Sunday, April 13, 2008

FEATURE: The 27 Greatest Horror Comedies Ever Made

Too often a horror movie fails so badly that the only redeeming qualities come from the few moments that make one laugh. That doesn't make it a good movie though, does it? Intent is the ultimate key, does a filmmaker deliberately set out to make a comedic horror film, or is the humor the mere residue of awkward mishaps and poor execution? If it's the latter; then a litany of films would extend out into infinity. Forget all that. We're more interested in movies that are not only meant to simultaneously scare and make a person laugh, but the ones that are most effective in their power to do so. Here's our list of the 27 all time best horror comedies.

#27: Fright Night
Year: 1985
As the apex of slasher horror struck the mid-80s, a refreshingly funny take on the vampire film called Fright Night came out. Director Tom Holland (Child's Play) bases his story around a teen who can't find anyone to believe that a vampire is living next door. He turns to a washed up horror film actor and vampire expert (Roddy McDowall) who now hosts a late night horror show called "Fright Night." The first half of the film is more like a teen comedy, the latter half slipping into more sinister subjects with some gnarly make up and FX work by the squad that did the same for Ghostbusters. Aside from William Ragsdale as the teen Charley, who looks exactly like Dallas QB Tony Romo, the film features Chris Sarandon, Stephen Geoffreys, and a pre-Marcy Darcy Amanda Bearse. You add all that with a painful '80s soundtrack and some smoked ham performances, Fright Night's a good time out!

#26: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Year: 1992
Okay, so the only scary thing here might be seeing an amputated Pee Wee Herman in long hair with a dirty goatee, but if for no other reason than its longevity, the film has to be mentioned. Joss Whedon's story of a valley girl chosen to, well slay vampires, put him at the forefront of pop culture kitsch as a mega spin-off series enjoyed a seven year stint on the air. It's interesting to note that the hit series was developed off of Whedon's original film script, not the finished film itself. If nothing else, the flicks serves as a who's who spotting game of up and coming talent where credits such as two time Oscar winner Hilary Swank's film debut, a young David Arquette, and a pre-Milton Stephen Root can be seen. Look even harder and you can spot tiny cameos by Ben Affleck, Ricki Lake and Thomas Jane.

#25: Arachnophobia
Year: 1990
Tapping into many a person's worst nightmare, Arachnophobia is extremely effective in combining horrific special FX with a brand of low key humor. The film, about a deadly strain of South American spider who hitches a ride to the U.S. in a coffin, does an admirable job of integrating real spiders with fake ones in undetectable fashion. The catcher's mitt sized spider (a type of bird eating tarantula with 8" leg span) nests in newly arrived doctor Ross Jennings'(Jeff Daniels) barn, mating until a nascent host of babies threatens their small California town. There's some legitimate shiver inducing moments that tap right into the heart of such a ubiquitous phobia. The movie works well because it doesn't have to try too hard to generate the scares, most of which handled with delicate humor and involving the always hilarious John Goodman as a local don't-take-no-shit exterminator.

#24: Night of the Creeps
Year: 1986
Perhaps the most satirical and self-reflexive flick on our list, the criminally underappreciated Night of the Creeps has yet to even see a DVD release. Actually perhaps because of it's esoteric nature, many people failed to realize the 2006 film Slither is shameless yet glorified remake, and not as funny. A breed of alien slugs slime their way into the mouth of human hosts, morphing them into mind altered zombies who know nothing but how to feed and reproduce. This lampoon has some solid FX and an even better sense of humor. The laconic Detective Ray Cameron (Tom Atkins) delivers well written lines with such little enthusiasm that you can't help but a laugh, and a lot. Many of the principal actors are literally named after genre greats like Romero, Carpenter, Hooper, Landis, Cameron, Cronenberg and Raimi; poking fun at the horror world and doing so with some nifty spine tingling gross out sequences. Find this movie, or petition Tri-Star for a release if they're still in business!

#23: The Lost Boys
Year: 1987
The '80s cheese factor was never more palpable than in hit or miss director Joel Shumacher's The Lost Boys. When a down trodden family moves to Santa Carla, a young clan of motorcycling blood suckers set out to consume the family and add them to their immortal way of life. But the oldest son Michael (Jason Patric), once semi-infected, bands his family together in a determined effort to rid the vampires for good. Along with funny turns by the two Coreys (Haim and Feldman), the film features Dianne Wiest, Edward Herrmann, Jamie Gertz, Kiefer Sutherland (in maybe his best film work), and a scene stealing performance by screen veteran Barnard Hughes as the crusty old hippy grandfather. While light on any substantial gore, the film struck a popular cord in audiences, catering to the MTV generation with its soundtrack and "in style" fashion sense.

