Nothing beats the thrill of a good scare without any good reason for fear – that’s why no film genre can beat comedy-horror for pleasing every one of your friends at your next Movie Night. In fact, if you’re having a crowd over and not sure what to pick that will entertain everyone, comedy-horror is usually a safe bet. What’s not to love, when you can get nail-biting suspense, a dose of gore, and a total laugh riot all in one movie?
The best comedy-horror films are low-budget B-movies, or they pay homage to the B movie classics.
The horror genre goes back a long way (we humans like to be scared, safely) but the heyday of B-movie fright fests was the 1950s and early 1960s. Back then, humans were just making the first tentative steps toward space travel, while nuclear jitters had ramped up North American fears of “outsiders” and the awesome or awful possibilities unleased by post-war leaps in scientific discovery.
Teens and young adults thronged to drive-ins and cinemas for spine-tingling low-budget features such as Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958), and Ed Wood Jr.‘s masterpiece, the so-bad-it’s-hilarious Plan 9 from Outer Space (1956), my personal favorite and the last film for Bela Lugosi.
Each decade since has had its own pet spoofs of those B-movie cult classics, tongue firmly in cheek, and now comedy-horror has evolved into a full-fledged film genre in its own right.
From little more than a college-crowd “cult” following of the 1970s – remember Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, (1978)? – through a host of more-or-less missable remakes of the classics in the 1980s and only a few real gems in the 1990s (a nod to the mockumentary The Blair Witch Project (1999) for breathing new life into the kids-in-a-cabin genre) – comedy-horror truly began its revival with Mars Attacks (1996) taking on the traditional 1950s sci-fi aliens. (Well, Tim Burton, Jack Nicholson, that one was a slamdunk.) And then, with Shaun of the Dead (2004) the whole comic zombies sub-genre came to life too.
But it can be hard to sort out the duds from the do-watch movies, even in this crowd-pleasing genre. To lend a hand, here’s my short list of totally laughable comedy-horror films of recent years that you may have missed:
8 Great Comedy-Horror Movies to Watch This Weekend
Fido (2006) is as heartwarming as zombie movie can be, built around the premise of an alternative-reality verision of 1950s with a “Leave it to Beaver” vibe. Scottish comedian Billy Connolly (Dáin II Ironfoot in The Hobbit: There and Back Again, and a familiar voice from various Pixar flicks) plays the title role of Fido, a little boy’s pet zombie, ghoulishly lovable when kept under control with a special collar… What could possibly go wrong? Fans of Connolly will note that he goes through the whole movie emoting with no words, which is weird enough right there. Fans of biting satire will be in their element, as this boy-and-his-zombie flick is merciless in its exposure of power and prejudice behind the white picket fence of the post-war American dream. Merciless, but hilarious.
Cockneys vs Zombies (2012) is a wacky little indie production with a brilliant script, though you may want to enable the subtitles for the first few minutes if the accent of East Enders is baffling to your ears. A gang of incompetent London bank robbers stumble out of the bank and right into a zombie invasion. Mission: race the zombies to the old folks’ home to save dear old Dad, whose cast of roommates include some of the most famous movie villain actors you’ll almost recognize. Best moment, hands down hilarious, is the slow-motion chase scene between an old man with a walker and an equally decrepit zombie out to nom his brains.
Cabin in the Woods – with a Twist
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010). College kids go on vacation to a cabin in the wood – guess which horror sub-genre this flick picks on! – as do a couple of hillbillies, Tucker and Dale. Naturally, the two groups meet. Naturally, the obnoxious college kids jump to the conclusion that our heroes are sub-par homicidal hicks, just waiting to get them alone with a chainsaw. And naturally – because this is a spoof of the typical slasher movie trope – they’re dead wrong. We see the horror unfold from the viewpoint of the frankly lovable hillbillies, who keep trying to help out the city kids and keep them from harming themselves. Much hilarity ensues (and a fair amount of gore) as the arrogant preps keep managing to kill themselves in wild accidents verging on black-comedy slapstick, despite the best efforts of Tucker and Dale to try to keep them alive.
