The 1980’s, among many other things, was the golden age of horror comedies. There had been great films combining horror and humor dating back at least to Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein and some even before that, but no single decade had produced as many genuinely funny horror movies as the 1980s did. There was something about the time that just lent itself to a marriage of the two genres.
The sheer output of horror movies surely have had something to do with it. There were more horror features coming out all at once during the ‘80’s than there ever had been previously. They couldn’t all take themselves so seriously. Nobody would be able to stand an entire decade of only films like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Humor is necessary to balance things out, especially in a genre that is generally thought of as dark and morbid.
There’s also the time itself to take into account. In America, the 1980’s was such a strictly conservative time that horror entertainment, just by virtue of existence, was somewhat rebellious. The less seriously a horror film took its subject matter, the more anarchistic it was. Here are the horror comedies that prove that more than most, the ones that defined the decade itself.
The Lost Boys
While I might prefer Fright Night as the ultimate ‘80’s vampire movie, The Lost Boys is funnier. This film is oozing charm. It brings together a great cast of characters and great effects, but more than anything it boasts a genuinely hilarious script. There’s a lot of wit to these characters and to the trappings and conventions of vampires. It’s probably the Frog Brothers who stand out as the funniest, though, because they’re the only ones not in on the joke.
House is a surprising one. It’s about a man moving back into his family home to write his next book, on the surface, but mostly to come to terms with the death of his son. It doesn’t sound funny at all. It shouldn’t be. But it’s such a zany film, completely different from what we normally think of as a haunted house story. The setting is gothic, but the tone is anything but.
The smartest thing about Jason Lives is that it is not a parody of the Friday the 13th franchise. In fact, it’s a very earnest and effective Friday the 13th movie, it just happens to be an excellent comedy at the same time. The script points out some things about the series and its conventions while adhering to those tropes and embracing the series and this type of feature at the same time. It’s exactly what Scream would eventually do so well, only Jason Lives did it ten years earlier.
Fred Dekker did a great job paying homage to the monster movies of the 1950’s with Night of the Creeps but his hilarious feature film debut stands firmly on its own two feet. Just on a script level, it has some of the tightest dialogue and excellent pacing of any horror film from its decade. It’s funny and extremely heartfelt at the same time. The excellent FX work doesn’t hurt either. It might not be the most well-remembered of ‘80’s creature features, but man, it is one of the best.
There was a slightly slapstick element to Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead that went largely unnoticed by audiences. So when it came time to do the sequel, he made sure that aspect wasn’t going to go over anyone’s head the second time around. Evil Dead 2 is something like the longest, bloodiest Three Stooges sketch ever. And that’s it’s number one influence, there’s no doubt about it. Raimi wears his love for the stooges on his sleeve and this film even lifts specific gags from their work.
Obviously the most successful horror comedy of all time has to take its place somewhere on this list. This was one of the biggest hits of the decade and remains a cherished and fondly remembered film to this day. People love Ghostbusters. It’s not surprising either, considering that it works so well. Great visual effects, sure, but the great characters and their interactions with each other were what made this surprise hit into a film we remember with the utmost fondness today.
John Landis has stated that he doesn’t consider American Werewolf to be on his (incredible) list of comedies to his name, he just considers it to be a horror movie that happens to be funny. That’s fair. It is a horror film first and foremost and it is genuinely scary. But it’s also hilarious. It is the perfect balance of horror and comedy. Every single filmmaker looking to combine the two genres needs to watch this for reference. Because there might not be another film that’s ever done it better.
If I were to pick one film to be left for future generations to embody the 1980’s, to be the sole representative of that decade, I would pick Return of the Living Dead. It perfectly captures the spiritual nature and anxieties of the time in which it was made. It’s funny but nihilistic at the same time. It’s an anarchistic look at the nature of structure and how, inevitably, everything crumbles eventually. It was made during a time when the fear of the bomb was coming back into the public consciousness, when old worries were resurfacing on a major scale. And it basically says, “If we’re going to die, we might as well party.” It’s not a story about combatting the end of the world. It’s about riding it out.