11. Fright Night (1985)
Not to be mistaken with the 2011 remake starring Colin Farrell, the 1985 original is an absolute horror-comedy classic with a far bigger budget than most of the other entries on this list from that period.
The film tells the story of a horror obsessed teenager who discovers that his new neighbour is in fact a real-life vampire but has a hard time convincing anybody of this admittedly hard to believe fact. In desperation he enlists the help of a late-night, recently unemployed TV horror show host to help him deal with the problem.
Featuring great special effects and a clear passion for the genre, Fright Night managed to perfectly balance the chills with the laughs with stand-out performances by the entire cast. Chris Sarandon as the modern day vampire and Roddy McDowall as the washed-up horror show host named Peter Vincent (a clear nod to horror legends Peter Cushing and Vincent Price) steal the show in every scene they appear in. The film was followed by a sequel in 1989 and the aforementioned sub-par remake from 2011.
10. Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Not so much a horror-comedy as a satirical take on the horror genre, Cabin in the Woods has plenty to offer horror aficionados with its post-modern deconstruction of the genre and toying with all the tried and true clichés of your average run-of-the-mill horror flick.
Written by king of the geeks, Joss Whedon, who would soon after direct the mega-blockbuster The Avengers, this movie is best experienced knowing as little about the plot as possible. Suffice to say that it deals with your average group of young adults who intend to spend a weekend away from the city in a cabin in the woods. From there on in all expectations are subverted and lots of fun will be had with virtually all the horror tropes one can think of.
Smart enough to appeal to both hardcore fans and casual viewers alike, Cabin in the Woods is a surprising and very welcome change to the barrage of horror remakes, sequels and spin-offs which Hollywood usually churns out these days.
9. Frankenhooker (1990)
If you are familiar with Frank Henenlotter’s work, you’ll know exactly what to expect from this one. If you aren’t, the title should be a dead give-away anyway. A hilarious theatre of the absurd, Frankenhooker spoofs Bride of Frankenstein, adding a lot of gore, nudity and laughs in the process.
Jeffrey Franken is a daytime electrician and night time mad scientist and inventor, who decides to rebuild his girlfriend after she gets accidentally killed by his latest invention: a remote controlled lawnmower. As he needs body parts in order to do so, Jeffrey decides that the best place to get them will be from local drug addicted street walkers. The city is being overrun by crack, so he decides to invent “super crack” which causes its users to explode upon consumption. The problem however is that once he gathers his body parts and recreates his girlfriend, she acts like a prostitute and worse still, kills the men she seduces by electrocuting them.
In case it wasn’t clear yet, this one is for the midnight-movie cult cinema lovers. With equal amounts of gore and gags, Frankenhooker is a real crowd-pleaser and Henenlotter’s funniest film. And if you don’t take my word for it, trust Bill Murray who famously said about the film: “If you see one movie this year, it should be Frankenhooker.” Nuff said.
8. Bad Taste (1987)
Way before Peter Jackson would find critical acclaim with Heavenly Creatures and worldwide fame with his Tolkien adaptations, he was a master at making some very gory and very funny movies in his native New Zealand.
Bad Taste was his 1987 debut and what a debut it was. Made on a shoestring budget and starring himself and a bunch of friends (both in front and behind the camera), Jackson made an instant cult classic. Whilst the effects often betray their meagre financial backing, they completely make up for it in sheer insanity, gore and outrageousness. The plot itself is the stuff of legend as alien fast-food franchisers kill off the population of a small town in order to stock their intergalactic fast-food chain. But a four-man strong paramilitary group intends to stop them before they can make their way back.
Some of the highlights here include Jackson cracking his skull and stuffing his brains back in and holding them in place with his belt and a gross-out scene of one of the men having to drink from a big bowl of green goo which has been regurgitated by one of the aliens. Cheap, nasty and funny as hell, Bad Taste is classic in its own special way.
