The movie fans here at FilmsFilmsFilms like their annual Halloween film feast to be a combo of something scary and something funny. Fortunately, the scary movie is a genre that's never been shy in sending itself up, possibly due to the fact that when it comes to taking the piss horror films are a pretty easy target. Most fright films strain credulity at the best of times; poking fun at their various tropes and cliches is like shooting severed heads in a barrel. With so many horror comedies to choose from its little wonder that more than a few of them have landed spots in other FilmsFilmsFilms article entries, Gremlins (1984), Evil Dead (1982), Evil Dead II (1987), Re-Animator (1985), Undead (2003), Black Sheep (2007), From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), Return of the Living Dead (1985). In fact like horror itself, the horror comedy genre even has its own sub-genres with the horror black humour An American Werewolf in London (1981), American Psycho (2000), the so-bad-they're good Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959), ThanksKilling (2009), the spoof Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995), Shriek If You Know What I Did Last Friday The 13th (2000), and the downright bizarre Leprechaun In The Hood (2000), Killer Clowns From Outer Space (1988), The Killer Condom (1996). With so many to choose from you'll have no shortage of films to call on for your up-coming Halloween celebrations. But if you're still struggling to pick out a top-notch horror comedy here are the ten best to get your party started:
- CARRY ON SCREAMING! (1966)
By 1966 the Carry On franchise of uniquely British comedy movies had racked up eleven films in eight years, kicking off with Carry On Sergeant (1958) and motoring on from there. By the time the series came to an end in 1978 fans had 29 original movies and one clip-show film to enjoy. An ill-fated attempt to revive the series twelve years later with Carry On Columbus (1992) only served to show just how of-its-time the series was, a cinematic last grasp on the "seaside postcard" humour that was so prevalent during 40's and 50's Britain. One of the few Carry On movies that became more than just a quirky cinematic footnote was the twelfth offering, Carrry On Screaming (1966). Behind the camera it was business as usual with series stalwarts Gerald Thomas and Talbot Rothwell on hand for directing and writing duties respectively. In front of the camera though changes to the Carry On formula helped paved the way for an instalment that would eventually break away from its 28 stable mates. The series recognisable lead was the effervescent Sid James; his dirty laugh and cheeky persona was an essential mainstay for Carry On fans. Unfortunately, James was taken ill just before filming on Screaming commenced leaving Thomas scrabbling for a replacement. The director was lucky to land the talents of Harry H. Corbett, a performer who was once seen as Britain's very first method actor with the talent to live up to the label. Corbett's antagonist was the stunning Fenella Fielding, who had only appeared in a bit part in one previous instalment, Carry On Regardless (1962). Built around this superb central pair was a House of Wax (1953)-esque plot of grave robbing, all designed to spoof the monster success the Hammer Horror movies were enjoying at the time. The script was sharp and less reliant on the usual innuendos one liners, and the supporting cast of Carry On legends including Kenneth Williams and Jim Dale were finally given reasonable parts to play, a welcome change to simply turning up and playing themselves as was the order of the day in previous outings. The result was the first real spoof horror movie, and a film sharp enough to still raise laughs and frights half a century later.
Tasty Morsel - The name of Doctor Watt was a cheeky nod towards Dr. Who which was pulling in huge viewing numbers on the BBC.
- YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974)
Outside of Abbott and Costello's occasional dalliance with creatures of the night, the horror comedy was still a unique concept by the seventies. The success of Carry On Screaming was only felt on British soil, and though a superb film it was still just the next movie genre the Carry On... producers had on their list to ape. For a true stand alone horror comedy cinema had to wait for a Hollywood comedy legend to get behind the camera. Having set the world alight with his perfectly pitched jab at Nazi Germany, The Producers (1968), writer/director Mel Brooks offered up The Twelve Chairs (1970) and the riotous Western spoof Blazing Saddles (1974). When Saddles galloped its way to the second highest grossing film of the year spot, Brooks took another look at the spoof concept and turned his attention to the gothic horror of Universal's most celebrated villain, Frankenstein. Teaming once again with one of Saddles co-leads, Brooks called on Gene Wilder to co-write and star in his Young Frankenstein (1974). The script was another comedy masterpiece. Many years after the original Dr. Frankenstein's tragic attempts at creating man, the doctor's grandson (Wilder) inherits the the family castle. Years spent living down the family reputation still can't stop Wilder from following suit and pretty soon he's cobbling together his own man-made man. While Wilder plays the relative straight-man in the story, many of the laughs are left to Peter Boyle in the role of the monster, and Wilder's faithful servant Igor. For the latter role Brooks threw his casting net beyond the realms of Hollywood and brought in the wonderfully talented Brit Marty Feldman. The television veteran almost runs away with the film, nabbing some of the best lines and toying with the "fourth wall" throughout, "Damn your eyes...too late". That Feldman's genius performance doesn't steal the movie is confirmation of just how good the entire film is, right the way up to its "Putting on the Ritz" high point.
