The 25 Greatest Horror-Comedies of All Time
For some, it would seem weird to find anything funny about a horror movie. But the connection between horror and comedy is actually pretty obvious: How often in a horror film does a scary scene cause you to jump — and then laugh at yourself for getting spooked in the first place? Laughing is a way to defang what’s so terrifying, making us feel safe from the ghouls, goblins and other monsters up there on the screen. Plus, there’s an escapist quality to horror movies — similarly, we ride roller coasters eager to be put through the wringer, knowing we won’t die — and pairing terror with humor makes both sensations that much stronger. Laughing and freaking out are the same kind of release.
Horror-comedies are nothing new: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein came out in 1948. But as horror became a blockbuster genre in the 1970s, filmmakers started seeing the potential for spoofs and mash-ups, capitalizing on the trend by adding a little levity. No two horror-comedies are the same. Some are principally comedies set in a horror setting. Some are straight-up parodies of horror flicks. And some are horror movies with a wicked sense of humor. But when making my list of the 25 greatest, I wanted to be sure that my picks could both scare and amuse a viewer, although the ratio between the two responses varied from film to film.
Without trying to ensure that my selections represented a wide range of years, I noticed that they did anyway, with plenty of choice picks from the 1980s, 1999s and this century, including last year. (There’s only one horror-comedy from the 1970s, and I bet you can guess what it is.) Sadly, I had to make some tough calls. Christopher Landon has delivered some very inventive horror-comedies in recent years, like Happy Death Day and Freaky, but he didn’t make the final 25. Many consider They Live to be a horror-comedy, but I can’t quite get there, despite its savvy satirical elements. And I have a fondness for Dead Snow — two words, Nazi zombies — but ultimately, I thought there were better, gnarlier comedies involving the undead.
Zombies, werewolves, vampires, ghosts, Frankenstein’s monster, serial killers: They’re all on display below, all of them treated as comic fodder. Want something to spice up your regular Halloween movie-watching playlist? Try these 25… if you dare.
The Blackening (2022)
This adaptation of a short film derives its humor from a racist horror trope: Why is that the Black character always dies first in slasher flicks? In The Blackening, all the characters are Black, as a group of reunited college friends hang out in a cabin in the woods, where spooky things start to happen once they come upon a game that forces them to answer questions about Black pop culture — if they get the answers wrong, there are dire consequences. Ribbing horror movies while commenting on systematic racism — this is one film where our heroes don’t want the police to come save the day — The Blackening features an ace cast, including Jermaine Fowler playing the requisite nerd who drives everyone else crazy.
Fright Night (1985)
We’ve all had bad neighbors, but none of them are as awful as what’s happening to high-schooler Charley (William Ragsdale), who’s convinced a vampire (Chris Sarandon) has moved in next door. At a time when teen comedy-dramas were becoming big business, Fright Night had fun with the conventions, balancing the usual hormonal insecurities with slayings and whatnot. In other words, here’s the forerunner to Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s clever mash-up of supernatural horror and adolescent anxiety. Just be sure to avoid the 2011 remake, which deservedly stiffed at the box office despite its excellent cast (Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, Toni Collette).
Scary Movie (2000)
The 21st century’s biggest parody franchise debuted in 2000, with director Keenen Ivory Wayans mocking everything from The Blair Witch Project to The Shining to The Sixth Sense. Unapologetically crass, Scary Movie was the launching pad for everyone from Anna Faris to Regina Hall, giving the whole Wayans clan an opportunity to show off their comedic chops. (For better or worse, probably worse, we wouldn’t have gotten
Jennifer’s Body (2009)
As a follow-up to her Oscar-winning screenplay for Juno, Diablo Cody wrote a dark satire about Jennifer (Megan Fox), a high-school beauty who gets possessed by a demon, preying on all the horny dudes around her. Jennifer’s Body received bad reviews and did little business when it opened in the fall of 2009, but since then feminist critics have embraced it as an insightful commentary on the ways that men victimize women in society. (Spoiler: It has a little something to do with exactly why Jennifer becomes possessed.) Guys will squirm watching the film, while female viewers may laugh in recognition of the grim subtext on screen.
