13 Essential Horror Comedies
Article By: Sean Abley
Screaming and laughing in equal measure!
No doubt there will be much gnashing of teeth over what we’ve included and, more importantly, what we haven’t (No Ghostbusters? No Young Frankenstein?). But our completely arbitrary criteria for this list of essential horror comedies, with the exception of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, was horror films with a comedy element rather than comedy films with a horror element. It also felt important to lean more toward a scholarly education on the subject than big studio releases everyone has seen. So, with that, take a look at our list for some bloody good laughs…
1. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
There are so many things wrong with the title of this early, if not first, repurposing of the classic Universal monsters into a comedy for a quick buck. First, the main villain isn’t Frankenstein, or even Frankenstein’s monster—it’s a lady Frankenstein enthusiast who has decided to transplant Lou Costello’s brain into the Monster. Second, the comedy duo meets not only the Monster, but Dracula (helping the lady not-Frankenstein), the Wolf Man, and even the Invisible Man. The film was hugely popular, paving the way for Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man, Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, and Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff.
2. Little Shop of Horrors (1960)
Roger Corman’s second horror comedy, shot over two days on the sets for his first (Bucket of Blood). Hapless Seymour Krelboyne (changed to Krelborn for the stage musical) works in a florist shop owned by Gravis Mushnik. After being fired for ineptitude, Seymour talks his way back into a job by revealing a new plant he’s cultivated--a plant ravenous for human blood. Although the movie musical based on the stage musical based on the original has its charms, this is the version with the most heart. Jonathan Haze and Jackie Joseph (as Seymour and his crush, Audrey) have genuine chemistry and charm to spare, and the supporting cast, which includes Dick Miller, Mel Welles and Jack Nicholson, are all stellar.
3. The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)
Isn’t any film starring Vincent Price at least nominally a comedy? Four years ago Dr. Anton Phibes’ wife died on the operating table, and soon after he, too, apparently died in a car accident. But looks are deceiving, as the doctor survived, albeit horribly scarred and mute. Using the plagues of Egypt as inspiration, Phibes sets about killing the medical team he blames for the death of his beloved. Of course Price had a decades long career filled with iconic performances, but we’d wager Dr. Phibes is the one role most genre fans can remember by name. The film was followed by a sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, and a thematically related Theatre of Blood, which is rumored to have been one of Price’s favorites.
4. Hausu (aka House) (1977)
A group of schoolgirls travels to a house in the country, and the house eats them. Any other attempt to describe the plot of Hausu under a restrictive word count would be a fool’s errand, but imagine if Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and Ju-On (The Grudge) had a baby. Seriously, this film is batsh*t crazy, and hilarious.
5. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978)
If you’re looking for silly fun, you’ve found silly fun. Ten years before this franchise started paying John Astin’s mortgage, the OG Killer Tomatoes rolled out and dared you not to laugh. Made on a super low budget (shocker, right?), the film spawned not only three sequels, but an animated series, a comic book, and three different video games. (And yes, George Clooney appeared in Return of the Killer Tomatoes.)
6. Student Bodies (1981)
Released into the crowded landscape of 80s slasher flicks, Student Bodies quickly became water cooler talk for genre fans of the era. The first slasher parody, this low budget opus feels like a love letter to genre fans (unlike its progeny, the Scary Movie franchise, which makes fun of the movie and the fans.) Definitely watch this on a double bill with the equally endearing Pandemonium, starring Tom Smothers, Carol Kane, Eileen Brennan, Phil Hartman, Tab Hunter, Eve Arden, and Paul Reubens.
7. The Toxic Avenger (1984)
Troma Entertainment’s first horror film after a series of sex comedies, The Toxic Avenger established not only the tone of most subsequent Troma films, but the world as well (mostly limited to Tromaville, NJ.) Melvin Ferd lives a life of constant torment at the hands of the customers of the health club in which he works as a janitor. After a vicious prank goes wrong, Melvin is transformed into a hulking monster courtesy of a well-placed drum of toxic waste. Dubbed by the press as “The Toxic Avenger,” Toxie turns to a life of crime fighting in suburban New Jersey. Toxie would go on to become Troma’s most endurable property (aka biggest cash cow), with three sequels, guest star appearances in other films, an animated TV series, a comic book, a novelization, one official musical adaptation (and at least two unofficial versions), and a remake that at one point had Arnold Schwarzenegger attached.