Tasty Morsel - The Aerosmith hit "Walk This Way" was inspired by Feldman's opening scene and quote "Walk this way...this way".
- GHOSTBUSTERS (1984)
The first time I saw Ghostbusters (1984) was at one of those festive family gatherings where the adults get slowly smashed while the kids are left to run riot with the new toys “Santa” brought them. Ghostbusters was the big Christmas film premiere that year so every Aunt, Uncle and cousin crammed into our living room to watch it whilst my sister and I foraged desperately for carpet room on which to play. The film caught my eye though, right up until the point when Ray, Pete and Egon confronted the library ghost and it promptly turned into the most hideous beast imaginable “Get her!”. I damn near crapped my pants. I confronted my fears a year later as a plucky nine year old and quickly discovered that one special film of my childhood. Every kid has one; it’s the movie they can sit and watch two or three times in one day without tiring of it. This was due in part to the greatest set of cinematic legs I’d ever laid eyes on. Sigourney Weaver had the sort of long, toned pins that could capture the heart of any young lad. The other main reason though was the life changing discovery that Ivan Reitman’s film wasn’t a scary movie at all, but one of the finest action comedies of all time. I’d been duped and I was delighted to find out how wrong I was; and I kept on finding out, as each subsequent viewing as I moved into adulthood revealed jokes that had previously gone over my head. The slapstick and undoubted cool of Ecto 1 and the ghostbusting proton packs pulled me in as a pre-teen, while the sarcastic genius of Bill Murray and the razor sharp script from fellow ghostbusters Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis kept me laughing through my teens and well into my adult years. It was the first movie that opened my eyes to the brilliance of cinema, its power take expectations, shake them up and throw you out the other end a changed individual. The production of Ghostbusters sometimes gets overshadowed by the brilliance of the casts handling of the script, a massive complement to all the actors involved. But as a visual spectacle it still astounds now, from the wonderful New York photography to the ghostly special effects and stunning prop work. It created a great canvas for the laughs to play out on. A slightly less edgy sequel followed five years later in 1989, which repeated many of the story beats from the first film but didn’t quite capture the laughs and spirit. The rumours and stories of a third film have been doing the rounds for so long, Hollywood has now missed its opportunity with Harold “Egon” Ramis sadly passing away earlier this year.
Tasty Morsel – The role of Winston Zeddermore that Ernie Hudson nabbed was originally written for Eddie Murphy.
- TREMORS (1990)
The high bench mark of horror comedy was an unexpected treat which despite having little impact at the box office quickly gathered a large cult following. Ron Underwood was an old hand in Hollywood by 1990, working on various projects as a production assistant and assistant director from the mid seventies onwards. It wasn't until friends Brent Maddock and S.S. Wilson handed Underwood a screenplay for a horror-action-comedy film about giant underground worms stalking a small desert town in Nevada that he decided to sit in the director's chair for the first time. Though witty, in the wrong hands Tremors (1990) could have ended up as a straight-to-video flop, lost amongst the flood of late 80s/early 90s cheap, uninspired horror offerings. Bucking the trend Underwood was able to use his $11million budget to secure one of the finest horror film casts of all time. Top of the cast list was Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward as the central duo Val and Earl. Bacon was struggling to capitalise on the success of monster hit Footloose (1984) and decent roles were drying up, whilst Ward was still plying his trade as a journeyman actor. Half way through filming Tremors Bacon recalled how he broke down in front of his wife, actress Kyra Sedgwick, lamenting that he was reduced to starring in a film about killer underground worms. Despite the actor's reservations, the result, thanks to a great script and sparkling chemistry between Ward and Bacon, was a career boost for both performers; Ward kept churning out interesting character work while Bacon's career took off with follow up roles in Flatlines (1990) and JFK (1991). The central pair weren't the only Tremors highlight though, with a well rounded cast flinging around smart one lines from beginning to end "I wouldn't give you a gun if it were World War Three". Finn Carter had equally good chemistry with love interest Bacon, while country singer Reba McEntire and Michael Gross threaten to steal the film via their gun obsessed survivalists Burt and Heather Gummer. Around them Underwood created a beautiful looking movie, with wonderful photography of the desert setting and Sierra Mountains. His crew were also able to create genuinely frightening "graboid" monsters that made the movie seem like an altogether much more expensively produced movie. Such was the film's impact an unlikely franchise arose from the desert dirt; Tremors 2: Aftershocks (1996) saw Earl (Ward) hired to deal with a "graboid" infestation in a Mexican oilfield, Tremors 3: Back to Perfection (2001) had Burt (Gross) in re-run of first film, and Tremors 4: The Legend Begins (2004) sent Gross back in time to play a Gummer ancestor in the Old West.