The Voices (2014)
If you’re looking for a decidedly twisted horror-comedy, and an underrated Ryan Reynolds movie to boot, let me suggest The Voices, in which he plays Jerry, a working stiff whose dog and cat can talk to him. Turns out, though, Jerry is schizophrenic, and the film adopts his distorted view of the world. A movie about murder and mental health, The Voices is an edgy film that takes wild tonal swings, resulting in a story that’s disturbing, funny and sometimes disturbingly funny. But it’s also an opportunity to see Reynolds play a more vulnerable guy than usual — albeit, a vulnerable guy who kills people.
The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Dan O’Bannon made his name as the screenwriter of Alien, but soon studios were asking him to work on more horror films, which started to affect him emotionally. “I was fed up with being that kind of frightened and weirded out and that stuff, and I didn’t feel like getting back that deep into that territory again,” he said. “So when I did Return of the Living Dead I made it more of a comedy than a horror movie, really.” O’Bannon’s directorial debut finds the funny in zombies, applying a punk-rock aesthetic to the genre — that’s especially evident on the soundtrack, which includes the Cramps and the Damned — while delivering enough gross-out moments to appeal to hardcore horror fans. Fun fact: Long before 28 Days Later, this movie introduced the idea of fast-moving zombies.
The man basically invented the zombie genre, so you can understand why George A. Romero would eventually want to tweak horror movies. Creepshow finds him teaming up with another horror legend, Stephen King, to craft an anthology of shorts — some based on King stories, some original creations — that pays homage to EC Comics of the 1950s. Arguably, this film is a little undervalued in both men’s cinematic oeuvre. (Plus, it contains a primo Leslie Nielsen performance, as well as a fun turn from pre-Cheers Ted Danson.) Nonetheless, Creepshow was Romero’s only film to top the box office, a rare moment when this definitely independent director was the toast of Hollywood.
Decades before Arachnophobia, Hollywood would occasionally make horror flicks about scary critters attacking a town. Longtime producer Frank Marshall’s directorial debut approached that subgenre with tongue-in-cheek, casting Jeff Daniels as a mild-mannered doctor and John Goodman as a quirky exterminator, the two men doing battle with some nasty spiders who invade their community. The jump scares are mostly meant to provoke giggles, and the whole thing exudes a giddy good cheer, reminding viewers that it can be fun to burrow into the escapism of a knowingly silly B-movie.
Released six months before Arachnophobia, Tremors also drew inspiration from creature-features of yesteryear, setting the action in the Nevada desert, where two not-too-bright handymen (Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward) discover that prehistoric monsters dwell underground, ready to feast. Incorporating wonderfully low-tech effects, director Ron Underwood (who the following year helmed City Slickers) has a ball unveiling tense set pieces while his two leads bicker like brothers about what the hell to do. The subsequent cheapo sequels leaned into the material’s inherent campiness, but the original is still a gleeful mixture of jokes and scares.
When Tim Burton first approached Michael Keaton about playing Betelgeuse, the actor was underwhelmed. “I had no idea what he was talking about, but I liked him,” Keaton recalled. “I said, ‘I wish I could do it. You seem like a really nice guy and I know you’re creative, but I don’t get it.’” Eventually, Keaton wrapped his head around the role, allowing him to bust loose on screen in a way he never had before. Beetlejuice was also further proof that Burton, fresh off Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, was a master of making macabre humor palatable for the mainstream. (After this movie, he and Keaton would reunite for Batman.) Burton has lost his edge over time, drifting inexorably into self-parody, but Beetlejuice remains one of his freakiest, funniest efforts. To this day, it’s impossible to hear “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and not think of this film.
One Cut of the Dead (2017)
Recently, The Artist Oscar-winner Michel Hazanavicius made a remake of this Japanese zombie comedy, but stick with the original. One Cut of the Dead has a clever premise: Initially, we think we’re watching an intense zombie attack that’s broken out in the middle of a film shoot, but what we’re actually watching is a film being made about an intense zombie attack that’s broken out in the middle of a film shoot. Written and directed by Shin'ichirô Ueda, One Cut of the Dead is a jolly salute to low-budget genre filmmaking, paying tribute to the hopeless dreamers who think their latest opus is gonna be a masterpiece.
A few years before hitting it big with their screenplay for Deadpool, writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick concocted a zombie comedy in which a handful of survivors trek across America in hope of refuge. As the unlikely traveling companions, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin are just the right mix of snarky and genuine, giving this post-apocalyptic adventure enough emotional stakes to go along with the gore and gags. Director Ruben Fleischer amps up the world-building, but not at the expense of the characters, and all these years later, it remains an inspired bit of business that Bill Murray plays himself… as a zombie.
