Comedy and horror pair like peanut butter and chocolate in the film world. Audiences wouldn’t expect laughing to pair so well with screaming, but a good chuckle takes the edge of a tense scene, and a scare can make a joke feel earned. But as unique as the genre combination can be, more horror comedies get it wrong than they get it right. These best horror comedies deserve all the praise they can get, making them some of the most enjoyable films in the cinematic world.
1. Evil Dead II
Few filmmakers understand the connection between horror and humor better than Sam Raimi. So when the Deadites begin assaulting would-be cabin vacationer Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) in Evil Dead II, they don’t just bite and scratch. They recreate scenes from classic Three Stooges shorts. Thanks to a game Campbell in the lead, Evil Dead II makes slapstick look scary and demonic onslaught look hilarious.
2. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
Fans of Universal Horror will point out that even the company’s best horror movies had their comedic moments, such as the grouchy old woman who complains her way through James Whale’s The Bride of Frankenstein. So fast-talking comedy duo Bud Abbott and Lou Costello fit into a story about Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and a mad scientist (Lenore Aubert) trying to revive Frankenstein’s Monster (Glenn Strange) and fight the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.). Nobody has to change their style to make Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein work, making a film equal parts spine-tingling and laugh-inducing.
3. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Judging by Hollywood movies, the apocalypse begins in New York, Los Angeles, or some other major metropolis. Even George A. Romero’s beloved Pittsburgh seems like a bustling big city compared to the quiet hamlet where director Edgar Wright sets Shaun of the Dead. A grounded take on the zombie apocalypse, Shaun of the Dead stars Simon Pegg as man-child Shaun and Nick Frost as his best mate Ed, who make terrible (but relatable) decisions when the dead come back to life and begin munching brains.
4. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010)
Hapless heroes have become a mainstay of horror fiction, regular folks who find themselves beset by beasties for unknown reasons. In Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, writer and director Eli Craig — who co-wrote the script with Morgan Jurgenson – flips the trope to make those heroes a couple of rednecks. At first, misunderstandings cause a group of college preppies to mistake Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) for backwoods cannibals. But as prejudice gives way to rage, the college kids attack Tucker and Dale and kill themselves in outrageous ways, making the duo look more and more like the killers people assume them to be.
5. Re-Animator (1985)
The writer H.P. Lovecraft has inspired many horror films over the years, but few as madcap as Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator. Jeffery Combs stars as Herbert West, a brilliant young medical student obsessed with returning life to dead bodies. As he pursues his goal with the help of his roommate Daniel (Bruce Abbott), Combs makes enemies of everyone from the Dean’s daughter Megan (Barbara Crampton) to jealous professor Dr. Hill (David Gale). A gross-out film in every possible way, Re-Animator promises a good time by going far past the confines of good taste.
6. Young Frankenstein (1974)
In Young Frankenstein, director Mel Brooks parodies every aspect of the Universal Frankenstein films. He does this not by tearing down the classics, but through loving attention, recreating the original film’s look by including sets and props from the 1930s. On this foundation, Brooks and star Gene Wilder, who co-wrote the movie, erect a tower of silly terror. An able cast that includes Terri Garr, Marty Feldman, Chloris Leachman, and more never misses a chance to make a joke. But they never do it at the expense of the Frankenstein movies, always laughing from a place of love.
7. An American Werewolf in London (1981)
A Wolf-Man tale doesn't usually generate laughs, as these stories force people to reveal the beast lurking just below the veneer of civilization. Indeed, An American Werewolf in London shows the full horror of David Kessler’s (David Naughton) transformation into a wolf and the trail he leaves behind. The humor of An American Werewolf in London comes in the form of David’s best friend Jack (Griffen Dunne), who transformed into a rotting specter after becoming his first victim. Jack’s wry observations and words of warning draw a melancholy smile from viewers, finding humor in the most horrific situations.
8. Ghostbusters (1984)
Ghostbusters shouldn’t work. A ramshackle film written by a man with serious convictions about the paranormal and featuring a star who makes fun of the story at every turn, Ghostbusters threatens to sink into stodginess or fall apart as nonsense. And yet, director Ivan Reitman holds the story together, focusing on the real emotions of four schlubby guys — Dan Akroyd, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson — who face the supernatural. The mixture of top-notch effects and real emotions results in once-in-a-lifetime jokes, which no one can replicate, no matter how often movie studios try.