Tasty Morsel - In 2003 Tremors: The Series arrived, running one season and 13 episodes, following Michael Gross as the gun toting Burt Gummer.
- ARMY OF DARKNESS (1992)
Sam Raimi's Evil Dead (1982) was such a unique cinematic experience it raised the difficult question of where the moviemaker might take the story next. How exactly does a director top a horror movie that was unlike any other horror film before it? Raimi's answer came five years later with Evil Dead II (1987) and the response was you don't try to follow it, you simply remake it with a bigger budget. It was a slight cop-out but a glorious movie nonetheless, Raimi and actor-buddy Bruce Campbell dialling down the horror and turning up the laughs to create the darkest slab of slapstick humour Hollywood had every seen. The further success of part two only heightened fans excitement for a genuine Evil Dead sequel, though Dead Heads did at least get a clue at the end of part two as to where the story was heading, with Ash dumped back in ancient times with only his sickly yellow Oldsmobile Delta for company. Raimi eventually delivered on his promise of a proper follow-up another five years later, rejoining Bruce Campbell's Ash in what appeared to be Medieval England. The early running of Army of Darkness (1992) is a little flat, particularly for fans who are use to the surreal splatter of the first two instalments. There's a distinct lack of demons, Ash appears to have transformed into a wise-cracking ladies man, and Raimi's England looks far too much like a quarry in southern California to be taken seriously. Fortunately, Campbell needs to track down the Necronomicon in order to get back to his own time so its not long before we're back in familiar Evil Dead territory. The comedy embraces the slapstick once again with some Three Stooges-esque set-pieces, and Campbell also gets time to make the most of some rib-tickling dialogue thanks to a cheesy but smart script. By the time Evil Ash and his army of skeletons are storming the ramparts, we're in wonderful Ray Harryhausen territory with bonkers humour to match. Ash's inability to count to six lands him in more trouble in the post-script but plans for a fourth Evil Dead instalment remain dormant
Tasty Morsel - The three words Ash must utter when retrieving the Necronomicon are "klaatu, barada, nikto" a tribute to the classic sci-fi picture The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951).
- SCARY MOVIE (2000)
Wes Craven's Scream (1996) was, quite rightly, hailed as a horror masterpiece upon release. A knowing tribute to the slasher movies of the late seventies / early eighties, it toyed with all the genre conventions to wring more frights out of what was long thought to be a dead genre. And though its clever tinkering raised many a knowing titter from fans, it never went for the full-on spoof. It was a genre deconstruction that still placed scares at the heart of its premise. Four years later a film from the ever industrious Wayans family messed with fan expectations even more by deconstructing the deconstruction. Its fitting that the working title for Kevin Williamson's hot property Scream script was called Scary Movie; it was just the sort of on-the-nose title the Wayans were looking for their Scream piss-take. With additional script writing support, Marlon and Shawn Wayans handed the completed screenplay to elder Keenen Ivory Wayans to direct, and set about joining the cast. By February 2000 the Scream franchise had already produced two sequels and inspired a late nineties slasher revival. Scream had so keenly riffed on the slasher clichés of old they had suddenly become fashionable again, and in just four years there was a need for yet another smart send-up. Scary Movie (2000) provided just that, and thanks to being produced by the same studio as Scream (Dimension Films) the Wayans movie was able to borrow Scream's plot lock, stock and barrel. But unlike Scream the frights were fully jettisoned to make way for a full complement of laughs. An ultra witty script, delivered gamely by a brilliantly comedic cast, provided giggles of every variety, from great one liners, "I said a dollar, bitch", to black humour, send-up spoofing, and riotous slapstick. Numerous scenes even managed to transcend the genre, creating pop culture calling cards for fans hungry for classic quotable scenes, "Its been a while". After taking $270million on a mere $19million budget, sequels were demanded and Scary Movie became a franchise of its own, with four sequels of decreasing quality released to date.