The Love Witch (2016)
Writer-director Anna Biller had a simple inspiration for her second feature: “Men are known for being much less emotional than women, but, in my experience, they’re much more emotional,” she said. “And that’s why they won’t, or can’t, open that gate — it would destroy them. And that’s what kills all the men in my movie — having to experience their own feelings.” Meant to resemble the glorious Technicolor spectacles of the 1960s, The Love Witch (which Biller also produced, scored and edited) stars Samantha Robinson as Elaine, a witch out looking for love after her husband dies. (Did she kill him? Well…) An elegant combination of bright and dark, the movie is feminist while critiquing feminism, a salute to campy horror films of yesteryear while also being a sincere examination of love.
The Cabin in the Woods (2011)
By the time of Drew Goddard’s directorial debut, horror had fully entered its meta era, but his script (co-written with Joss Whedon) was especially witty, creating a note-perfect sendup of the genre’s lamest tropes. We meet a group of young, dumb people who have just arrived at a cabin in the woods, each character a stereotype that populates most slasher flicks. (Chris Hemsworth is the wonderfully dopey jock.) Are we watching the most generic horror film ever, or is something more insidious going on? The Cabin in the Woods satirizes every narrative convention imaginable and then throws twist after twist at the audience. Not every gambit works, but the damn thing’s so clever and inspired that you laugh along with its audacity.
This Is the End (2013)
Writer-directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg had a great idea: What if they made a movie about the end of the world in which Rogen played a heightened version of himself, surrounded by his famous friends doing their own twists on their public persona? This Is the End takes aim at apocalyptic dramas, but it’s just as much a satire on the general worthlessness of movie stars. (What, like you’d want to hole up with Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson when your very survival is on the line?) James Franco and Jonah Hill are very funny in this movie, although now the terrible human beings they portray no longer seem like exaggerations, huh?
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
“My inspiration was the old 1940s horror movie The Wolf Man, starring Lon Chaney, in which — unusually — the werewolf was portrayed as a victim,” writer-director John Landis said about what prompted him to make a movie about two Americans (David Naughton and Griffin Dunne) traveling abroad who get into some hairy situations. Acclaimed for its cutting-edge makeup and effects, An American Werewolf in London was one of the first true modern horror-comedies, with Landis going for terror and humor. “Although the film did have a lot of comedy,” he said, “I wanted to treat the violence realistically, to make it as terrible as violence always is.” It’s one of the reasons why the movie has held up after all this time.
Dead Alive (1992)
Early in his career, Peter Jackson wanted to make a horror movie that was really a comedy. “The humor dilutes the gore to a point that is acceptable, but still there for the fans,” he said of Dead Alive. “On the other hand, I’m not interested in making ‘hardcore’ horror films, like a Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer or even Texas Chain Saw Massacre, although I enjoy both those films. I like comedy too much, to the point that I could never make a film that took itself that seriously. Fundamentally, I just want to entertain people, so I usually trade in cheap laughs for true horror.” All that said, Dead Alive is really gory, telling the story of a zombie outbreak in the middle of New Zealand. But it’s also the funniest film the man behind Lord of the Rings ever made, showing him in a more impish mode than he would be later when delivering three-hour, Oscar-winning epics.
American Psycho (2000)
When Christian Bale was trying to unlock Patrick Bateman, the serial killer he’d be playing in American Psycho, he and director Mary Harron discussed different approaches. “We talked about how Martian-like Patrick Bateman was, how he was looking at the world like somebody from another planet, watching what people did and trying to work out the right way to behave,” she later said. “And then one day he called me and he had been watching Tom Cruise on David Letterman, and he just had this very intense friendliness with nothing behind the eyes, and he was really taken with this energy.” Bale’s strategy worked: The performance is wickedly, disturbingly funny, animating this nasty little comedy about greed, fashion, business cards and Huey Lewis. At long last, the 1980s got the spanking that cruel, shallow decade deserved.
