Some genres of cinema blend better than others. Animation often blends musicals with fantasy to maximize the power of the medium. The dramedy was pushed to its limits by indie filmmakers in the early 2000s. Around Halloween, it becomes impossible to ignore the horror-comedy. The subgenre earns its scares it bunches. Yet its self-reflexive nature also allows horror directors to comment on or homage the classics. For that reason alone, Horror-comedy has thrived. As recently as 2019, features like Ready or Not proved the appetite for these stories. Below are my Top 10 horror-comedies of all-time, with plenty of outstanding features just off the list (sorry What We Do in the Shadows, it was hard to overlook how much better the show has become).
10. The Monster Squad – Directed by Frank Dekker (1987)
Depending on your taste for the 1980’s “scum bums,” The Monster Squad may wear your patience thin. A small, yet loyal group of kids takes on Dracula (a terrifying Duncan Regehr) to stop the apocalypse. Led by monster expert Sean (Andre Glower) the kids befriend a Holocaust survivor and convince Sean’s police officer dad of the evil in their town. Shane Black penned the script, and one of his few non-Christmas stories quickly establishes his humor. The kids (and monsters) curse like sailors, and Black gives them some of the best one-liners of his career. If I don’t hear a “Wolf-Man’s got nards” or “I’m part of the club, aren’t I?” at least once a season, something’s missing.
9. Jennifer’s Body – Directed by Karyn Kusama (2009)
Wildly underrated and misunderstood at its release, Jennifer’s Body deserves a grander appreciation. Diablo Cody likes to tie herself in knots with her quippy dialogue, but in this film, it sings. A young girl Jennifer (Megan Fox) is seduced by a rock band and ritually sacrificed. When she resurrects, Jennifer’s best friend Needy (Amanda Seyfried) must stop her from killing. Cody’s story of friendship, empowerment, and victim-blaming becomes more powerful every day. Yet the sweet center and genuinely hilarious take on demonic possession were overshadowed by a Hot Topic inspired, “sexy” ad campaign. Please do yourself a favor, give this one a chance.
8. Cabin in the Woods – Directed by Drew Goddard (2012)
Delayed, again, and again, Cabin in the Woods would have fit in with the blockbusters of 2021. Despite early raves for Drew Goddard‘s direction and the silly mania inherent within the concept, moviegoers had to wait nearly two years after its original release date passed by (MGM was in serious financial trouble). However, the wait was worth it. Using the hackneyed framing device of co-eds traveling to a cabin, they fall victim to the horrors of the woods. Yet a parallel story featuring Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins elevates the film substantially. A cult-classic that has developed into an unkept secret, Cabin in the Woods feels more prophetic than one might have suspected at the beginning of 2020.
7. Young Frankenstein – Directed by Mel Brooks (1974)
More comedy than horror, Mel Brooks’ love letter to the Universal Monster film remains an iconic work. When a young Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) pilgrimages to Transylvania, he finds himself fulfilling a family legacy. Wilder leads the circus, with Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman, Madeline Kahn, and more filling the screen with hilarity. With Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles (also released in 1974), Brooks cemented his legacy as an all-timer. Yet it’s hard to argue that any of his films would reach the heights of the artistic and comical success as Young Frankenstein.
6. An American Werewolf in London – Directed by John Landis (1982)
Ghouls and battles with the monster with-in have long fascinated storytellers. However, John Landis lucked into a special sauce that few would have anticipated. The darkly morbid and unsettling script from Landis would always have found a fanbase. Thanks to the killer work of Rick Baker, An American Werewolf in London earns its place in the pantheon of horror-comedies. Between the groundbreaking transformation sequences for David (David Naughton) and the decaying Jack (a wildly hilarious Griffin Dunne), horror movies could never look the same again. Throw in a stellar emotional performance from Jenny Agutter, An American Werewolf in London remains a very gory, yet tragic tale.
5. Ghostbusters – Directed by Ivan Reitman (1984)
An instant classic, Ghostbusters confirmed the Saturday Night Live and National Lampoon comedians were more than just raunch comics. Then again, there’s a lot of raunchy humor in this one. A three-man team of scientists (Bill Murray, Harold Ramis & Dan Ackroyd) begins a ghost-catching business in New York City. After adding a fourth team member (Ernie Hudson) and support staff (Annie Potts), the team becomes a phenomenon. Alongside the core five members, Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis bring down the house. Yet the scares are legit, delivering some cutting edge special effects that earned the film an Oscar nomination.
4. Beetlejuice – Directed by Tim Burton (1988)
Be careful not to say his name three times! Michael Keaton became an overnight celebrity as the Ghost with the Most. Tim Burton had already made a name with himself with Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, yet few outside the Disney offices could have predicted what his next film would look like. Beetlejuice established the Burton brand, continued the rise of Geena Davis, Alec Baldwin, and Catherine O’Hara. For boys everywhere, Winona Ryder‘s Lydia was their first crush. It also proved the young actress could hang with the best, setting her up for an incredible decade. Keaton and Ryder won the film, but Burton’s scary and morbid aesthetic became a hallmark (often to his detriment).
3. Get Out – Directed by Jordan Peele (2017)
The hot-button issue of the 2017 awards season was the placement of Get Out in the comedy category at the Golden Globes. It’s sure to be a touchy subject here. Yet Peele’s masterpiece of suspense is incomplete without the strongly comedic elements in play. Unlike other films on this list, Peele, never lets the violence become the punchline. Instead, he utilizes the incredible performance from Daniel Kaluuya to drive home the seriousness of the subject matter. Kaluuya and Peele are so locked in telling their social satire, it’s easy to forget how much humor present throughout Get Out. Furthermore, Get Out explicitly references The Stepford Wives, Halloween, and The Shining. Peele uses these references and the comedy to lighten the mood and deliver a powerful message. The horror and comedy work together to drive home his points, and Get Out is better for it.
2. Scream – Directed by Wes Craven (1996)
After one of the best opening sequences in film history, Scream has you by the hook. Wes Craven‘s 1996 slasher-comedy brought meta-comedy straight into the lexicon of every person under the age of 45. Piling references on top of references and having the characters realize their own tropes made Scream a hit. What Kevin Williamson and Craven had to say about the genre made Scream essential. Despite the creativity that had once led to a revolution in filmmaking during the 1970s, horror had all but vanished. A film was always going to revive the genre. Scream saved horror with biting critique that forced filmmakers to truly look themselves in the mirror and adapt.
1. Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn – Directed by Sam Raimi (1987)
Sam Raimi proved his mettle as a horror filmmaker on The Evil Dead (1981), a film that provides terrifying moments as quickly as possible. Despite unintentional comedy littering the film, few would have expected the sequel’s surrealist approach to a sequel. Part remake, reboot, and full camp horror, Evil Dead 2 proved a superior film in every way. The scares? Bigger. The violence? Bloodier. The humor? Gut-busting. Practical effects, puppets, stop-motion, and make-up wonders live in nearly every shot. Raimi and Bruce Campbell created a work so singular in its tone and imagery, it made audiences come back for more over the next thirty-plus years. The most unique horror film of the 1980s, Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn is a stone-cold masterpiece.
Runners Up (Alphabetical): Army of Darkness, Friday the 13th Part VI, Fright Night, Ready or Not, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, This is the End, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, What We Do in the Shadows, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare