â€˜Tis the season for horror movies, and I, for one, love it to death. (Get it? I opened a blog about funny movies with a bad joke.) But sometimes, in a sea of blood, guts, and jump scares, itâ€™s easy to forget the full range of what a good spooky atmosphere is capable of. For example, itâ€™s one of the most satisfying environments to turn on its head with some outrageous comedy gold. So here, for your enjoyment and terror, are my top 9 horror-comedies. Why only the top 9? Because less is more. (For is there anything worse than when a movie drags out the joke, as though itâ€™s so clever, they need to give you an eternity to get it?)
<!â€“ 9. The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Itâ€™s hard to imagine such a list without this midnight classic. This movie is an off-the-wall blast. The characters are unforgettably weird, amoral, and endearing, and the songs, at their best, are musical joygasms. And the movie makes it clear that nothing is off limits, pushing the sense of reckless abandon above and beyond. Admittedly, it deflates a bit and starts to drag in the second half, not to mention makes some weak and pointless parody attempts, but by then, itâ€™s already done enough to start the biggest midnight movie phenomenon of all time. Attending one of its screenings, if you havenâ€™t already, will make any slow points irrelevant. â€“>
8. Bubba Ho-Tep: Elvis did not die. As played by Bruce Campbell, heâ€™s a forgotten man in a retirement home, following an injury that occurred just after he switched lives with the best Elvis impersonator he could find. He then teams up with John F. Kennedy, whose mind â€“ abridged explanation â€“ has been placed in the body of a black man to stop an undead mummy from stealing the souls of the people in their retirement home.
This movie has every intention of working as a legitimate story about Elvisâ€™s personal struggle in this scenario as well as a comedy, which is absolutely ludicrous, given the premise. And if that doesnâ€™t already sound like itâ€™d take an absolute miracle to work, itâ€™s also worth noting that the movie doesnâ€™t get everything perfect. But itâ€™s got it where it counts.
Bruce Campbell won praise for his performance as perhaps the best Elvis ever seen onscreen â€“ including the actual Elvis, according to MaryAnn Johanson â€“ which goes a long way here. Not only do his laments sound just like what Elvis would be thinking in this scenario, they actually manage to make us sympathize with him. And more importantly, he makes us root for him. This Elvis is lonely but far from ready to roll over and play dead. When the soul sucking Bubba Ho-Tep sends his â€œbig bitch cockroachâ€ to give him a grisly end, the black belt with a bad hip strikes a pose and says â€œAlright man, letâ€™s go!â€ The combination of daring, nonsensical storytelling and gleeful outhouse humor is just too fun-loving not to enjoy. So yes, it finds a way to give us both a campy, hysterical horror movie and the story of how Elvis reclaimed his soul. Thank you very much.
7. Beetlejuice: Perhaps itâ€™s more weird that scary, but thereâ€™s no denying the morbid sense of gothic gloom. Thereâ€™s also no denying how refreshing it is for nobody to be all that upset by it. The family being haunted by ghosts wants to catch and identify them, not because theyâ€™re curious or scared but because they bought the house fair and square. The ghosts themselves haunt them, not because theyâ€™re tormented or vengeful but because they have to stay in this house for the next 125 years before they pass on, and this family is far too kooky to be eating breakfast with for that long. And the monstrous villain is dangerous, not because heâ€™s bloodthirsty or pure evil but because heâ€™s a bit of bad businessman himself, far too much of a nutjob to care who he steps on to get what he wants.
Michael Keaton has a blast as the unhinged Beetlejuice, and the main characters, from the friendly ghosts, to the goofy family, to the girl played by Winona Ryder going through her â€œtormentedâ€ phase, are great fun. Itâ€™s a little bit twisted, but if none of them care, why should we? Itâ€™s all going to work out if we can understand each other (and get rid of Beetlejuice).
6. Little Shop of Horrors: Roger Cormanâ€™s 1960 B-movie is worth noting. The straightforward, goofy story with some great one-liners still holds up today pretty well and is in some ways even funnier than the 1986 musical covered here. But thereâ€™s no denying which one is more memorable.
Pick a favorite among this movieâ€™s gleefully demented charms. The bloodthirsty singing plant? The sadistic evil dentist played by Steve Martin? Bill Murray as his masochistic patient? How about Rick Moranis as the unlikely hero who nearly kills two people as instructed by the plant and still has us rooting for him in their final standoff, accompanied by one of the catchiest songs in the movie? This film is a joy. The characters are great, the songs are great, and the story has a slapdash charm thatâ€™s smarter than it sounds. And yes, I do think itâ€™s better than The Rocky Horror Picture Show, as just a movie on its own, anyway.
And donâ€™t even think of coming to me whining about that preachy, overblown, self-congratulating attempt at a â€œfeel badâ€ ending that was rightfully removed from the final cut. Newsflash, oh condemners of Hollywood happy endings: Some of the most successful and acclaimed movies of all time with critics and filmgoers alike have sad endings. This one was cut because it was entirely for its own sake, a pretentious attempt at chastising its audience to seem â€œdeepâ€ that completely kills the venomous yet fun-loving tone.