Young Frankenstein (1974)
“My favorite movies have always been either Frankenstein or Fred Astaire (pictures),” Mel Brooks once said. He satirized the former in Young Frankenstein, the second film he released in 1974. (The first was Blazing Saddles.) Shot in black-and-white to emulate the classic Universal horror pictures, the movie starred Gene Wilder as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, who reluctantly follows in his grandfather’s “bringing monsters to life” footsteps. Turns out his creation (Peter Boyle) is a pretty good dancer, although his singing on “Puttin’ On the Ritz” leaves a lot to be desired. In 2010, Brooks explained why he believed this was his best film. “It’s all good funny stuff,” he said of Young Frankenstein. “It’s very risqué. There’s a lot of sexy innuendo. I don’t know if Mary Shelley would be so happy.”
Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)
Yes, the original is beloved, but I prefer this snarkier, more meta sequel, in which Joe Dante really lets his imagination cut loose. This time, we’re in the Big Apple, and once again Gizmo gets wet, with a whole gaggle of Gremlins taking over a skyscraper. Gremlins 2 isn’t as scary as the 1984 film, but it’s far funnier, commenting on consumerism, the media and sequels themselves. (Also, the follow-up lets the Gremlins be more the main characters, which proves to be a comic gold mine.) You can practically hear Dante chuckling maniacally as he sets the franchise on fire, crafting a Part Two that was destined to be a box-office dud and a cult classic.
What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
Just when you thought you didn’t need any more mockumentaries, writer-directors Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi crafted a brilliant one about a group of vampires muddling through in a New Zealand suburb. What We Do in the Shadows could be sharply scary — the film possesses an excellent sense of dread despite its low budget — but what you remember are the nonstop jokes and one-liners. (“Leave me to do my dark bidding on the internet!”) Both bloodsuckers and werewolves are gleefully mocked, resulting in an endlessly rewatchable film — and, later, a very successful spin-off TV series.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Edgar Wright’s best film paid homage to George A. Romero, reimagining a zombie apocalypse as just one more dreary day in London as two twenty-something losers (Nick Frost and Wright’s co-writer Simon Pegg) only slowly come to realize there are a lot of undead around. Shaun of the Dead is a top-flight horror film — the zombie attacks are expertly done — but the film is also filled with quips and physical comedy. Plus, it’s unexpectedly moving. (When people die, you actually care.) Wright would aim for grander spectacles with his later movies, but here’s where his deep love of genre flicks shines brightest.
It’s tempting to call Ghostbusters just a comedy, but for Gen-X kids who saw this movie on its release, trust me, it was also fairly scary. That said, this 1984 blockbuster was more of a laugh riot than a traditional horror movie, although those creepy dog creatures are the stuff of nightmares. Bill Murray and company attack this absurd paranormal adventure with deadpan wit, and sight gags like the colossal Stay Puft Marshmallow Man never get old. Ghostbusters opened in the summer, but it’s now a Halloween staple.
Get Out (2017)
Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is anxious about meeting his girlfriend’s (Allison Williams) well-to-do white family. Will he be able to blend in? Are they going to treat him strangely? He has no idea how weird things are going to get in Jordan Peele’s auspicious feature debut, which won him the Best Original Screenplay Oscar. Released the year after Obama left office, Get Out played like a farewell to the hope-and-change era, exposing America as a place where racism and class warfare were still alive and well under the smiling, patronizing surface. Probably no horror-comedy on this list is so angry in its humor: Like Chris, Peele realizes the truth of his surroundings, and he’s not happy one bit.
Evil Dead II (1987)
Before he was the guy who brought Spider-Man to the big screen, before he conceived Darkman, Sam Raimi was just some kid messing around with Super-8 films. His third feature, Evil Dead II, built on 1981’s The Evil Dead, keeping the horror but upping the hilarity. (The trilogy was completed with Army of Darkness.) The series established him as a resourceful B-movie director, but he always gave credit to his leading man.
“Bruce Campbell is really the finest performer I’ve ever known,” Raimi said in 2009. “He puts all his energy into making something funny or work, or just to sell a gag. He has a unique kind of ability that I’m in awe of. … He’s a very different type of performer, and sometimes people are afraid of that thing that’s a little more unique. But I’ll always use him in my pictures. He’s a great physical comedian — I haven’t seen anything like it in many, many years.”
As Ash, our demented hero, Campbell embodies the same elasticity as future star Jim Carrey, bringing a slapstick abandon to his character’s many battles with demonic forces. Such is the power of his performance, and the brilliance of Raimi’s breakneck pace, that you can watch Evil Dead II as either a white-knuckle horror film or the funniest dark comedy you’ve ever encountered. Even better, you can experience both sensations at the same time.