Storytelling, much like good cooking or well-made cocktails, is all about balance. No other genre requires quite the level of balance as Horror-Comedy. Once the limbs start flying, there’s nothing like a few good laughs to level out the experience. A good dose of humor alongside the carnage also goes a long way toward reminding us that it’s all just entertainment. I mean, otherwise most horror fans would just be sitting in darkened rooms watching people get murdered… which is… a market, I guess. But for those of us uninterested in torture porn and nihilistic melodrama, a good horror-comedy is worth it’s weight in severed heads.
Here are five of my favorites.
Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil (2010, directed by Eli Craig)
A pair of well-meaning hillbillies with dreams of refurbishing their newly-acquired fishing cabin end up mistaken as serial killers by a group of college students. A blood-soaked comedy of errors, Tucker and Dale vs Evil is probably the most perfect blend of laughs and gore that I’ve ever seen. What makes the movie a little extra special to me, though, is how it turns the hillbillies-as-monsters trope on its head.
A little context – I grew up very rural. In fact, I was raised in the county with the lowest population of any east of the Mississippi. I had nineteen people in my graduating class in high school. I have willingly eaten squirrel. So finding a horror film that doesn’t portray folks like the guys I grew up with as witless psychopaths is extremely refreshing. Don’t get me wrong, all the hillbilly stereotypes you’re expecting are in there, but they’re done in a way that never feels mean-spirited and is always hilarious. (Also, Hoban Washburne- I mean Alan Tudyk, can do no wrong). If I could only recommend one “horror-comedy” to folks, this would be it.
(Luckily, it’s my damn blog and I can recommend as many as I want, so read on.)
The Cabin in the Woods (2011, directed by Drew Goddard)
What if the horror movie scenarios we know and love are just a set-up? Just the devious manipulations of shadowy bureaucrats seeking to control the end of the world? Sinking it’s teeth into all the familiar (and some of the beloved) tropes and archetypes, The Cabin in the Woods is as hilarious as it is frightening. Equal parts satire of, and love-letter to, the horror genre, it absolutely earns its slot on this list. It also features a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth, and the funniest office pool on film.
Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988, directed by the Chiodo Brothers)
A race of aliens that look like mutant clowns land their spaceship (which looks like a big-top carnival tent) outside a small town and proceed to harvest the locals by wrapping them in cotton-candy cocoons and sucking out their juices with krazy straws. Committed full-tilt boogie to its bizarre premise, this one takes low-budget absurdity to an impressive level, and even manages a few genuinely creepy scenes. (Bonus tidbit: Several of the Klown costumes got reused as trolls in Ernest Scared Stupid in 1991.)
Army of Darkness (1992, directed by Sam Raimi)
Alright, you primitive screwheads – listen up! Army of Darkness features the one and only Bruce Campbell is his best and most quotable role. In the first Evil Dead movie, we saw Campbell’s naive Ash Williams caught in unrelenting terror. In Evil Dead II, we see some competence develop in the character. But in Army of Darkness we have Ash at full strength – cynically charming, brutally sarcastic and ready to pull the trigger of his boomstick on the next one of you primates that even touches him. Hail to the King, baby.
Tremors (1990, directed by Ron Underwood)
A couple hired hands in the desolate town of Perfection, Nevada face off against giant subterranean monsters called Graboids. As these massive carnivorous sandworms chew through both cast and scenery, our heroes team up with a geologist and the local gun-nuts to make their escape. Despite cool practical effects and a solid script, this one bombed so badly when it came out that Kevin Bacon almost stopped making movies. It was gloriously redeemed by the home video rental market and became a cult classic. I swear to God, I first watched this movie on a slow day in science class in middle school (our teacher said it was about “geology”… she was pretty cool.) We’re not gonna talk about the sequels, though.
*I didn’t want any repeats, but several of my favorite zombie movies could easily be on this list
Slither (2006, directed by James Gunn)
Nathan Fillion from Firefly fights a zombie-deer while Michael Rooker slowly mutants into an alien monstrosity. There’s more to it than that, but they had me at “zombie-deer”. There are also mind-controlling space slugs.
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006, directed by Scott Glosserman)
A group of journalists, thinking it’s all a joke, agree to make a documentary about a guy who’s trying to become the next famous serial killer. Things don’t go as planned, and the format suddenly shifts from mockumentary to full-blown slasher movie. Oh, and also Robert Englund shows up.
Freaky (2020, directed by Christopher Landon)
A serial killer (played by Vince Vaughn) switches bodies with one of his intended victims, a teenage girl (played by Kathryn Newton). This one has some cringey stereotypes in it and I can’t always tell if they’re being played for comedic effect or not, but both the leads do such a fantastic job that it simply doesn’t matter. Newton is terrifying as a serial killer trapped in a teen girl’s body, and Vince Vaughn’s shifting performance between an awkward young woman and the actual slasher is outstanding.
That’s all for now, Folks. I may have one more post coming before Halloween, but my computer has been crashing a lot lately, so we’ll see what happens. In the meantime, don’t miss out on my other Halloween posts, including my Favorite Werewolf Movies, Zombie Movies, and Classic Horror Short Stories. And if you’re looking for a good book to read this season, well I naturally suggest my own.
Have a Happy Halloween, you bunch of miscreants! I’m glad to know you!
Until Next Time,