#22: Basket Case
Year: 1982
With an ostensible wad of about 80 bucks, Basket Case is super low budget filmmaking at its most entertaining. With a perfectly pitch black comedy about a young country man named Duane who checks into a NY motel with a large basket and nothing else, this film is unquestionably one of the more outlandish on our list. For inside the basket lays the mutilated remains of his Siamese twin brother Belial, grossly bloodied, twisted, and still breathing. As revenge, Duane is hell bent on cutting down the doctors responsible for their separation. Directed by Frank Henelotter (Brain Damage, Frankenhooker, either of which could've also made the list), the film is sick and disturbing, completely off the wall in every way imaginable. The key is that a wry sense of humor is held intact throughout, never getting too extreme in its shock value. The film stars Kevin Van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner and Robert Vogel. Not to be missed!

#21: Critters
Year: 1986
In what can be viewed as a b-side companion piece to Gremlins, director Stephen Herek (Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead) takes the violent comic gore up a notch with his first feature, Critters. Here, a rural farm land is ravaged by a faction of grubby little space beasts out to eat any and everything they can. A team headed by a first rate drunk includes local bounty hunter types seeing to it that the little bastards don't overtake their land. You know for 1986, some decent puppet/animatronic work is on display. Silly, wild, full of energy, the film is a true joy to watch! Starring Dee Wallace, great character actor M. Emmett Walsh, B-movie stalwart Billy Zane and the always entertaining Lin Shaye, Critters is a worthy entry into the heart comic horror entertainment.

#20: Toxic Avenger
Year: 1985
The unequivocal banner Troma effort, Lloyd Kaufman gives us the geekiest-turned-badass-super-antihero in The Toxic Avenger. Melvin, an ultra-nerdy pool boy drools too hard over a hot blonde, and as a result is tossed out of a window, where he lands in a steaming vat of radioactive green sludge. He mutates, bulks up, and seeks revenge as a sort of demented alter ego to Bruce Banner's Incredible Hulk. With not only vengeance on his mind, Toxie is honestly out to eradicate all evil doers, from street hoods to corporate fat cats. Dark comedy with low budget grit, there's no wonder why this film spawned three sequels over two or so decades. Starring Mitch Cohen in the titular part, and Andree Maranda as the ditzy blinded blonde, and the hysterical Gary Schneider as a vehicular-man-slaughter-and-liking-it psychopath. Oh, and see if you can spot a young Marissa Tomei in a tiny cameo as she exits a shower. A must see all around!

#19: Tremors
Year: 1990
Tremors is a funny ass movie! Clearly an homage to 1950s sci-fi monster B-movies, the flick focuses on a band of tiny town desert natives who must ward off a host of gigantic worm-like creatures dwelling beneath the ground. It's a throwback flick where the main characters never question the origin or culprit of their assailants. As soon as Val and Earl's plans to leave town are foiled, and people begin mysteriously dying, they waste no time jumping right into combat with the "graboids." Kevon Bacon and Fred Ward mix chemistry with camp cult humor and when you combine that with Michael Gross (of Family Ties fame, who would appear in 3 following sequels) as the NRA bound arsenal addict really puts this one over the top. Fast paced, action crammed, bloody, this picture is the poor man's Jaws, only in the desert!

#18: The 'burbs
Year: 1989
Horror vet Joe Dante's twisted view of a paranoia plagued suburban neighborhood is nothing short of splendid. After the Klopecks, an oddly reclusive and despondent foreign family, take residence in the cryptic mansion at the end of their end of the block, a group of concerned friendlies band together to figure what the hell is going on. In the vein of an Invasion of the Body Snatchers, fear of the other is a breeding ground for hysteria, panic and horrific imagination. Before Tom Hanks was winning back to back Oscars, he co-starred in this film with Bruce Dern, Rick Ducommun, Corey Feldman and Cathy Fisher (Dern and Ducommun give indelible performances as a crude slob and an ex-military man out to prove the eerie family is indeed evil incarnate). One of my favorite all time films, it boasts some great dialogue and excellent casting with Henry Gibson, Dick Miller, Courtney Gains and Nicky Katt.

#17: Gremlins
Year: 1984
Easily Joe Dante's most successful film also happens to be another horror comedy, Gremlins. The movie's about a teen who as a gift receives an odd species of pet called a mogwai, and after neglecting the rules of its care, witnesses the spawning of a vicious litter of pint sized killer monsters that are out inhabit the quaint little town. Most of the humor is split between the cute looking but awkward mogwai, and the save brutality of the gremlins as they dispose all those in their path. Starring Zach Galligan, Hoyt Axton, Phoebe Cates, and a young Corey Feldman, it's hard to imagine a comic horror list without this flick. Although co-responsible (along with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) for the inception of the deplorable PG-13 rating system, it's not quite enough to keep Gremlins off our list.