Tasty Morsel - The original script featured a cameo for Jamie Lee Curtis, with Cindy (Faris) discovering her hiding in a closet while the killer chases her through the house.
- SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004)
There has been so much written about Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead (2004) and so many plaudits placed upon it, the film could rightly lay claim to the biggest overachieving movie of the last twenty five years. Adjusted for inflation Shaun has the smallest budget of all the films on this list, but its impact far exceeds just about every other film in the horror comedy genre. Twinned with Snyder's Dawn of the Dead (2004) the double whammy of zombie delights both terrifying and rib-tickling was enough to breath new life into the corpse of the zombie movie, the undead staggering their way back into cinemas with the likes of Land of the Dead (2005), The Zombie Diaries (2006), Planet Terror (2007) and others. As well as launching the careers of Wright and lead co-stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the film also gave the British comedy movie a shot in the arm. All of this wouldn't have been possible if Shaun wasn't one of the greatest horror comedies of all time. From the intro scene to the end credits, there isn't a moment that isn't touched by comedy gold, real zombie fright, or genuine pathos from characters who, despite the ludicrousness of the storyline you can't help but feel for, "Look after your Mum Shaun". The laughs touch on every comedic cornerstone from satire to slapstick, but don't rest there; there are moments of script writing brilliance, such as the juxtaposition of men-on-the-piss and men with hangovers against the growing zombie hordes, high-pointed by Shaun staggering to the corner shop for a headache busting can of Coke and a Cornetto for his equally sore-headed flat mate. Wright's unique filming style, the quick cuts and the aside scenes honed during the filming of debut television show Spaced, still feel fresh today thanks mostly to the fact that no one has been brave enough to imitate it. A decade on Shaun remains a true original, never bettered in the arena of horror comedy and rarely matched in the horror genre at all.
Tasty Morsel: The Godfather of Zombie, George A Romero was so impressed with the movie that he offered Pegg and Wright cameo roles as zombies in Land of the Dead.
- SLITHER (2006)
Like Psycho (1960) before it, Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer (1986) caused the film's talented lead actor all kinds of type-casting headaches. Once a titular psychopath, always a titular psychopath it seemed. Clichéd as it was, Henry was probably the role that Michael Rooker was born to play. That is had such impact was in part due to the fact that it was also Rooker's debut on the big screen. His raw talent and Henry's impact was so staggering that Rooker was forever type cast as the grinning villain fighting to keep a lid on his maniacal tendencies. In 2006 Rooker had an entire picture built around his adept skills as a bad guy with James Gunn's director's chair debut Slither (2006). Formly a screenwriter only, famously providing the script for Zack Snyder's excellent Dawn of the Dead (2004), Gunn was finally granted a meagre $15million budget to bring to life a horror comedy script that had been burning a hole in his back pocket. Slither sees the small South Carolina town of Wheelsy infested by alien parasite slugs when a small meteor crashes into the woods and disturbs Rooker in the middle of some extra-marital shenanigans. The first slug infects Rooker and he becomes the conduit through which further slugs are born, eventually taking over the town's residents and turning them into Rooker voiced zombies. Gunn's movie received a bashing from genre fans upon release who claimed that elements of Slither appeared to be lifted from fellow horror comedy Night of the Creeps (1986). While both films featured a tongue-in-cheek tone and slugs turning victims into zombies, Gunn's movie was far more adept thanks to a super sharp script and an ability to create a movie that looked like a million dollars on a shoe-string budget. The script is wrangled by an excellent cast featuring Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks and the scene stealing Gregg Henry, "If I weren't about to shit my pants right now, I'd be fucking fascinated". The gooey effects embrace the very best of Cronenberg body-horror, and though the small town setting is a refreshing change from the world-ending apocalypse many of Slither's contemporaries went for, the final scene hints at more Slither frights and laughs to come. Unfortunately for fans Gunn has since busied himself with a slightly larger scale project, reteaming with Rooker in the process, directing and co-writing Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy (2014).
