Humor in literature tends to rely on word-play, witty dialogue, absurd situations, and funny characters. Except for the word-play that can be used in descriptions, film can of course use these elements as well, but movies have the added strength of being able to employ slapstick, something that rarely comes across well in written fiction. Horrific comedies up the ante by often adding copious amounts of gore or at least humorously portrayed mayhem.
Of following ten movies, six go fairly heavy on the blood and guts, while the other four rely more on suspense and relatively gore-less violence. The funny horror novels I love mostly use irony and darkly dry wit, drawing out a subtle humorous reaction. These movies, though, provoke genuine laughter. At least for me. I hope you find one or two you enjoy as well.
Re-Animator, loosely based on H. P. Lovecraft’s novella Herbert West: Reanimator, was director Stuart Gordon’s first movie as well as his first (but far from his last) foray into the author’s Mythos. Starring the incomparable Jeffrey Combs in the titular role, as well as Scream Queen Barbara Crampton, this movie pushed the limits of gore, aberrant sexuality, and good taste at a time when “moralists” of all stripes were making demented war on art.
Herbert West is a classic mad scientist in many ways: arrogant, brilliant, determined to take the powers of life and death into his own hands. Combs’s performance, however, raises West from this genre stereotype into something more manic and infinitely wittier. Watching him snidely argue with a decapitated head was one of the formative moments in my horror education. West has devised a way to reanimate dead bodies, and he does so with abandon, ignoring the salient fact that these folks come back from the dead feral and eager to destroy the living. Mayhem ensues. There is a scene of interrupted sexual assault that may disturb some viewers (though no one anywhere has experienced this particular violation), but it’s far less gory than plenty of other titles on this list.
Night of the Creeps (1986)
This movie, a bizarre amalgamation of zombie movie, alien invasion, and body horror, scared me bad when I was a kid, but it’s actually pretty funny. Directed by Fred Dekker, who would go on to create the kid-friendly Monster Squad and starring among others character actor Tom Atkins as a jaded cop, Night of the Creeps is an unfortunately underseen classic of this subgenre.
An alien ship deposits a canister on Earth in the 1950’s, a young man is infected by something that crawls from it, and roughly thirty years later, his body, stored all these years in a cryogenic container, is accidentally thawed out. The movie is littered with horror references, particularly the names of the characters and the mechanics of the monsters, but it gels into something all its own. This is a great movie if you’re looking for either a ridiculous monster story or an 80’s throwback experience or both. Thrill me.
Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987)
Sam Raimi’s original Evil Dead was a grim, gross, and often disturbing tale of college kids being possessed and/or hunted by vicious demons known as Deadites in a cabin in the woods. In this, a remake/sequel, the blood flows aplenty and many a dismemberment is made, but the movie leans hard into a goofy sense of humor only faintly visible in the original. Bruce Campbell plays Ash Williams, a corny, quippy, arrogant, surprisingly incompetent guy who becomes one of the most famous heroes in horror film history.
While the original movie is a classic in its own right, you don’t actually have to see it in order for Evil Dead 2 to make sense, as the first twenty minutes or so of this movie essentially refashions and retells that story. All you need to know is that the ancient spell-book The Necronomicon (invented by H. P. Lovecraft) is unwisely used by people in both movies, releasing the hideous Deadites into the world. Evil Dead 2 combines copious gore and bizarre deaths/possessions with a sense of humor that can be downright cartoonish in all the best ways.
Dead Alive/Braindead (1992)
Before Peter Jackson got caught up in Tolkien’s Middle Earth or remaking King Kong, he made a handful of surprisingly violent horror movies, of which this is the best. Set in the 1950’s, Dead Alive concerns a socially awkward young guy named Lionel Cosgrove who has lived under the thumb of his controlling mother ever since his father died in a freak swimming accident. After meeting Paquita, a spunky Romani woman, Lionel’s life is looking better. Better, that is, until his mother Vera is bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey at the zoo and begins transforming into a flesh-eating ghoul. What begins as a quirky if gross comedy-of-errors blossoms into a full-on zombie attack.
Dead Alive has long been considered the goriest movie ever made, and it probably still retains that honor. The movie’s zombies are fully reanimated in that their body parts can move even after being cut off, and they kill their victims in ways far more gruesome than most any seen in Romero’s Dead series and its imitators. Hell, there’s even a zombie baby, a vicious little creature that’s one of the highlights of the movie. But Dead Alive is also weirdly good-natured, even sweet, especially in its treatment of its two stars. And the violence, albeit extreme, plays like a Three Stooges movie. If you can stomach the excellent special effects, you need not worry about this movie making you feel bad.
Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
Joe Lansdale, the Texan author of the entertaining Hap and Leonard series as well as the horror classic The Drive-In, wrote the novella on which this dark comedy was based. Simply put, this movie is about an elderly Elvis Presley, long after he swapped places with a lookalike in order to escape the pitfalls of stardom, who now lives in a rundown retirement home in East Texas. He’s fine living out his life here with his best friend, an even older black man who claims to be JFK, though he sometimes misses the limelight as well as the sense of purpose it gave him. Then, one stormy night, a mummy crash-lands in the vicinity and begins feeding off the souls of Elvis’s fellow retirees. Now, only he and JFK stand between their friends and this ancient evil.
Elvis is played by the legendary Bruce Campbell of Evil Dead fame, while Ossie Davis stars as JFK. This is all almost as ridiculous as it sounds, but the scares are played pretty straight and a genuine sweetness suffuses the film, as well as thoughtful meditations on the meaning of aging and impending death. That a proposed sequel/prequel will likely never see the light of day is a true shame.
