Horror comedies are extremely hard to pull off. Yet, despite that, comedy and horror are more entwined than any two other genres. Both of them completely come down to timing. Setting up a scare and setting up a joke are incredibly similar practices and both require a meticulous balancing act to pull off correctly. This is why horror comedies are so impressive when they work well. They’re also the easiest to bring new people into the genre. Don’t start someone out on I Spit on Your Grave, reel them in to watch a movie they can have fun with.
Most horror movies should offer some kind of levity. Too much of one thing will leave an audience disinterested. Even A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre have moments to balance out the heavy atmosphere and unexpected scares. This not only gives the audience a chance to calm down, it also allows them to be caught off guard by the time the next scare rolls around. More importantly, humor is an easy way to allow us to relate to the characters.
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A good horror film should be like a roller coaster, fun one moment and terrifying the next. Many of the features we’ll be looking at on this list aren’t traditional horror comedies. They’re straightforward horror films that happen to have a lot of humor to balance out the scares. That’s one of the hardest things to do correctly in this genre, and these movies make it look easy.
Motel Hell was not at all the movie I expected it to be. For one thing, it has very little to do with the titular motel. It’s actually a comment on the meat industry and food processing, a Texas Chainsaw Massacre riff that also served as biting satire, but one that definitely plays it straight when it needs to. I wouldn’t describe it as a comedy. It’s just a weird, offbeat, cannibal slasher with quirky characters that never takes itself too seriously. Farmer Vincent’s dying confession of “I used… preservatives” is absolutely hilarious.
Creepshow promises “The most fun you’ll ever have being scared!” That’s a tall order, but it’s kind of true. As dark and grim as each of the five stories get, they’re all incredibly fun. Stephen King really played for laughs with this script in an entertaining way. The film absolutely nails the tone of the EC comics it takes as its major inspiration. The effects are amazing, the score is top-notch, and the cinematography and editing are way ahead of their time, but it’s also loaded with some howlingly funny scenes.
Gremlins is an amazing mishmash of tones that should have been impossible to pull off. There’s no way it should have worked, and that could be said of so many of the all-time greats. They took a huge chance and it paid off big time. It’s a Christmas movie except for when it’s an anti-Christmas movie. Optimistic except for when it’s nihilistic and comedy except for when it’s horror. Each one of these aspects is balanced so well and all of them blend together seamlessly. These are the qualities that make it a classic.
Re-Animator is probably more of an outright comedy than any of the others on this list, but I think people tend to forget how much of it is actually played straight. Jeffrey Combs is over the top as West, but the humor is in how seriously he plays that character. The absurdity comes mostly through the tone but there’s an incredible, knowing wit in the dialogue and performances, both of which are a large part of the reason it has lasted so long. So much of it is played so seriously, but it’s still played for humor.
If you’re getting bored with haunted house flicks and don’t like the fact that they all have the same basic setups and scares, watch House. It’s the least traditional haunted house flick ever made. There’s a serious emotional center but that’s just the cherry on top when the movie is chock-full of hilarious situations and even funnier character interactions. George Wendt is a gift in this film and manages to serve as both the comic relief idiot and the guy the audience can relate to as he tries to navigate this weird and bizarre situation.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
Tobe Hooper’s sequel to Texas Chain Saw Massacre couldn’t be a more different movie than the original, but at the same time, it is totally reactionary to its predecessor. It’s so much bigger, so over-the-top, it’s a Texas Chainsaw Massacre for a very different decade. Everything in the eighties was about excess, so the sequel is bigger, gorier, and funnier than the first. Whenever the first one turned left, this one turns right, and that’s ultimately what makes it stand out.
Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives
Jason Lives may be a great horror comedy and a total deconstruction of its franchise, but it also never forgets to be a horror movie. That’s the real key to its success. Jason himself is never played for laughs and is actually creepy in this one. There’s a very thick, heavy atmosphere that is refreshing and only supplemented and strengthened by the often hilarious script.
Night of the Creeps
Night of the Creeps is such an entertaining, smart, well written piece that it kind of irks me that it only ever gets seen as a cheesy B-Movie. Of course it’s a B-movie but intentionally so. It’s also so much more. There are some great characters here, some honest relationships. It would be an engaging college comedy if the brain slug zombies never even showed up, but luckily they do.
Scream is a perfect example of a witty, very funny script that only makes an outright horror movie better. Scream is by no means a horror comedy. The opening scene alone is one of the scariest, most intense sequences in any horror film. But there’s great dialogue that feels effortlessly funny and a script that is so self-referential but never talks down to the genre or its fans.
An American Werewolf in London
An American Werewolf in London is not an outright horror comedy, despite what most people claim. It’s just a horror film that happens to be very, very funny and it is the perfect example of such. This is such a great, earnest, scary werewolf feature that is also hysterical. Those two ideas mesh as perfectly here as they ever have in the history of cinema. And the humor doesn’t just come from dead friend Jack. There are unexpectedly funny bits peppered all through the movie—with the theater scene being a particular stand-out—and it’s that very unexpectedness that makes them even funnier.