Horror-comedy has long been a polarizing genre. While some horror purists prefer their films driven by serious auteurs, some comedy nuts just can’t stomach the gore most comedy/horror hybrids relish. It’s an easy genre to identify, but a difficult one to sell to skeptics. The blending of seemingly oppositional genres, however, makes sense from a physical standpoint. That is, laughter is often associated by psychologists to being a byproduct of surprise — feeling thrilled or startled. How many times in your life have you shrieked at something, and laughed at yourself immediately afterward? Are the sensations really so different?
In an interview addressing his seminal horror comedy Scream, Wes Craven told reporters, “There is a very bloody scene in the kitchen at the end [of the film], where the two killers are stabbing each other in a way that obviously is painful but not lethal, but then one is stabbed inaccurately and begins to bleed to death. [The studio] said that entire sequence had to come out, and it was essentially the entire last 15 minutes of the movie. Bob Weinstein called them up privately and said, ‘I don’t think you guys get it, but this is over-the-top comedy.’”
In building our list of horror comedies, we stuck to several factors. For a film to appear in our ranking, it had to be both legitimately funny and legitimately frightening. Some entertaining horror films feature effective sprinklings of humor — The Fly, Nightmare On Elm Street — but they don’t emphasize that synthesis of genres above all other things. On the other side of the coin, some comedies feature disturbing elements, but aren’t outright hilarious or memorably scary, though they’re still fun, watchable movies.
Some movies are billed as horror comedies, but aren’t really that funny or scary, including Krampus and The Final Girls. Others still veer too far into fantasy or sci-fi, and are thus genre-hybrids of a different sort. That list includes Killer Klowns From Outer Space, Starship Troopers, and Aliens. We also did our best to avoid including horror films made funny because they exist in the “so bad/campy/outdated that it’s good” grey space — those films include Poltergeist, The Wicker Man remake, Teeth, both Fright Nights, The Birds, Midnight Meat Train, Orphan, The Boy, and, honestly, that particular list goes on and on.
Here is Inverse’s definitive ranking of horror comedy films that achieve laughs and skin-crawling chills in equal amounts. We begin with one of the films that made Elizabeth Banks a star.
20. Slither, James Gunn, 2006
Slither is, all at once, an effective homage to B-movie creature features, an engrossing look at small town politics, and a truly disturbing body horror spectacle. When a parasitic alien invades a small, Southern town, the inhabitants (played by Nathan Fillion and Elizabeth Banks) watch in horror as a snarling, gooey creature once known as “G rant” erotically draws townspeople into its sweaty folds. Slither is The Blob told tastelessly, and it shares a lot of emotion with The Fly, though it’s notably funnier and more campy.
19. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, Jalmari Helander, 2010
When disappointing horror-comedy Krampus debuted in 2015, many American moviegoers were tragically unaware of the dark-Christmas-horror-comedy masterpiece that Finland gifted us all in 2010. Rare Exports is a gorgeous, internationally focused film that slips in and out of English entertainingly, and its monstrous Santa Claus is both hilarious and genuinely off-putting. This is how you tell a dark Christmas fairytale — you embrace your film’s inherent silliness, and you sucker-punch the audience with something truly grim.
18. Drag Me To Hell, Sam Raimi, 2009
When Sam Raimi returned to the horror comedy fold in 2009 with the CGI-heavy Drag Me To Hell, fans of his earlier work called it a blissful, gory, hilarious comeback. Unfortunately for Raimi, movie studios had moved, in the couple decades since his Evil Dead days, so far from true horror comedies that most audiences didn’t know quite what to make of Drag Me. There are, allegedly, people who walk the earth and don’t know if a goat calling a pretty blonde woman a “black hearted whore” is funny or not, and those people responded coolly to Raimi’s spinning, demonic fantasy. Doesn’t matter though; we’ll all be talking about Drag Me To Hell decades from now, especially that ending, man. Got me straight in the heart.
17. Tucker & Dale vs Evil, Eli Craig, 2010
Canadian horror farce Tucker and Dale didn’t do very well when it premiered, but when Netflix began streaming the film, American audiences responded positively. The problem with selling a raunchy, blood-soaked comedy starring two redneck stereotypes is that most audiences and critics are going to assume, like most do with Trailer Park Boys, that the project isn’t witty or intelligent. Tucker and Dale is, despite first impressions, one of the smartest and most clever horror films produced in the last decade.
16. Housebound, Gerard Johnstone, 2014
Housebound, a horror comedy from New Zealand (oddly, it’s not the only one on our list) is very obviously the product of a filmmaker who delights in building suspense. It’s the least gory film in this ranking, but it also cooks up some of the most startling images in the genre. Every plot twist feels earned, and its final shot is nothing short of perfect.
15. Bubba Ho-Tep, Don Coscarelli, 2002
Bruce Campbell makes his first appearance on our list in Bubba Ho Tep, one of the strangest films ever made. Elvis. Dead Elvis. Sad boners. Cannibalism. Got all of that?
13. Army of Darkness, Sam Raimi, 1992
Before the Ash vs. Evil Dead TV series, but after all of his Evil Dead films, Sam Raimi teamed up with horror-comedy god Bruce Campbell to make Army of Darkness, a film so satisfyingly campy that it fits seamlessly into the Raimi/Campbell oeuvre. Any films related directly to the Evil Dead franchise have to fill big shoes, and satisfy legions of rabid fans, and temporary freedom from that bondage made Army of Darkness extra fun, extra wacko, and stunningly, memorably goofy.