5. Evil Dead 2: Bruce Campbellâ€™s on a roll today. Evil Dead 2 mixes slapstick and gross-out gore to great effect, taking the premise of the last movie and inserting a new version of the protagonist: An unhinged macho man who’s just as goofy and formidable as the horrors that menace him. Long before the movie is over, both forces have made us laugh at the other like nothing before or since. But seeing as I already talked about this one on my last list, Iâ€™ll forgo describing the plot and just say that you should really get around to seeing it already. Alright? Groovy.
4. Dead Alive: I admit, as good as Evil Dead 2 is, I prefer the even gorier, goofier, and more tasteless movie in which the living dead menace a weaker protagonist, lead by an even more formidable foe: His mother. This is another one Iâ€™ve already reviewed, and I have to say, itâ€™s absolutely shameless and quite possibly the goriest movie of all time. But it also might be the least mean-spirited movie on this list. (Alright, maybe not quite.) Itâ€™s a movie in which the villains get theirs, the victims really are considered a shame beyond anyoneâ€™s control, and the heroes get an adorable little romance together, sealed by an adventure most couples wouldnâ€™t survive together.
3. Cabin in the Woods: One of the most successful satires of horror movies, this one really lets them have it, while doing a better job with the actual horror than most ever manage. It doesnâ€™t just stop at pointing out the familiar tropes of when a group of teenagers go to a cabin in the woods to drink, breed, and act stupid. It lays into the people who make these things and even the crowd who wants to watch it â€“ good-naturedly, of course.
Five teenagers go to the titular cabin in the woods, and soon, the area is locked down by a high-tech government organization. They are then put through all the usual horror film tropes, and whenever they prove a little too smart to play along, theyâ€™re sprayed with a transparent gas that makes them more willing to play dumb. Despite claiming that itâ€™s an important ritual, the organization has made a game out of everything taking place, and in one of my favorite little jabs, we cut from the usual played-up sex scene to the middle-age men watching it on camera with slack jaws and rapt attention. But make no mistake, it is an important ritual, and things take a turn for the worst when the unfortunately bright pothead of the group becomes too stoned for the gasses to affect him, masterminding the defeat of the â€œredneck, pain-worshiping zombiesâ€ on his own. (Thereâ€™s something brilliant about that part.) And when he joins his only fellow survivor on a trip into the bowels of this twisted operation, we discover the real secret of the cabin in the woods.
2. Ghostbusters: At first glance, this classic may seem to be mostly comedy and not all that much horror. But thereâ€™s a good chance it may not have been as funny without some real, full-blooded monsters and demons for Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, and other comedic legends to pick apart with their quips and wacky ideas.
Just consider some of these exchanges:
â€œDana, itâ€™s Peter.â€
â€œThere is no Dana. There is only Zuul.â€
â€œOh Zuul, you nut, now câ€™mon! I wanna talk to Dana. Dana, just relax, come on. Dana. Dana. Can I talk to Dana?â€
â€œTHERE IS NO DANA, ONLY ZUUUUUL!â€
â€œWhat a lovely singing voice you must have.â€
â€œAre you a god?â€
â€œRay, when someone asks you if youâ€™re a god, you say â€˜YES!â€
â€œWe’ve been going about this all wrong. This Mr. Stay Puft is okay. He’s a sailor, he’s in New York; we get this guy laid, we won’t have any trouble!â€ (Referring to the marshmallow man as big as a building in the streets.)
Ghostbusters is probably the foremost example of a horror-comedy that isnâ€™t a parody of anything in particular. It just recognized how perfect a scenario this was to throw a bunch of SNL veterans into, realizing the perfect degree of difficulty it provided for some great comedic suffering and triumph.
1.Young Frankenstein: This is without doubt one of the best spoof movies Iâ€™ve ever seen, one of my favorite comedies, and maybe even one of my favorite movies. Not only does it satirize the classic Frankenstein films, it actually continues the story, telling us about Dr. Frankensteinâ€™s grandson, who wants nothing to do with the tainted family legacy. (He even insists on everyone pronouncing his name â€œFronk-en-steen.â€)
Fronkensteenâ€™s is a tale of corruption, redemption, acceptance, surprisingly easy love triangles, and some of the most hilarious hijinks ever seen onscreen. The lines are genius. The satirical references to the older films are spot on. The characters are likable and hysterically goofy. The dilemmas are real. The solutions are perfect. The sense of fun never fades. And most unusual for a Mel Brooks film, it never resorts to breaking the sense of reality. None of the character here are aware of the fact that this is just a movie, and itâ€™s actually pretty endearing that they could really take all of this seriously. What more can I say? Itâ€™s the perfect horror-comedy.