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Every so often, and even more often as of late, a film like 2019’s Ready Or Not comes around that achieves the unusual, and perhaps even boorish task of appealing to your morbid curiosity while simultaneously tickling your funny bone. Crossing a genre meant to frighten with one meant to create joy sounds like a dangerous contradiction, yet horror-comedy movies are among the most entertaining in recent memory.
The key to any great horror-comedy movie is to incorporate an even balance of scares and laughs, sharp knives and sharp wit, spirits risen and spirits raised! Most importantly, the comedy within the horror needs to be intentional, otherwise it could never work as anything but a target for mockery, and there is nothing to mock about these following thrillers and gore fests that master the art of self-mockery.
The bloody hilarious Ready or Not inspired me to take a look back at some of the most memorable horror-comedy movies of all time and rank them in ascending order of quality, using a perfected gags to giggles ratio as my primary criteria. Which of these 13 masterpieces of primal fear and parody will be my pick for the king?
13. Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil (2010)
You know the old trope in most slasher movies in which the young people heading for a good time in the woods come across a couple of shady country folk who are clearly psychopathic, possibly cannibalistic, murderers? Well, what if they were just a couple of friendly rednecks who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time?
The hillbilly title characters of Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (played by Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine) are just trying to enjoy their vacation in the mountains when a group of frightened college students mistake them for slashers. In truth, the vacationers’ deaths, in increasingly hilarious and graphic fashion, are of no fault but their own yet, but Tucker and Dale can’t escape looking like the crazed culprits in this clever deconstruction of the horror genre that makes you think twice before judging someone on appearance alone.
12. Ready Or Not (2019)
Grace (Australian actress Samara Weaving) is so determined to be accepted into her new husband’s wealthy family that she agrees to their long-honored tradition of playing a game on the night of the wedding. Little does she know that, in their house, this innocent childhood game of hide-and-seek is actually a deadly, all-night hunt and she is the sole target.
Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillet (known collectively as Radio Silence) craft Ready or Not into an intense, expertly paced cat-and-mouse game that is a little bit Die Hard, a little bit Rosemary’s Baby, and thoroughly batshit crazy right up to its unforgettable conclusion that will have you howling. Samara Weaving effortlessly carries the film with her brilliantly relatable portrayal of one woman’s manic struggle for survival which is beautifully juxtaposed with her in-laws’ comically overly exaggerated ignorance of their own despicable nature.
11. Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon (2006)
It is no secret why icons of the slasher genre, such as Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees, are scary, but what makes them especially fascinating is what inspires them to kill. Admittedly, exploring this concept may be detrimental to the mystery and, therefore, the scare factor, but, as this mockumentary demonstrates, it can also be hilarious to think about.
Set in the same universe as films such as Halloween or A Nightmare on Elm Street, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is about a camera crew following an aspiring masked killer (Nathan Baesel) as he prepares to embark on his first murder spree, explaining his process (such as choosing a teenage virgin girl as his “final victim” or expressing excitement over a Dr. Loomis-like character tracking him) along the way. By making light of common slasher movie cliches and presenting them in a hilariously, refreshingly informal way, Behind the Mask is an absolute must for horror obsessives.
10. Zombieland (2009)
This is not the only zombie-centric horror-comedy movie that will appear on this list and, furthermore, this movie probably would have never existed if not for that other film. However, there is no denying Zombieland, which recently spawned a sequel 10 years in the making with Zombieland: Double Tap, is some of the most fun you will ever have with a movie about the undead.
From director Ruben Fleischer and future Deadpool writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, Zombieland follows a quartet of mismatched survivors (Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin) of a global epidemic turning humans into flesheaters as they learn to tolerate their deadly environment, as well as each other. Despite its graphic imagery and dark themes, this is a light, breezy road trip movie with a killer celebrity cameo that puts a bright, blood-stained smile on your face.
9. Slither (2006)
It is hard to see James Gunn as anything but the goofy, ‘70s-pop-music-loving auteur behind two of the MCU’s most lighthearted films, Guardians of the Galaxy and its second volume. Little may Marvel fans know that the earlier credits of the director’s resume is shrouded with darkness and dripping in his uncomfortably morbid sense of humor and no film expresses that than his acclaimed 2006 splatter-fest Slither.
After a small town becomes overrun by large parasitic worms from another planet, a policeman (Nathan Fillion) and the wife of the parasite’s first victim (Elizabeth Banks) race to stop the plague from transforming more townsfolk into revolting mutant creatures. Slither is body horror at its grossest and horror-comedy at its most crass, but James Gunn crafts it into something uniquely endearing.
8. Gremlins (1984)
We recently determined that this creature feature from producer Steven Spielberg and director Joe Dante deserves to be part of one’s holiday movie traditions. Of course, that does not mean that Gremlins can’t be enjoyed on Halloween either.
When Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) receives an unusual furry creature called a Mogwai from his father as a Christmas gift, he soon learns that, lurking beneath its cuddly exterior, is a green, vicious monster that takes the ignorance of one important rule to unleash. The frightening nature of the titular creatures in Gremlins is not to be underestimated, yet they often indulge in some wacky, cartoonish mischief (especially in the 1990 sequel), which makes the film an undisputed horror-comedy classic.