8. Gremlins (1984)
A film about following directions: Don’t expose the mogwai to direct sunlight, don’t let it get wet, and never feed it after midnight. Even if you’ve never seen Gremlins, you know those rules. And you’re probably familiar with Phoebe Cates’s monologue about her father dying in a chimney dressed as Santa Claus. (Lifted from an urban legend. Just sayin’.) But maybe, just maybe, you’re not familiar with possibly the most notorious death scene in the film.
9. Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987)
The black slapstick comedy hinted at in the original Evil Dead is refined and placed firmly on Bruce Campbell’s shoulders in Evil Dead 2. After a first act retelling of previous events, a new group of cabin dwellers arrives and then sh*t gets real… real fast. Campbell’s Ash is once again bedeviled by evil spirits possessing his pals, a situation requiring total dismemberment and incantations from the Dickish Spirits Cookbook aka the Necronomicon aka the Book of the Dead. Followed by the divisive Army of Darkness (this writer isn’t a fan), a humorless yet effective yet unnecessary remake, and two seasons (with one more on the way) of the Starz TV show, Ash Vs. Evil Dead.
10. Curse of the Queer Wolf (1988)
Is it offensive? Absolutely. Is it funny? At times. Is it meanspirited? That’s up for debate, but this queer writer doesn’t think so. What it is is well thought out. Despite the obvious zero budget, writer/director Mark Pirro has put quite a bit of effort into what could have been (should have been?) a two-day short film. He’s taken the werewolf lore and queered it up with a hamfisted precision. Heterosexual men probably couldn’t get away with something like Queer Wolf today, which is why this film is required viewing from a historical perspective—take a look at what we put up with back then, and would never allow today.
11. Frankenhooker (1990)
This was Penthouse Pet Patty Mullen’s third and final on-camera performance, and that’s a shame because as the titular character she shows genuine comic chops. James Lorinz’s weird energy is put to use perfectly as the wannabe mad doctor, and Louise Lasser as his mother is just one more awesomely offbeat ingredient in this grindhouse stew. Frank (Basket Case) Henenlotter’s take on the Frankenstein mythos really should offend much more than it does, but strangely, this story of a lowlife lothario killing hookers with exploding crack to harvest their body parts in an effort to reanimate his dead girlfriend comes off more sweet than sour.
12. Dead Alive (aka Braindead) (1992)
Splatter meets slapstick in this splatstick zombie opus by then little known writer/director Peter Jackson. A diseased rat monkey (courtesy of diseased rats and monkeys breeding on some godforsaken island) is transported to a zoo in Wellington, New Zealand, where it bites the mother of the protagonist, Lionel. Mom turns into a zombie and through some convenient plot twists, the entire neighborhood turns up undead and hungry. The zombie destruction scenes are some of the goriest and funniest committed to celluloid, and the climax is a funcomfortable play on the Oedipus complex. This is Jackson’s third film, after the juvenile Bad Taste and the not-as-funny-as-it-thinks-it-is Meet the Feebles.
13. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Made by geeks for geeks, and the rest of the world benefits because geeks know their zombies. For reasons unknown, the dead rise from the grave to feast upon the living in London (and presumably everywhere), leaving under achievers Shaun (co-writer Simon Pegg) and Ed (Nick Frost) to rescue various friends and family while avoiding being eaten alive. There isn’t much more to the film than that, but the comedy Pegg and co-writer/director Edgar Wright find in the situation more than makes up for the bare bones plot. With a cast of British comedy legends in even the tiniest roles, Shaun of the Dead is by far the smartest, and possibly the funniest, comedy on this list.