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010)
Tucker and Dale are two good-hearted hillbillies planning on spending some time in a cabin in the woods they’ve just bought. Fishing, renovating the decrepit cabin, and throwing back some beers are all on the menu. Unfortunately, so is miscommunication and a whole lot of death. What they don’t know is that several decades ago, a group of teens were apparently massacred by two bloodthirsty hill folk and that a legend has grown up around these killings. When a group of vapid young college kids show up to party in a nearby cabin, a series of misunderstandings lead to Tucker and Dale looking mighty similar to those murderous hillbillies.
This movie is pretty gory, I won’t lie, but the blood and deaths aren’t the sort that’ll haunt you. Much of the fun in the movie results from its subversion of horror tropes familiar to viewers of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, or the mostly reprehensible Wrong Turn series. Our titular bumpkins aren’t cannibals or serial killers but rather genuine and clueless good guys, and the college kids, with one exception, are so caught up in their own prejudices that they can’t see past Tucker and Dale’s rough exteriors.
What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi
Before he began directing Thor movies, Taika Waititi co-created this endearing mockumentary about vampires living low in New Zealand. Waititi and his co-director Jemaine Clement play two of three vampire flat-mates who spend their time gracelessly capturing human victims and trying to party like its 1899. Viago, Vladislav, and Deacon are instantly iconic characters whose attempts at being cool in a world that long ago passed them by are captured in hilarious set-pieces and stumbling, realistic dialogue. Their lives get even more complicated when their Nosferatu-like flat-mate Petyr creates a new vampire and leaves him to their bumbling guidance.
This movie sends up so many horror conventions it would be ridiculous to try listing them all, but it never feels like the sort of kitchen-sink spoof one finds in the Scary Movie franchise. These are complex characters, memorable and, in the end, lovable despite their predatory habits. Bonus: check out the TV series too. It’s excellent.
Happy Death Day (2017)
Tree Gelbman, a troubled and fairly shallow college girl, is about to have one awful birthday. After waking up in the dorm room of a nerdy guy she doesn’t recognize, Tree goes about her day, trying to avoid her milquetoast roommate, impress her fellow sorority sisters, and ignore her father’s phone-calls. On her way to a party, though, Tree is attacked by a masked figure and stabbed to death. She immediately wakes up in that same dorm room and finds herself running the same gauntlet of social interactions and intimations of doom she just experienced. Yeah, this is Groundhog’s Day meets Scream, as more than one reviewer has called it. Murdered over and over again, Tree now has to solve the mystery of who would want her dead. Unfortunately for her, that list is pretty long.
Happy Death Day isn’t gory at all, usually cutting away from Tree’s deaths quickly and depositing her once more in that dorm room bed. Instead, the movie leans into both the mystery and comedic elements of its scenario. Jessica Rothe does a great job portraying this initially irritating character as her repeated killings gradually transform her into a more thoughtful, even heroic woman. This movie is just plain fun, as is its more science fictional sequel, Happy Death Day 2U.
Ready or Not (2019)
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gilett
Grace, a former foster child and smart aleck, has just married into the uber-wealthy Le Domas family, a clan who’ve made their fortune off games of all kinds. The night of her wedding, as the remaining Le Domas’s gather in the family’s beautiful mansion, Grace’s new husband tells her they need to carry out an old tradition: Grace needs to draw a card from a strange box given to the original Le Domas by a mysterious benefactor. On the card will be the name of a game and everyone in the family will play it. When she draws “Hide-and-seek,” she is amused at first, despite the crestfallen looks of the rest of the family.
What ensues is a violent (though relatively gore-less) funhouse ride. Every actor in this movie is just spot-on, from Samara Weaving as Grace to genre-stalwart Nicky Guadagni as the crochety and unbalanced older aunt of the family, and the Le Domas mansion is a perfect setting. If you like a good creepy story, and unless you are unusually sensitive to screen deaths of any kind, you ought to enjoy this brilliant little movie.
PG: Psycho Goreman (2021)
That “PG” in the title? Don’t mistake it for a rating, as this movie goes bonkers with gory special effects and its central human character, the little girl Mimi, swears up a blue storm. Weirdly, though, the movie feels innocent, as if some 1980’s kids-adventure movie had swapped directors with an ultraviolent monster movie midway through filming. It also feels like a live-action Rick and Morty episode in its deployment of sarcasm and bizarre science-fictional ideas. The concept is simple: a brother and sister accidentally unearth a powerful alien warlord who was buried on Earth ages ago after he tried exterminating all life in the universe. Thanks to a magical gem they’ve found, the kids can boss this horrific creature around as much as they want, at least until other forces in the cosmos intervene.
Psycho Goreman’s humor is not for everyone: the kids and their parents are played broadly, some secondary characters die in horrifying ways, and Goreman himself is a terrifyingly nihilistic figure. I, though, find the movie hilarious and cherish everything from the amazing practical alien designs to the family’s rude dynamics with one another. Watch the trailer: that ought to give you an idea if this will work for you.
SEE ALSO: Severance, The Editor, Gremlins 2, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, Cabin in the Woods, Final Girls, You Might Be the Killer, Scare Me, Faults, Ravenous, Shadow of the Vampire, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Slither, Attack the Block, Mayhem, They Live, Branded, Jennifer’s Body, Delicatessen, American Psycho, Tragedy Girls, Hausu, Housebound, Creepshow, Trick ‘r Treat, Ghost Stories, Better Watch Out, The Dead Don’t Die, Dellamorte, Dellamore, Life After Beth
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