13. The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck, Roman Polanski, 1967
Vampires have long been the subject of satire — they’re easily the most hoity-toity monster in the history of cinema, and they’re sometimes played as feminine in a problematic way. Polanski’s Vampire film is a notable horror comedy because it succeeds at delivering a gothic story while also being lush and silly. It’s also a departure, tonally, from most other horror comedies, which often rely on gross-out jokes.
12. The ‘burbs, Joe Dante, 1989
We’re of the belief that Tom Hanks should have made more horror comedies; he really shares a lot of likable traits with Bruce Campbell, and his turn as a bewildered, terrified oaf in 1989’s The ‘burbs was so satisfying that it’s a crime that the film is one of a kind. The ‘burbs was produced during the late ‘80s, a time that saw films meant for both adults and children be unapologetically spooky, imaginative and wild.
11. Hausu, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977
It must be incredibly difficult to pull off a truly funny arthouse horror film, because Hausu remains one of the only quality attempts. Obayashi paid equal attention to packing as much humor and objective beauty into each frame, and Hausu, in effect, is both lyrical and hilarious, both gory and gorgeous. It’s a genre-bending victory, through and through.
10. Rubber, Quentin Dupieux, 2010
French thriller Rubber is the most gimmicky film on our list, but through pleasant cinematography and an enduring patience for silence, it transcends its simple conceit — a demonic tire goes on a killing spree, that’s it — and remains of the most memorable horror comedies ever made.
9. Ghostbusters, Ivan Reitman, (1984)
Now, the original Ghostbusters film leans dangerously close to being more of a comedy than it is a horror film, but the spook design, from Sigourney’s demon eyes to the uncanny puppets in the film’s final act, speak to Reitman’s focus on writing and crafting the scariest jokester villains possible.
8. Cabin in the Woods, Drew Goddard, 2012
Cabin in the Woods had an uphill battle, lampooning horror movies in a cinematic landscape which had already enjoyed the Scream franchise, but boy did it deliver. The scene we’ve included is a shining example of how a plot twist can be simultaneously hilarious, gut-wrenching and horrific. Listen to that score again, too; something masterful and sadistic was at play in Cabin.
7. Re-Animator, Stuart Gordon, 1985
Gordon’s Re-Animator hits that sweet spot in narrative where everything is going to shit for a protagonist, and his audience knows that a) each development is going to break him and b) this will be the kind of story he can tell later in life, and it’ll seem hilarious at parties. The film uses devastating humor, and cartoonish gore, to get its point across.
6. Trolljegeren, André Øvredal, 2010
God damn, this film is enjoyable. It’s the most high fantasy leaning project on our list, which means a great deal of its joy comes from the slow reveal of its incredible, haunting monsters. Billed as The Trollhunter in the United States, Øvredal’s monster comedy is a triumph.
5. Shaun of the Dead, Edgar Wright, 2004
We’ve made it into the top five horror comedies ever, ever produced, folks. It should be no surprise that Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, the first installment in the Cornetto trilogy, appears high on our ranking. It made a household name out of Simon Pegg, and features the most memorable duo in horror history, Sean and Ed. It is truly a brutal, harrowing film, and it’s also chock full of gags so funny, you’ll split your sides open laughing. As in, your slippery guts will slide right out, you catch my drift? Just don’t say the zed-word.
4. What We Do In the Shadows, Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, 2014
If anyone was worried about Jemaine Clement’s career after his HBO series Flight of the Conchords ended, We What Do In the Shadows shut the skeptics up for good. Clement is at the top of his game working with comedic genius Waititi, and their vampire flick somehow finds novel horror and laughs in a well-explored genre.
3. Scream, Wes Craven, 1996
Wes Craven’s Scream is not only one of the greatest horror comedies; I’d personally venture to say that it’s one of the most perfect films ever made. Stuffed lovingly with meta-textual humor, Scream is more than a love letter to slasher films: it’s an intellectual, disturbing, and fun look at adolescent anxiety. Craven crafted iconic scenes out of lampooning already iconic images from horror cinema, and his film is absolutely timeless. Matthew Lillard’s performance as a manic rage clown remains one of the most compulsively watchable things to come out of the ‘90s.
2. Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn, Sam Raimi, 1987
This is how you do a horror sequel: you turn your beloved franchise on its head and lean so far into your own artistry that you and your star actor turn yourselves grotesquely inside out. If Raimi’s original Evil Dead was a classic nightmare, Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn is an outright fever dream, the kind you wake up from only to realize you’ve sweat out your organs and you’re standing on the street somewhere, having sleep-jumped out your bedroom window.
The film features a drawn-out, campy “laughing” scene, which we’ve included above, which gets right to the core of what makes horror comedy great: sometimes a laugh can feel grotesque and animal, and it can develop into something pleasant before slipping back into sounding sinister before many of us have any idea what’s happening.
1. An American Werewolf In London, John Landis, 1981
There will never be another horror comedy as perfectly rendered as John Landis’s classic, An American Werewolf In Paris. Really, any scene from the film would make an argumentative pull-out for our ranking, but we’ve opted to include Jack’s first post mortem appearance in lieu of the more heavily cited “werewolf transformation scene.”
Here we see two friends, speaking believably to each other about sex and death in a manner so natural, it’s easy to forget Landis is coaching them from just behind the camera. Horror is built out of scenarios that cannot, cannot be true, and yet they stay with us. The image of Jack’s tiny bit of ruptured neck skin flapping helplessly, gruesomely, and yet somehow comically, as the bearer tells his best friend to kill himself is really what horror comedy should be about: the intersection of what scares us and what delights us, happening right down in there deep under the skin where it hurts so good to scratch.