up the baton and races into an adjacent horror field. Zombieland rolls out shortly after a zombie outbreak, with a handful of likeable characters who embark on a playful road trip that features more blood and humiliating put-downs than Carrie’s locker room shower. There are chuckles galore as Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), a high schooler on his way home to Ohio to his folks, meets up with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin).
Where other meta-horror weaves the rules of horror movie survival into dialogue, Zombieland sprawls it across the screen as Eisenberg’s nebbish hero runs through what he’s learned during the apocalypse. Watch out for a Ghostbustin’ cameo that undoubtedly snags the movie’s biggest guffaws.
8. Braindead / Dead Alive (1992)
Years before he wowed us with his epic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy series, Peter Jackson dazzled us with a blisteringly gory movie that culminates in a lawnmower zombie slaughter. Agreed, it might not sound remotely funny but some things have to be seen to be believed. Braindead, aka Dead Alive in the U.S., is the very movie the term ‘splattergore’ was invented to describe.
A love story that’s achingly relatable at its core, this hilarious romp sees as Lionel and Paquita’s romance is thwarted at every turn by his mother. Well, relatable except for the vicious Sumatran rat-monkey whose behaviour kick starts the whole vile affair when it bites Lionel’s mother Vera at the zoo. She decays and dies – not before eating her own ear in custard, mind, along with Paquita’s dog. It’s once she reanimates that Jackson starts to really cut loose, soaring into the final act’s carnival of carnage on a wave of blood and guts. Things then get bloody silly, bloody fast.
7. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s screenplay is an ode to George Romero. It unites their shared love of the horror genre and lightning-quick comedy. As both a homage and spoof, Shaun of the Dead makes no bones whatsoever about drawing a parallel between the shuffling, lifeless hordes of zombies and the dull, dreary shuffles through mundane life we humans take.
It’s in these moments that the comedy gold shines brightest. Wright points out how selfish we’ve become, as Shaun stumbles into a convenience store, barely noticing someone getting their face eaten off next to the gardening magazines. Likewise, sequences such as Shaun and Ed’s first sighting of a zombie in the back garden are proof of Wright’s knack for showing absolute terror exists almost effortlessly beside moments of gut-busting laughter.
6. Night of the Comet (1984)
To get a sense of Night of the Comet’s tongue-in-cheek self, know this: its original title was Teenage Mutant Horror Comet Zombies. No-one’s taking any of this seriously, especially not Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelly Maroney as sisters Sam and Reggie, who find themselves the sole survivors after a toxic comet passes close to Earth. If it doesn’t turn those showered by its red dust to ashes, those people transform into zombies who the sisters take great pride in annihilating.
Night of the Comet blasts its way through sci-fi and horror genres, tearing apart tropes and issuing kick-ass one-liners. Joss Whedon cites the film, and Sam in particular, as inspiration for Buffy and it’s not hard to see the parallels. Sam and Reggie are sharp, funny, and really do care. And, like Buffy, barely break a sweat when it dawns that the apocalypse has come, instead choosing to unwind with a couple of semi-automatics at the mall.
5. Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil (2010)
A bunch of teenagers out for a good time cross paths with a couple of overall-wearin’ rednecks. That premise typically spells disaster for the youngsters in question, particularly if they’re in a horror movie. Thing is, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil isn’t your typical horror flick, twisting the meta element into a new direction. Like Cabin In The Woods and The Final Girls, it puts a spin on the established state of horror.
Whenever kids encounter locals, that's usually a sign that they're not going to make it to college. In this case Tucker and Dale are those locals, whose actions are misunderstood by a group of teenagers who believe them to be the real-life inspiration for Wrong Turn. The whole thing plays out brilliantly. Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine are lovable, hapless oafs who wouldn't say boo to a goose, and watching their fear toward the kids is a nice touch by director Eli Craig.
4. Teeth (2007)
A black-as-night horror comedy that tackles a few weighty topics along the way to delivering its biting – ahem – reveal. Jess Weixler stars as a teenager under the spell of a Christian abstinence group, choosing to voice its mantra of "no nookie" to better the cause. Doesn't exactly sound horrific, does it? Wait for the movie's wincing left-turn, as Weixler's teen finds herself charmed by a Christian lad in her class.
While her tummy's all a-flutter, his feelings are less admirable, as he tries to force himself on the girl. So she fights back – with her ladygarden gnashers. The girl's got vagina dentata, a fabled happening wherein women grow actual teeth in their genitals. A nutty premise that unfolds as an exploration of budding sexuality.
3. Bride of Chucky (1998)
The reboot of the Child’s Play franchise opens with a crooked cop exploring an evidence locker. Tucked inside are artefacts, nods to iconic villains of the genre, as if to say: “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” The fourth entry in the series strikes out fresher than any prior sequels in a bluster of blood and quips. Chucky’s long-term lover Tiffany seeks to bring him back from the dead and winds up inhabiting her own plastic doll, becoming his Bride. The pair hit the road and leave a trail of bodies behind them, setting up a young couple (Katherine Heigl and Nic Stabile) to take the fall.
Director Ronny Yu never holds back from Chucky’s ever-present thirst for bloodshed, upping the creativity of the murderous couple’s kills and the subsequent one-liners. Victim to an elaborate setup by Chucky, a cop’s face is penetrated by a blast of nails. The pint-sized terror asks, “Now why does that look so familiar?” followed by a peal of Brad Dourif’s inimitable laugh. Of course, the officer looks like the infamous Cenobite Pinhead from the Hellraiser series. Chucky, he’s so meta.
2. What We Do In The Shadows (2014)
Taiki Waititi and Jermaine Clement must have bust a gut writing What We Do In The Shadows. Plenty of horror comedies tend to stick to one type of humour, or adhere to a certain mythology. That’s not the case here as this mockumentary dismantles everything popular culture has taught us about those twinkly-skinned bloodsuckers, revealing them to be shockingly normal sorts who are struggling with day-to-day living.
A documentary crew follows around a group of vamps who share a flat in a Wellington suburb as they welcome their newest sire into the community. Naturally – or unnaturally, as the case may be – there are differences, such as the oldest member of the group, the 8000-year-old Petyr, behaving like a very naughty Nosferatu, which can make ‘blending in’ difficult. Much emphasis is placed on the comedy of this rag-tag bunch of immortals bickering over domesticity, yet there’s a lot of genuine terror to be found, especially when they start to get hungry.
1. Ghostbusters (1984)
An ‘80s comedy classic that dares to be funny and scary as hell, without resorting to obvious gags and typical jump scares? Why wouldn’t you watch it. Conjuring up a killer ensemble of SNL cast members, a zippy script, and some serious heebie-jeebie moments, Ghostbusters makes for a perfect watch anytime of the year.
The movie follows a team of recently-fired university scientists desperate to funnel their efforts into a legit ghoul-capturing business - ahem, yes, the Ghostbusters. They begin to tackle New York City’s overwhelming supernatural problem with their signature wit and occasional bumbling. Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson star as the quartet whose money-making efforts turn serious when they stumble across a doorway to another dimension, that threatens to unleash evil on Manhattan. A masterpiece of filmmaking, and the best horror comedy.
Want more scares? Why not check out the best Simpsons Tree House of Horror episodes?