7. The Revenant (2009)
Now here’s a little horror-comedy gem that has gone criminally underseen and hasn’t received anywhere near the proper exposure it so much deserves. Best described as a buddy-movie with zombies, The Revenant is a pitch dark black comedy and pure genre bliss.
Second Lieutenant Bart Gregory has been killed in action in Iraq but for unknown reasons he is still very much walking around. He turns to his best friend Joey and they start figuring out that Bart goes into a state of inanimation during the day and that he needs fresh human blood to counter the decomposition of his body. Initially not knowing how to get a regular supply of fresh human blood, they devise a scheme to start preying on the criminals of the city, figuring that they would be doing some good in the process.
With plenty of laughs as well as gore and some shotgun action thrown in for good measure, there is plenty to like here. A truly inspired and fresh take on the zombie film, with great acting and special effects, The Revenant is an absolute must-see for fans of the genre, especially if you have ever wanted to see a decapitated head speak with a vibrating dildo standing in for the vocal chords. If you like these types of movies and haven’t seen this one, make sure you do.
6. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
The first in the so-called “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy” firmly put its director Edgar Wright and its stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost on the map with its mixture of zombies, comedy and romance to boot.
Shaun, whose life is going nowhere, and Ed, a professional slacker, are room mates who tend to spend most of their time in the pub. When his girlfriend breaks up with him and his stepfather berates him for not paying enough attention to his mother, Shaun goes to the pub and returns home late after drowning his sorrows with Ed. When they wake the next morning, the country has been overrun by the living dead. Shaun and his friend decide that the safest place for them will be their local pub, collecting their loved ones along the way.
A substantial critical and box-office success, Shaun of the Dead was a loving tribute to the classic Romero zombie films with a great ensemble cast and its heart in the right place. It even landed Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright cameos in Romero’s zombie film Land of the Dead the following year. What greater recognition can one get?
5. An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Verging towards more of a straight-up horror movie than a pure horror-comedy, An American Werewolf in London is nonetheless filled with scenes of black humour and when this movie does do funny, it does it very well.
The film deals with two American tourists who are backpacking through the English moors when they are attacked by what later turns out to be a werewolf. One of them dies but the other survives and hence becomes a werewolf himself. His dead friend keeps visiting him, urging him to kill himself as he will just cause pain and suffering by either killing innocent people or turning them into werewolves too. The majority of the laughs come from Griffin Dunne as the dead friend, whose appearances as an increasingly decomposing zombie trying to talk sense into his friend about the severity of his situation, bring about the best instances of pitch black humour. “Have you ever tried talking to a corpse? It’s boring!”
The gore is infrequent but nasty and Rick Baker’s special effects were absolutely ground breaking in their day and still hold up well today. Whilst it wasn’t met with a very warm critical response upon its first release (apart from the outstanding special effects), it still did well at the box-office and has only grown in stature over the years. The film is now a genuine cult classic.
4. Re-Animator (1985)
Based on the H. P. Lovecraft story “Herbert West–Reanimator”, this delightful black horror-comedy is an absolute classic and one of the best of the genre.
The story deals with the brilliant but obsessed medical student Herbert West (a pitch-perfect performance by Jeffrey Combs) who has invented a green fluorescent serum which can bring dead matter back alive. The only side-effect seems to be that whatever corpse is injected with the potion not only comes back to life but is also transformed into a bloodthirsty violent zombie. When another doctor at the university where Herbert West works takes an immediate dislike in him, it doesn’t take long for the place to be overrun by violent cadavers.
Highlights here are the re-animated cat and a decapitated body which performs cunnilingus on a strapped down girl, holding its own head in its hands. Yes…it’s that type of movie.
3. Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Whilst the title of this movie might lead you to believe that it is part of Romero’s zombie film series, it isn’t although the movies are somewhat closely related (apart from the fact that they both deal with zombies). John A. Russo, who co-wrote Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, had the rights to the term “living dead” after the two parted ways (hence Romero’s sequels do not contain the word “living”). As Night of the Living Dead was initially intended to be a horror-comedy, Russo decided he should also make a “semi-sequel” but this time make it a funny one and boy did he succeed.