9. Cabin in the Woods (2011)
By 2011, everyone knew that horror movies held to certain time-honored tropes. Randy from Scream spelled it all out for audiences fifteen years earlier, and even then, it seemed obvious. But the Drew Goddard movie Cabin in the Woods, co-written by Joss Whedon, works not because it acknowledges horror movie tropes but how it takes utter glee in them. Transforming a group of (more-or-less) regular teens into grist for sacrifice, Cabin in the Woods takes a knowing and loving look at the genre. Whether it's the banter between office workers sending the teens to their doom or a third-act monster mash that features every imaginable creature, Cabin in the Woods knows that monsters are awesome and that’s all that matters.
10. Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Most moviegoers know that George A. Romero reinvented the zombie film with Night of the Living Dead, which featured reanimated corpses who eat flesh. Night of the Living Dead co-writer John Russo further built on the mythos by teaming with director Dan O’Bannon for Return of the Living Dead, giving the world zombies who eat brains. Despite that addition, the fun of Return of the Living Dead comes not from how it expands the lore, but from its punk rock energy. Even as a small town gets torn apart by zombies, Return of the Living Dead features nihilistic rockers who party all the way to the brain-munching end.
11. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
Before he became a household name with the Thor movies for Marvel, director Taika Waititi got laughs from vampire lore with What We Do in the Shadows. A mockumentary following three vampire housemates — Viago (Waititi), Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), and Deacon (Johnny Brugh) — What We Do in the Shadows underscores the silliest parts of vampire stories. Scenes find the trio begging a club doorman to invite them in instead of just waving to the entryway, and a wolfman (Rhys Darby) tries to calm his pack by reminding them, “We’re werewolves, not swearwolves.” Like Young Frankenstein before it, What We Do in the Shadows works because it admires vampire stories, making for a warm and kind look at cold-hearted bloodsuckers.
12. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
No one would call the Friday the 13th franchise innovative. Designed as a rip-off of Halloween and Carrie, Friday the 13th trades in the basest of slasher pleasures and didn’t even give its killer Jason his iconic hockey mask until Part III. Yet somehow, Friday the 13th Part VI anticipated the meta-textual, fourth-wall-breaking approach to horror a full decade before Scream. On the surface, there’s nothing special about writer/director Tom McLoughlin’s plot, which again sets Jason Voorhees to killing people at Camp Crystal Lake. But he adds a layer of wry humor, in which little kids read Sartre’s No Exit by flashlight or ask one another “What were you going to be when you grew up?”
13. One Cut of the Dead (2017)
One cannot describe the joys of One Cut of the Dead without giving away the twist, so those who don’t want spoilers should look away now. But interested parties will be confused by the movie's first half, in which director Higurashi (Takayuki Higurashi) shoots a straightforward zombie flick. However, halfway through, director Shin'ichirō Ueda flips the script and shows the chaotic extremes the cast and crew go to make their movie. Every time Higurashi shouts “Action!,” viewers will either shriek at the tasks he makes his collaborators undertake or giggle at his unrealistic expectations.
14. Ready or Not (2019)
The best horror movies often have a bit of a subversive streak. In Ready or Not, created by the collective known as Radio Silence, that streak comes in the form of Grace (Samara Weaving), who marries Alex le Domas (Mark O’Brien), the scion of a family who built its empire on game sales. To gain acceptance into the family, Grace must participate in a murderous game of hide and seek, which not only reveals the le Domas clan to be conceited idiots, but also the devilish source of their wealth. Grounded in Weaving’s energetic performance, Ready or Not channels economic discontent into fun horror action.
15. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Part 2 (1986)
Director Tobe Hooper never understood the response to his movie The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Where most saw one of the scariest movies of all time, Hooper saw a comedy, filled with over-the-top weirdos. To ensure that no one missed the joke the second time, Hooper pushed things even further for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Part 2. With underground catacombs, stomach-churning gags, and Dennis Hopper as a dual-chainsaw wielding, Bible-verse-spouting Sheriff, Texas Chainsaw 2 has no use for subtlety in its jokes, resulting in a movie somehow even more disturbing than the original.
16. Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)
Scary clowns have become commonplace these days, so much so people sometimes find it hard to remember that they exist to make people laugh. Fortunately, special effects masters the Chiodo Brothers didn’t forget that fact for their cult classic, Killer Klowns from Outer Space. Yes, the alien clowns who invade a small town do wreak havoc by knocking off the heads of bikers or wrapping innocents in cocoons of cotton candy. But there’s something good-natured about the shenanigans on screen, made all the more effective by the Chiodos' amazing clown puppets.