#16: From Dusk Till Dawn
Year: 1996
Before Clooney was dropping girlies' satins, he was busy staking bloodsucking fiends in the heart. Rodriguez and Tarantino's "drive in" story of two bank robbing brothers on the run spins 180 degrees and lands in the vampire realm; where Seth (Clooney) and Ritchie (Tarantino) Gecko take a family hostage as way to sneak across the Mexican border. What awaits them is a violent, malicious, maddeningly funny take on a tired genre that's been around since the dawn of cinema. Keitel delivers an unrecognizable performance as a moral man of faith mustering what he can to protect his family. Great round out casting includes legendary FX man Tom Savini as Sex Machine (shooting bullets from his crotch, nice ay ladies!) Fred Williamson (Black Caesar himself) as a tough talking bar biker, and Cheech Marin playing tri-roles. We can't forget Juliette Lewis, or the smoke work of Salma Hayek as the exotic dancing vamp Satanico Pandemonium. Heat!

#15: Killer Klowns From Outer Space
Year: 1988
If this isn't a cult movie, I don't what is! While not particularly violent, Killer Klowns plays to that universal fear that haunt many across the globe, clowns. An unabashed B-movie with a paltry 2 million dollar budget mostly allocated to production costs, the directing Chiodo Brother's constructed many of the evil clowns themselves. The film follows an alien mother ship landing on Earth, where a gaggle of clown looking extra terrestrials capture and contain as many human beings as possible. They store the humans in giant cotton candy pods, sucking fresh blood fuel from their bodies. Oh, and they reproduce by shooting pop corn guns, where kernels propagate into new aliens. This flick is really something odd, way beyond camp humor and the typical bloody fare that comprises the better part of this list. And the Dickies theme song Fucking rules!

#14: The Frighteners
Year: 1996
Before Peter Jackson was making three hour epics about little furry hill dwellers; he was sharply cutting his teeth in the horror genre. The Frighteners, starring one Alex P. Keaton (Michael J. Fox) as a con man claiming he can see and capture ghosts, might have gone unnoticed upon initial release. When Fox's ruse backfires, strange supernatural dealings offer a little more than he bargained for (clients pay him to exorcise the ghosts he himself is in cahoots with). The flick is reminiscent of a live action cartoon chalked full of high energy and Fox's slap stick comic timing. With a nifty score by gothic impresario Danny Elfman and superb visual effects, it's pretty evident why Jackson's subsequently become an A-list Hollywood director. Co-starring John Astin, Jefferey Combs, Dee Wallace and R. Lee Ermey, The Frighteners is a must see!

#13: From Beyond
Year: 1986
Stuart Gordon goes back to horror/sci-fi writer H.P. Lovecraft for inspiration in his follow up to Re-Animator, a film called From Beyond. Akin to a hellish acid trip, Jeffrey Combs returns to the role of a scientist (this time, Dr. Tillinghast) set to stimulate the brain's pineal gland (the sixth sense). Foul ups ensue, and soon a dark otherworldly dimension is opened up, unleashing slimy little ghouls and an unmatched weirdness that stays with you long after its conclusion. The pace of the film races, never leaving you mired in dull moments; the splatter gore matched step for step by corny gross out humor that offers a funny look into the repressed desires of the characters. With Barbra Crampton back (Re-Animator), decked in some S&M leather, and first time Gordon collaborators Ken Foree, Ted Sorel, as well as the director's wife Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, From Beyond exemplifies the best of warped comic horror madness.

#12: Cemetery Man
Year: 1994
Sadly, this is our only true European effort on the list, but Dellamorte Dellamore (Cemetery Man) is kick ass flick no less impressive than American counterparts. In fact, it's cruel to think to say that American film companies would only fund and distribute this film if Matt Dillon were to play the lead role. He didn't, Rupert Everett did, and thus the film remained for the most part Italian. It's no coincidence then that it's the closest thing resembling an art house film on our list. Cemetery Man is about a man named Francesco Dellamorte (the latter meaning love), who guards a grave yard in a town called Buffalora, where for no apparent reason, droves of undead beings rise from their tombs and threaten the living. Untamed and out of control, the film is pure comedy at its bloodiest. Italian splatter film actor Michele Soavi takes a turn on the other side of the camera, creating a beautiful color pallet and a moody atmosphere that shoots the film atop the all time zombie exports.