7. The Cabin In The Woods (2011)
Wes Craven’s 1996 slasher revival Scream was the kind of film in which the characters knew that they were in a movie, acknowledging the horror cliches happening around them throughout. Director Drew Goddard and his co-writer Joss Whedon one-upped that concept with the similarly parodic The Cabin in the Woods.
The less you know about this classically-inspired tale of five young friends (including a young Chris Hemsworth) who fall prey to horrifying circumstances in a remote cabin the better, because the secret to its brilliance is leading you in one direction before pulling the rug right under your feet and mocking you with unapologetic glee as you plummet to the ground in utter disarray. The Cabin in the Woods is one of the most dizzyingly clever and unabashedly witty indictments on the horror genre fans have ever been blessed with.
6. What We Do In The Shadows (2014)
The best vampire stories typically take place in the Victorian Era, not just because Bram Stoker’s Dracula was published around that time, but because the mythological creature’s signature characteristics work best with the overall tone of the period. Not to mention, they would probably have a hell of a time blending in during modern times.
Such is the premise of the mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, from directors Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit) and Jemaine Clement (from folk duo Flight of the Conchords), who also star alongside Jonathan Brugh as centuries-old bloodsuckers dealing with daily struggles like paying rent, failed romance, and sunlight. It is a surprisingly relatable and convincingly executed tale of friendship that takes great pleasure in its respectful mocking of traditional vampire lore.
5. Trick ‘r Treat (2007)
Christmas has Santa Claus and Easter has the Easter Bunny and even Valentine’s Day has Cupid, but the one holiday that has long been devoid of a mascot to properly symbolize its essence is Halloween. That all changed with the release of Godzilla: King of the Monsters director Michael Dougherty’s feature-length debut and cult favorite Trick ‘r Treat.
An quasi-anthology film in a similar vein to Pulp Fiction or Crash, Trick ‘r Treat jumps back and forth between a collection of stories all taking place on one particularly unusual Halloween night, the connective tissue to these tales being Sam (then 8-year-old Quinn Lord), a lone trick-r-treater who is more than meets the eye. John Carpenter’s 1978 slasher may predate it, but Trick ‘r Treat is the ultimate Halloween movie - a wonderfully wacky, often chilling, and clearly proud celebration of the holiday.
4. Beetlejuice (1988)
When the script for Beetlejuice was first being developed, the titular villain was originally depicted as winged demon who took the human form of a small Middle Eastern man and his intentions with Lydia Deetz were far more sinister than just forced marriage. I think we can all be grateful that Tim Burton and Michael Keaton stepped in as it would have never been as memorable as it became.
This irreverent, darkly comic romp, which was recently made into a Tony-nominated Broadway musical, follows a recently deceased couple (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) who run into trouble after enlisting the help of a crude, revolting bio-exorcist (Michael Keaton) to rid their house of the pretentious family currently inhabiting it. Tim Burton’s signature style reminiscent of Dr. Seuss on a bad acid trip fused with Keaton’s laugh-a-minute, high-energy wit make Beetlejuice the ultimate time of your afterlife.
3. An American Werewolf In London (1981)
John Landis made a name for himself in the late 1970s and early ‘80s as the helmer of comedies like National Lampoon’s Animal House and The Blues Brothers. In 1981, he changed it up just a bit by incorporating his well-known wit into the otherwise terrifying story of An American Werewolf in London.
David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) are American college students visiting the United Kingdom who are attacked by an animal that kills Jack but turns David into a half-man, half-wolf creature who begins to uncontrollably terrorize London. While the same humor that initially made John Landis a household name is present throughout, what really makes An American Werewolf in London a classic is its horrific body horror imagery, thanks to Academy Award-winning makeup that makes David’s first transformation an iconic moment of the genre.
2. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg continued their creative partnership that began with the acclaimed UK sitcom Spaced with this then-unique take on the genre pioneered by the late George A. Romero, Shaun of the Dead. Pegg, as the title character, is an everyman struggling to protect his friends and family after mindless flesheaters overrun London.
Instead of creating what could have easily been a spoof of the zombie genre, Shaun of the Dead keeps the formula sacred and splices it with the conventions of a British sitcom, using Edgar Wright’s now unmistakable directing style as its connective tissue. The result, despite its gross-out humor, earns it a place among the greatest zombie movies ever made and the approval of George A. Romero himself.
1. Evil Dead II (1987)
The first film of director Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy was a pure, grueling terror, while the third installment, the Medieval “epic” Army of Darkness, was pure comedy. The second installment, 1987’s Evil Dead II, which continues the misadventures of Bruce Campbell’s Ashley “Ash” Williams against sinister forces of the spiritual plane, was a brilliantly crafted mix of both.
How many movies can you say you have seen include possessed stuffed deer heads cackling maniacally, multi-jawed demons, corpses performing ballet, and man replacing his severed hand with a chainsaw? There is only one answer to that and it is the perfect marriage of gross-out gore with classic slapstick that is Evil Dead II, the horror-comedy that was unlike anything the subgenre had seen before and can be traced in nearly everything it has seen since.
I believe that it can be healthy for us to be able to find the humor in even the most grisly topics. That being said, there is no better way for us to exercise that concept than with indulging in a fun horror-comedy movie and the list above provides us with the best ways to do that.
Does our list bring you joyful laughter or do you want to scream at the exclusion of your personal favorite horror-comedy movie? Let us know!