Horror movies play off of the fear of the unknown, but at their core, they’re inherently ridiculous. (The closest any of us will get to being sucked into a TV by scary creatures is by binge-watching a Kardashian marathon.) Some of the best creepy flicks understand this, and offer up some laughs with the scares. With the new horror comedy Stan Against Evil coming to IFC this fall, check out some horror movies that bring the fright and the funny.
10. The Toxic Avenger
The Toxic Avenger was marketed as the first superhero from New Jersey, which might be the best tag line you can give a horror comedy. His origin story is sort of like Spider-Man’s, if Spider-Man was written by someone who was clearly high. Nice-guy nerd Melvin is bullied by jerks at the gym until he flees in a tutu and jumps out of the window into a vat of toxic waste. This later causes his transformation into the monstrous hero, The Toxic Avenger, which his mother mistakes for puberty. Proudly low budget, The Toxic Avenger spoofs horror and superhero cliches in equal measure with a level of camp that’s so bad, it’s funny.
9. An American Werewolf in London
Mixing groundbreaking special effects and a darkly comedic tone, An American Werewolf in London comes from the mind of Animal House and The Blues Brothers director John Landis, a filmmaker who knows his way around comedy. As in those other Landis comedies, you can count on some classic songs, and with Sam Cooke’s cover of “Blue Moon,” he juxtaposes the horror of David Naughton transforming into a werewolf with a soulful song to create a shockingly memorable scene. And let’s not forget Griffin Dunne as Naughton’s undead friend, who visits him in various stages of decay.
8. Evil Dead
If you love a little over-the-top gore with your horror, then it’s safe to say you are a fan of The Evil Dead, the cult classic horror movie franchise that, unlike the title, will not die. The original Evil Dead makes The Exorcist look like a trip to Disneyland as the characters have to use shotguns and shovels to fight each other off. Bruce Campbell’s performance as Ash fighting off his possessed friends has made him the Han Solo of horror in a film that still sticks with us like a pencil to the foot.
Tremors isn’t just a great reference to keep in mind when playing “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” — it’s also a uniquely entertaining monster movie, that’s also part western and part comedy. It’s basically a bizarre take on Jaws, except swap a shark for giant underground worm-like creatures that begin wreaking havoc on a sleepy Nevada desert town. Kevin Bacon and a perfectly grizzled Fred Ward play a couple of ranch hands who stumble upon the sand creature. Michael Gross (Alex P. Keaton’s dad!) and Reba McEntire are hilarious as a survivalist couple who fight off the monsters with an arsenal of guns that would have made Ted Nugent proud.
6. Warm Bodies
Warm Bodies may not be the scariest zombie movie ever made, but it’s clearly the most adorable. The 2013 sleeper hit offers a very clever spin on the zombie genre by making a member of the walking dead the narrator. Taking place after a virus has wiped out a good portion of mankind and unleashed a plague of flesh eating undead, Nicholas Hoult’s zombie is given the name “R” by Julie, the girl he saves and protects from the completely unhuman zombies called “Boneys.” The airport deserted by the living and inhabited by the zombies is the setting for some funny and poignant moments as the zombies begin to slowly turn human. There’s also a makeover scene that will put a smile on the skeletal face of even the coldest Boney.
5. The Cabin in the Woods
The Cabin in the Woods has a title that makes it seem like it is going to be like any other horror movie where attractive young people go to a remote location and then start being killed off one by one. Sure, that is what happens, but the film, produced by Joss Whedon, turns the genre on its freakish head in original and funny ways. The cabin (SPOILER ALERT!) is being watched by technicians in an underground facility, whose job is to facilitate the mayhem in the cabin. Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins are like the office drone version of Statler and Waldorf as they crack jokes and place bets while trying to ensure the virgin dies last. The facility stores every kind of monster imaginable, making for a lively spoof of horror tropes. And any movie where Bradley Whitford gets killed by a Merman should be considered a classic.
For anyone who grew up in the 1980s and ’90s, Gremlins is the beloved horror comedy film that taught important life lessons. (If you dress up as Santa for your kids, nothing good can come from actually sliding down the chimney.) But most importantly, under no circumstances should you feed a Mogwai after midnight. Especially if your Dad got the Mogwai from a cryptic old man in Chinatown and your neighbor is Corey Feldman. Unfortunately for Billy, he did not follow the instructions for taking care of his adorable Mogwai Gizmo and the Gremlins wreak havoc in a quaint small town. Beware before you watch Gremlins: Not because it’s too scary, but you might just start humming “Hi Ho” and then change your dog’s name to Stripe or Gizmo.
In 1996, Wes Craven, who had once helped define the horror movie, not only revived the genre but reinvented the horror comedy with Scream. Kevin Williamson’s self-referential script taught us to never say “I’ll be right back” and, of course, to never try and escape a masked killer through a doggie door. From the opening scene, Scream lets the audience in on the fact that it is having fun with everything they expect to happen in a horror movie.
With Woody Harrelson as a bad-ass zombie-killing Twinkie lover and arguably the greatest Bill “F—-n'” Murray cameo ever, Zombieland has everything you would ever want in a post-apocalyptic horror comedy. After the world suffers from a virus that turns people into zombies, Jesse Eisenberg’s Columbia (everyone goes by where they’re from) teams up with Harrelson’s Tallahassee to kill zombies and search for Twinkies. The pair meet Wichita (Emma Stone) and her sister Little Rock (Abagail Breslin) and head on a road trip to an amusement park. When the group decides to stop at the house of Bill Murray it turns out that not only is he alive but he also apparently still kept his Ghostbusters outfit.
1. Shaun of the Dead
After his girlfriend breaks up with him for having a dead-end life, things couldn’t get much worse for British everyman Shaun (Simon Pegg), until he wakes up to find out that zombies have begun to attack his neighborhood. Of course, the brilliance of Shaun of the Dead is that Shaun wakes up after a night drowning his sorrows with his mate Ed (Nick Frost) at the pub and is so hungover he doesn’t even notice the un-dead dragging themselves around the street. The scene where Shaun and Ed see a zombie girl for the first time and think she’s drunk is a brilliant moment in a film filled with scenes that poke fun at the concept of zombies in a very British way. It turns out, the one thing Shaun really excels at, besides downing pints, is killing zombies, and Shaun, Ed and a group of survivors have an epic showdown in the Winchester Pub set to a classic Queen tune.