#11: Beetle Juice
Year: 1988
Tim Burton's highly original, offbeat gothic exorcist Betelgeuse (Michael keaton) is not only one of the funniest we've seen before, but one of the most enduring. Out of a 92 minute running time, Betelgeuse only appears on screen for roughly 17 of those, truly making a lasting impression. The movie revolves around a happily married couple living the rustic life, who after dying in a car accident, seek the help of a crude and creepy exorcist to rid the stuck up, nouveau riche family that just moved into their house. Plenty of laughs here, notably the scene where Adam (Alec Baldwin) and Barbra (Geena Davis) first meet Betelgeuse inside the town model, where the ghostly ghoul tries his best to ingratiate himself to the couple. Keaton's brilliant here, often citing this as his favorite of his own films. Sands worms, you hate 'em, I hate 'em myself!

#10: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
Year: 1986
After just a filthily disturbing second effort, director Tobe Hooper made a bold move by taking one of the most storied horror films ever, and putting a humorous spin on it. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is an uproarious satire with a pearl of a performance by Dennis Hopper as a semi-psychotic, weapon wielding mad man out to exact revenge on the cannibalistic family. See, it was his niece and nephew that were butchered to death in the first installment, and now he's fu*king pissed! With a bloated budget this time around, Hooper adds almost surrealistic scenes with not only comic one liners, but ridiculous action sequences that can't help but make one laugh. Take the opening bridge/car chase scene, or the climactic chainsaw battle for examples. Classic! Co-starring Caroline Williams, Jim Siedow (in his last film role), Bill Johnson, and horror mainstay Bill Moseley (Rob Zombie films etc.), this is not only a worthy sequel, but truly one of the funniest horror films to grace the big screen.

#9: An American Werewolf in London
Year: 1981
John Landis, a man responsible for some of the funniest comedies ever (Animal House, Blues Brothers, Trading Places), lends his lycanthropic tale to the old country, setting two American tourists smack dab in the middle. Griffin Dunne and David Naughton play the fish out of water foreigners, who after being mauled by a savage werewolf; can't find any of the town folk to believe them. In fact, they won't even admit such a beast exists. Good laughs with even better gore, this film ranks right atop the often tepid werewolf subgenre. Legendary make up man Rick Baker was awarded the very first Oscar in the category of make up, as this film forced the Academy to recognize what ground breaking work was being achieved. Even more trivial, every song in the soundtrack has the word "moon" in the title. Check it out!

#8: Shaun of the Dead
Year: 2004
A god damn breath of fresh air! Hilarious British imports Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright pump new life into the over saturated zombie subgenre with the side splitter, Shaun of the Dead. In fact, it inspired the much imitated RomComZom micro-genre, also known as the romantic comedy zombie film. Here, a bumbling ne'er-do-well must bust the hell out of a zombie horde overtaking London. With his overweight idiotic pal Ed (Nick Frost), Shaun (Pegg) does all he can to save his beloved, recent ex-girlfriend from the flesh starved walking corpses. A very well crafted movie, whose humor equals the quality of graphic gore that's on display throughout. Multiple viewings are encouraged, as many many in jokes and references to horror icons like Romero, Landis, Bruce Campbell, etc. can go unnoticed the first time around. One of the best out there!

#7: Return of the Living Dead
Year: 1985
After an effluvial gas permeates a military canister and dissipates into the air, humans begin transmuting into brain hungry zombies. Far and away my own personal favorite zombie film of all time, it's a shame writer/director Dan O'Bannon, responsible for inking the scripts to all six Alien pictures, Dead and Buried, and Total Recall, only directed one other movie aside from this one; The Resurrection in 1992. Because Return is a comic horror masterpiece! The reason it's so funny is it never tries too hard to be so, most of the humor is played straight forward and dead pan. Not only has two of the best onscreen zombies ever (tarman and half a woman), but the flick has endless comic moments, from the nudist punk zombie chick named Trash, to the nasty Jheri curl mullet Miguel Nunez sports, or the half animated zombie dogs, you name it. Deliciously paced, and with over twenty years under it's belt, the film holds up extremely well. Brains, brains, more braaaaains! Damn I love this picture.