Return of the Living Dead deals with a bunch of punks, who spend the night in a graveyard, next to a medical supply warehouse where the zombie virus has just been unleashed from a barrel that contained a zombie specimen from an earlier outbreak (referencing The Night of the Living Dead) and which was lost by the US military. It doesn’t take long before all the corpses from the cemetery and most of the people around it are turned into brain-craving zombies.
A very welcome and at times hilariously funny take on the zombie genre, the movie managed to spawn at least five sequels (none of them even approximating the quality of the first one) and quite possibly one of the most memorable zombies ever to grace the screen: Tarman. If you’ve seen this movie, you’ll know the one I’m talking about. Another absolute classic of the genre, Return of the Living Dead is not to be missed by fans. “Moooooore Braaaaaains”.
2. Braindead (aka Dead Alive) (1992)
How Peter Jackson managed to go from Bad Taste in1987 to Braindead (released as Dead Alive in the US), with only one bizarre puppet film in between, remains a mystery to me but it is undeniable that the quality difference is startling and that with Braindead he managed to make one of the goriest and possibly the most absurd zombie film ever.
Lionel Cosgrove is a shy mama’s boy in 1957’s Wellington. One day as he visits the zoo with his mother, she is bitten by a Sumatran Rat-Monkey, gets sick and dies. Of course, she comes back to life as a flesh-craving zombie. Lionel, the good son that he is, tries to still take care of her but as she manages to kill more and more townsfolk, the amount of zombies which he has to hide in his house grows steadily, complicating matters with the girl he has a crush on.
Ultimately, Lionel realises that the situation is beyond his control and decides to euthanize the zombies but injects them by mistake with animal stimulant instead of poison. They seem to die at first but when his uncle throws a huge party at his house, the zombies come back with a vengeance, which results in possibly the goriest finale of any film ever to have graced the screen.
Braindead is truly a movie in a league of its own. No movie has ever pushed the limits of gore and bloody absurdity further than this Peter Jackson masterpiece. Whilst it might not be a film for everybody, anybody who appreciates this type of movie will be in awe of what’s on display here. Sublime.
1. Evil Dead II – Dead By Dawn (1987)
The undisputed king of horror-comedies and all things cool is undoubtedly Evil Dead II. Whilst Sam Raimi produced a fantastic independent low-budget horror film with the original The Evil Dead, the success of that movie allowed him to revisit and sort of remake it, the way he had originally envisioned it. The result was a sequel which was a lot funnier. Though had he been able to secure an even larger budget, Raimi would have made his medieval story, which was later produced as Evil Dead III. Thank God he didn’t.
The story of a bunch of people trapped in a demon infested cabin in the woods is secondary. What counts here are the endless sight-gags, the incredibly kinetic and frantic camera movements, the inventive special effects and the legendary over-the-top performance by leading man Bruce Campbell as Ash (which would turn the actor himself into a bona fide cult figure). A true rollercoaster ride which is perhaps best described as Tex Avery antics shot through a Herschell Gordon Lewis lens, Evil Dead II is a unique film, which stands in a league of its own. Even Braindead cannot top the kinetic onslaught of insanity on display here.
Amongst the classic moments are a POV shot of a flying eyeball finding its way into a woman’s mouth, Ash’s hand being possessed and trying to knock him out and Ash ultimately cutting it off and replacing it with a chainsaw to kick some demon butt. A true masterpiece in its genre, Evil Dead II has to been experienced to be believed and has never been topped when it comes to sheer bravura and combining scares with laughs. Groovy.
Author Bio: Emilio has been a movie buff for as long as he can remember and holds a Masters Degree in Cinema Studies from the University of Amsterdam. Critical and eclectic in taste, he has been described to “love film but hate all movies”. For daily suggestions on what to watch, check out his Just Good Movies Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/goodmoviesuggestions.