Like Edward Scissorhands and a peaceful Florida suburb, comedy and terror go surprisingly well together. Throughout the 80s and 90s, plenty of ambitious filmmakers blended horror, spoofing and slapstick to hilarious effect. Here are ten of the greatest horror-tinged comedies to make you cackle.
10. An American Werewolf in London
Aged only 19, John Landis wrote his first draft of An American Werewolf in London while he was working as a film production assistant in Yugoslavia.
Inspired by a local burial ritual, he dreamt up this horror-comedy about US backpackers tormented by the supernatural. The film wasn’t released until 12 years later, in 1981, when it won the Saturn Award for Best Horror Film and entranced audiences with its macabre blend of gore and gags.
9. Hocus Pocus
Detested by many critics on release (Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune described it as “dreadful”), this witch tale by Disney is not for everyone. Nevertheless, Hocus Pocus developed a cult following its release in 1993, spawning countless costume parties, giant screenings and even a 25-year anniversary party in Hollywood’s Forever Cemetery.
In this comedy horror film, Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy star as three witches who are accidentally set loose in modern-day Salem.
8. The Nightmare Before Christmas
Jack Skellington, the warm-hearted patron saint of Halloween, attempts to usurp Christmas in this unexpected children’s classic, produced by Tim Burton.
Not just for its otherworldly stop-motion animation, this film draws fans far past childhood. “Visually a macabre knockout, this 75-minute fantasy boasts some of the wittiest, most vigorous stop-motion animation effects in the history of the process,” wrote John Hartl in a review for the Seattle Times.
7. Fright Night
A satirical horror film, Fright Night follows the adventures of a teenager who recruits a TV vampire killer to hunt down his bloodthirsty new neighbour. Our villain is played by Chris Sarandon, who funnily enough also provides the voice for the aforementioned Jack Skellington in The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Writer and director Tom Holland wanted this film to offer a twist on Aesop’s famous fable The Boy Who Cried Wolf. “I started to kick around the idea about how hilarious it would be if a horror movie fan thought that a vampire was living next door to him,” Holland said in an interview with TVStoreOnline. “It really tickled my funny bone.”
When a seemingly sweet new pet evolves into a monstrous infestation, young Billy Peltzer is soon battling for his life in this puppeteered comedy. Jarringly violent at times, Gremlins was one of the first films ever to receive the new PG-13 rating in in 1984.
As critic Caroline Westbrook noted, “The pitch black comedy works, and it makes you wonder how a generation of parents took their kids to see this – as children’s entertainment – without question.”
5. Edward Scissorhands
In this fantasy-romance, there’s plenty of humour as a man with blades for fingers befriends folks far stranger than him in a peaceful American neighbourhood. Rather than just satirizing suburbia, director Tim Burton was keen to explore its bizarreness. “It’s a weird place,” he said in an interview with the LA Times in 1990.
“It’s a place where some people grow up and ask, ‘Why are there resin grapes on the wall?’ (and others don’t),” he noted. “We’re trying to walk the fine line of making it funny and strange without it being judgmental.”
4. Evil Dead II
At the centre of the original Evil Dead trilogy lies this graphically gory comedy that won critical acclaim in 1987. R-rated and often revolting, Evil Dead II is a rare parody sequel from the makers of the horror film Evil Dead.
A slapstick action hero who battles demonic possession in an abandoned forest cabin, Ash Williams has been named the greatest horror movie character ever by Empire Magazine.
3. Little Shop of Horrors
In this frighteningly funny musical directed by Frank Oz, flower shop assistant Seymour finds himself grappling with a ravenous plant, a sadistic dentist and newfound celebrity.
Another spooky classic from Tim Burton, Beetlejuice attracted its director thanks to the fact that its script “had no real story [and] it didn’t make any sense.”
The film stars Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin as a ghostly married couple who, despite their best efforts, cannot haunt the awful new residents out of their old house. Betelgeuse (or ‘Beetlejuice’), a poltergeist played by Michael Keaton, wreaks havoc as he, too, hopes to scare their living housemates witless.
Three dysfunctional experts in the paranormal are all that stand between New York City and a ghostly invasion. Ghostbusters combined impressive effects and genuine frights to become the highest-grossing comedy of all time upon its release.
Starring comedy legends Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Bill Murray, this film is famous for going wildly off-script, with Murray ad-libbing almost every line he spoke.