#6: Young Frankenstein
Year: 1974
How can we conduct a comedy list with out throwing a tip of the cap to arguably the greatest living comedic mind around, Mel Brooks? We can't, nor would we dream of it. Ingenious, irreverent, always re-inventive, Mel Brooks' send up to one of the earliest cases of cinematic reanimation is no less a masterwork than any of his celebrated others. Dr. Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) inherits his grandfather's castle and decides to retry the medical procedure of reviving of a laid out corpse. The process goes awry, and comedic hijinks ensue in one of the best spoof films of all time. Aside from Wilder, excellent turns by Madeline Kahn, Peter Boyle, Terri Garr and a stolen scene by Gene Hackman make this one of the all time great horror comedies. We'll never hear "Puttin' on the Ritz" in the same way ever again!

#5: Army of Darkness
Year: 1992
Alright, depending on one's own taste, it's quite a toss up for superiority between Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness. Continuing Ash's story arc, Army catapults its hero into 1300 A.D. where in an attempt to seize the Necronomicon "Book of the Dead," must kick medieval "deadite" zombie ass. If you thought Evil Dead II was over the top, Army flares up the zany almost cartoon like humor, especially when Ash is pitted against his own evil mirror image. Co-written by Raimi's brother Ivan with a cameo by other brother Ted, the film is clearly one long fun in joke where everyone involved seems to be having the time of their lives, or deaths as it may appear. With appearances by Embeth Davidtz, Bridgette Fonda, Marcus Gilbert and Richard Grove, Army of Darkness is a sublime amalgam of blood, carnage and gut wrenching laughter that will keep crowds entertained for many a moon.

#4: Re-Animator
Year: 1985
No we're really getting somewhere, huh?!? Director Stuart Gordon's loose adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's wicked tale, originally slated to be a simple Frankenstein parody, is indeed among the most uniquely original horror comedies in that it would set the template for decades to come. Jeffery Combs' iconic role as nerdy Swiss physicist Herbert West, a man dedicated to the experimentation of bringing the dead back to life, is as funny a character as he is memorable. Re-Animator was unrated upon initial release, offering an ultra gory low brow sense of humor that would shock audiences beyond belief. I mean, when you see a severed head attempting to go down on a living female, your first inclination might be to check your water supply for some kind of hallucinogenic. Don't bother! That and an ass load of other crazy, eye bugging scenes make this flick virtually untouchable.

#3: Dead Alive (AKA Brain Dead)
Year: 1992
Peter Jackson's horror masterpiece is one of the most energetic, exorbitant, silly pieces of graphic gore ever committed to celluloid. In short, it's BAD ASS! The film is about a girl named Paquita who, after her mom dies, seeks the aide of her boyfriend to end a gruesome zombie takeover. With over 300 liters of fake blood for the final scene alone, it's no wonder why vomit bags were passed out with every Swedish rental of the film (additional countries as well, no doubt). Arguably the bloodiest flick ever, any hardcore genre enthusiast would be remiss if they didn't at least watch this film once, even if 6 showers are required after word. Seriously, there's a lawnmower scene that spewed 500 gallons of fake blood per minute. Fu*kin' gnarled! You mix that with a charming sense of absurdist slap stick, the result is a deserved top spot on our much revered compilation.

#2: Evil Dead II
Year: 1987
Sam Raimi's follow up to his ground breaking first feature, Evil Dead II raises the comic bar up several notches. Bruce Campbell's deified cult hero Ash has become an overwhelming favorite among horror fans across many generations. In this story, Ash continues to fight off flesh eating demons in the oddly mysterious and malevolent cabin in some of the most relentless, hyper kinetic action scenes ever witnessed in a horror film. With humor a first priority, Evil Dead II is a hilarious, high intensity blood bath that can be watched over and over again. Shot almost entirely in a junior high school gymnasium doubling for a forest, many cuts were necessary to ensure an R-rating, which explains the lot of black and green blood in certain scenes. Widely considered a remake of The Evil Dead, the opening scenes are mere re-creations of footage that could not be licensed as recapitulation of the first film. So no, it's not a remake but instead one of the most ingenious horror sequels we've seen.

#1: Ghostbusters
Year: 1984
Ivan Rietman's classic comic romp through the paranormal, Ghostbusters is easily one of the greater landmark films of this ilk. While tipping heavier on the side of comedy, there are certainly enough suspenseful scare tactics to keep the heart pumping. The opening apparition scene with librarian; or the refrigerator scenes with Zuul and Dana Barret come to immediate mind. With comic icons such as Billy Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Rick Moranis at the helm, this film is one of the few on our list that also garnered box office success, becoming one of the highest grossing films of 1984. Note that original roles were written for John Belushi (as Venkman), Eddie Murphy (as Winston) and John Candy (as Luis Tully). While it would've been interesting to see how those actors would have faired, this no doubt remains atop the heavyweight class of horror comedies. Shoot, I ain't fraid a no ghosts!

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