Regular folk vs Alien Monsters
Tremors (1990) gives a western twist to the comedy-horror movie, thus neatly turning the spoof into a double. It’s very much a take-off of the Cold War era cult classics formula, with townspeople and monsters and a scientist. Here, however, the requisite scientist is not an actual Brainiac in a white lab coat but a young geology student. Giant alien things lurk under the ground and keep rearing up to wreck havoc, death and distruction – and our heroes are not as competent as they think they are. Try to overlook the fact that Tremors stars a young Kevin Bacon, by the way. This is one of the funniest movies you’ll ever see with a decapitation in it.
Grabbers (2012): you’re going to love this premise. For the inhabitants of a quaint Irish island, the only defence against aliens rising out of the sea is to get drunk. And I think that’s really all you need to know to understand just how funny this movie will be. Independently produced, they had to squeeze the budget so as to afford to have a monster – special effects cost a lot – so the monster, although it’s quite nicely made, doesn’t get a lot of screen time. So, what does a scriptwriter put into a comedy-horror movie when you can’t do an epic alien battle? Funny stuff, and lots of it.
Attack the Block (2011). British street toughs take on a horde of aliens – “inner city versus outer space” – in this smart, fast-paced, funny film from the producers of Shaun of the Dead.
Need we say more?
Yes, we probably should… because Attack the Block is another brilliant homage to the B movies, but it’s not just a remake of Shaun with aliens instead of zombies – far from it! What we’ve got here is a fresh-and-quirky action-adventure take on the alien invasion sci-fi sub-genre, with an inner-city setting and a group of characters who are totally 21st-century types. Top marks to the script, and the skill with which writer-director Joe Cornish introduces us to these low-life young thugs and quickly lets us know them as distinct individuals, so you’re already getting to like them when the aliens start coming after the kids like the gang’s got a neon bullseye on their back.
Some viewers may have to take a little time to tune in to the accent, to catch the quick quipping in South London slang, but it pays to stick with it. The dialogue is fast and funny, as is the alien-fighting action. Good thing our heroes are tough streetwise punks – they need to be.
Double Feature with Spiders
Finally, if aliens, monsters, and zombies are a little too fantastical to invoke the right amount of fear along with the laughs, try something a little bit closer to earth. Fear of spiders is one of the most common phobias, and here’s a pair that manage to find the funny in our horror of the relentless creepy-crawlies.
In Arachnophobia (1990), huge South American killer spiders invade a small town. Jeff Daniels plays the arachnophobic new doctor in town who is driven to get to the root of the problem when his patients start dying off – bad for bsusiness! John Goodman puts on his big boots for a comic turn as the horribly over-matched exterminator. Arachnophobia may be short on gore (rated PG-13) compared to most of the comedy-horror genre, but it goes a long way on laughs.
Eight Legged Freaks (2002) brings together a couple of good old horror stand-bys – toxic waste and exotic spiders – in a sleepy Arizona gold-mining town. The spiders eat the nasty chemicals, then they eat the guy who owns them, and then they grow to be humongous and start looking for more to eat. Meanwhile, the town is rife with rumors of UFO abductions and a giant gold lode just waiting to be rediscovered. The mine reopens, providing a convenient deep dark hole for the freakishly giant spiders to lurk in, and the townspeople keep dropping like flies until Aunt Gladys – but let’s not drop a spoiler!
“Do you hate spiders? Do you really hate spiders? Well they don’t like you either.”Eight Legged Freaks makes a nice double-feature with Arachophobia, only this one’s a bit more scary. Send the kids to bed in the intermission.
If you appreciate a good cold-war-era monster movie, you can’t get enough of spring-loaded cats behind every closet door and alien monsters in every innocent village, and you love to play “spot the old film trope” with like-minded friends, any of these comedy-horror flicks are well worth the popcorn.
Featured photo: explored by Alex.