Tasty Morsel: Keep an eye out for Gunn in a cameo as a teacher at Starla's school.
- ZOMBIELAND (2009)
Unlike many British comedy movies, Shaun of the Dead made a big impact Stateside. But as warmly received as it was, the cogs were already turning in Hollywood as studios were questioning why it was that the Brits had created the first zombie comedy when the staggering undead were essentially an American creation. Unbeknownst to them the concept had already been bubbling under thanks to a smart television script from Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. Attempting to find the funny side of the zombie apocalypse, it followed a small group of survivors scratching a life through middle America. The pair eventually chopped the story and characters down into a workable movie script, which made its way into the hands of rookie director Ruben Fleischer four years later in 2009. Zombieland (2009) focused on college student Columbus as he struggles to get from Texas to his home town in Ohio to see if his parents have managed to survive the outbreak of "mad person disease" which has infected the United States. On his travels he meets Tallahassee, a tough but slightly dim witted fellow survivor, and Wichita and Little Rock a pair of street smart sisters. The quartet eventually agree a rocky truce and a sharing of supplies and skills to get to a supposedly zombie-free amusement park in Los Angeles. What set Fleischer's film apart from the other post Shaun imitators was its unique presentation of the new zombie world, centred around Jesse Eisenberg's narration of events as Columbus. Offerings such as "zombie kill of the week" and his ever growing list of essential skills for survival present the Romero zombie setting in an a-typical offhand fashion that's both refreshing and incredibly funny. Woody Harrelson and career making turns for Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin completed the film's slim cast; excellent casting it was to, as the vital back-and-forth spark that is required for a comedy script to really work burned bright. The only remaining question was who Fleischer would secure as the real-life celeb the gang stumble upon whilst trekking through Hollywood. The director ended up shooting the greatest movie cameo of all time, convincing Bill Murray to play himself in a uproarious run of scenes that almost overshadowed everyone else's good work, "So, do you have any regrets?...Garfield maybe". Rumours of a sequel still linger even after a failed pilot episode for a Zombieland television show in 2013.
Tasty Morsel: In the original TV show script the A-lister the group stumble upon is Patrick Swayze. This was later changed to, among others, Sylvester Stallone, Mark Hamill, Dwayne Johnson, Jean Claude Van Damme and Kevin Bacon.
- TUCKER AND DALE vs. EVIL (2010)
The inbred-killer horror sub-genre is a pretty tricky genre to drag into the comedy arena; the likes of Deliverance (1972), The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Wolf Creek (2005), and Hatchet (2006) didn't offer up many laughs. Actor and writer Eli Craig thought he knew how though and took a stab at it with his debut directorial effort Tucker And Dale vs. Evil (2010). Flipping all the familiar tropes from those oh-so-familiar horror films of nubile teens running afoul of hairy locals in the woods, Craig crafted a rib-tickling tale where the hairy locals are really just misunderstood and the teens, raised on too many scary movies, are far too quick to judge events as the horror scenarios they aren't. The titular pair of well meaning rednecks were brought to life lovingly and with a sure hand on the rules for comic timing by journeymen performers Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk. The rest of the magic was brough by Craig whose winning script piled up the happen-stance to create a crazy but yet still plausible trail of events that frame the hapless Tucker and Dale as undeniable backwoods psychos, "We were minding our own business, just doing chores around the house, when kids started killing themselves all over my property". It an ingenious juxtaposition which also pokes righteous fun at the presumptuous and downright foolish nature of most Hollywood teens in this sort of movie fare. Peppered throughout is an increasingly graphic slide into the sort of slapstick horror mayhem not seen since Sam Raimi last headed to his own cabin in the woods. Only a few critics picked up on the genius of Craig's movie and the film limped to an underwhelming box office take. Fortunately, word of mouth inspired a well deserved second life on home release and Tucker and Dale has become a modern cult classic. For fans, good news arrived recently when Labine and Tudyk confirmed a much welcome sequel is in the works.
Tasty Morsel: Jackass perennial Johnny Knoxville was in line for the role of Tucker at one stage during pre-production.