17. Beetlejuice (1988)
These days, audiences know Tim Burton as a spooky weirdo, and Michael Keaton as a respected character actor. But in the 1980s, the two combined for the maniacal Beetlejuice, the story of a young married couple, Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis), who die right after getting their dream house. As they befriend the teen daughter (Wynona Ryder) of the tacky people who move into the house, the Maitlands get more than they bargained for when they hire Beetlejuice (Keaton) to chase the squatters out. Beetlejuice captures Burton and Keaton at the height of their powers, creating wonderful mischief and spooky fun.
18. Us (2019)
Given his history as a top-level sketch comedian, it should surprise no one that people remember Jordan Peele’s debut, Get Out, for its conspiracy horror and social commentary. But one has to think that Peele regrets the fact that people didn’t pay attention to the humor in Get Out, something he ramped up for his follow-up Us. While Us also makes a point about American inequality, Peele leaves plenty of room for jokes, from Winston Duke as a Homer Simpson-esque dad and Tim Heidecker as a materialistic neighbor. Peele balances terrifying scenes of doppelgänger danger with great gags about a malfunctioning Alexa and a man having a midlife crisis.
19. Slaxx (2020)
Directed by Elza Kephart, who co-wrote the script with Patricia Gomez, Slaxx tells the story of mall employees under siege by a pair of killer pants. Kephart takes advantage of every opportunity to emphasize the absurdity of the premise, watching the slacks off a power-tripping retail manager or an air-headed influencer. However, Kephart and Gomez find room for social commentary, tying the evil of the pants to the mistreatment of garment workers across the world.
20. The Dead Don’t Die (2019)
Whatever respect beloved indie director Jim Jarmusch earned over his career, audiences did not appreciate his zombie comedy The Dead Don’t Die. With Bill Murray and Adam Driver as the deadpan leads, The Dead Don’t Die takes a nonchalant and self-aware approach to the zombie apocalypse. However, the movie draws humor from the frustration audiences feel at the characters’ refusal to avoid their fate, something that feels quite familiar to anyone living through any number of avoidable catastrophes today.
21. Ernest Scared Stupid (1991)
Milk pitchman-turned-movie-star Jim Varney, aka Ernest P. Worrell, will not go down in history as one of the great comedic minds of his generation. Yet he proved a perfect star for the family-friendly horror flick Ernest Scared Stupid. Sure, the film features plenty of obnoxious mugging on Varney’s part, but it also features fantastic effects from the aforementioned Chiodo Brothers. Even better, Varney gets some legitimately funny lines telling the story of a village idiot saving the city from an onslaught of trolls.
22. Freaky (2020)
Fans of horror comedies live in a golden age of the genre, thanks to folks like writer/director Christopher Landon. After working on the excellent Happy Death Day movies, Landon and co-writer Michael Kennedy made Freaky, a body swap comedy in which a Jason-esque slasher (Vince Vaughn) switches bodies with a teen girl (Kathryn Newton). Vaughn scores easy laughs as a grown man squealing like a kid, but the real joy of the film comes from Newton playing a brutal killer in a pint-sized body.
23. Bride of Chucky (1998)
As a series about a three-foot, foul-mouthed toy, the Child’s Play series has always been ridiculous. But it didn’t embrace the inherent humor of its premise until Bride of Chucky. Teaming with Hong King director Ronnie Yu, Chucky creator Don Mancini pairs Chucky (Brad Dourif) with a lady doll called Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly) and sets them on a messy honeymoon. Equal parts gory and self-aware, complete with a John Waters cameo, Bride of Chucky is big enough to accept the silly parts of its pint-sized killer.
24. Pieces (1982)
No genre suits itself to “so bad it’s good” movies like horror, as demonstrated by the countless monsters featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. When it comes to unintentional humor, few movies can outdo the Spanish-American slasher Pieces. Director Juan Piquer Simón plays the story straight, about a killer who mutilates students on a college campus. But language barriers, a goofy script, and an uneven cast result in a ridiculous film that draws only laughter from its most shocking scenes.
25. The Voices (2014)
Ryan Reynolds has made his reputation with snarky, self-aware humor. But in his funniest movie, he puts in a sincere, if off-kilter, performance as a nice guy who kills people at the behest of the voices he hears. Directed by graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi, best known for the award-winning comic Persopolis, and written by Michael R. Perry, The Voices contrasts the sweetness of Reynolds’s characters with the absurdity of the voices he hears, which range from messages from his pets (all voiced by Reynolds) to his first victim (Gemma Arterton) who offers cheerful advice from her severed head.