The latest list in sound of sights month long look at the greatest horror films ever is taking a different look on the horror genre. There is a very narrow line that divides finding something funny and scary, which is exactly the sort of film this list is celebrating. As a genre there is two ways you can address the comedy horror. The first and the much more popular route is comedy about horror, these films rarely attempt to attain any qualities other than a comedic jibe at the genre. If you were to pick one classic example it would be Young Frankenstein – a film that satirises early horror and Frankenstein in what is close to comedy perfection (the Gene Wilder effect). The contemporary take on the genre has given the world some of the worst films of recent times in the Scary Movie franchise and its brood of mutant off-shoots.
The second angle to the comedy horror sub-genre is more keeping to the genre’s intentions; films that work within the framework of any given sub-genre whilst being funny too. I would say the pre-requisite for these films is for them to be as funny as they are scary, but as any genre buff will attest, there are more ways for a horror film to be effective than through fear alone. I would say that these films would be the perfect entry points for people new to horror but some of these titles are very explicitly violent. For a while one of them had the title of “the goriest film ever made”, whether that is still true today I’m not sure.
28 – Critters
Far from a classic, Critters sees a Kansas farm attacked by a hoard of hungry flesh-eating aliens with razor sharp teeth and an attitude to match. The family who inhabit a nearby farm must seek the help of a local drunk and his bounty hunting friends to save the day. These rotund balls with teeth view everything with new eyes which results in the aliens offing themselves in varied and stupid ways, the real comedy, however, comes from their design and how they navigate the environment. The critters bounce around the environment like the huge balls they are, an interesting juxtaposition when you consider these harmless looking balls of hair want to eat everything, houses and people alike. Also, the inter-galactic bounty hunters searching for the critters blow everything up with their huge cannons like a Terminator which an even thinner grasp on reality.
27 – Fright Night
I’ll come right out and say it; I honestly preferred the remake. While more of a straight horror than its parent, it was impossible not to be won over by Colin Farrell’s manipulative and animalistic vampire. Nevertheless the 1985 is a vital entry of the comedy/horror hybrid genre. A point that deserves mentioning about fright night is just how of its time it is; Tom Holland’s movie is one of the most quintessentially 1980s movies you could ever hope to see. It is a decade where things that play with popular culture date the least kindly. As a film though, Holland paid homage to one of the greatest suspense films of all time in Rear Window, only with added vampires and a hearty amount of camp excess. More memorable than any of this is the most enduring image of my childhood, that iconic vampire smile.
26 – Wild Zero
Chances are you won’t have heard of Wild Zero. Japanese garage/noise rock band Guitar Wolf star in this Jap-curio. Ace is a huge fan of Guitar Wolf and follows their example, living his life as they do, even if he is a bit of a loser, a story beat that informs the development of the story. While this is happening a race of aliens unleashes a terror on earth that turns man into army of zombies, naturally it’s up to Guitar Wolf to save the day. Wild Zero has amateur actors and practical effects that would look dated in the 80s. It is ultimately nothing more than a transparent vehicle for the band, yet there is something there, hidden away. The stupidity of the survivors, the ways in which the zombified retain their personality as well the inventive ways the zombies are killed collaborate to make an endlessly fun watch. Whether that was the intended result remains to be seen.
25 – The Happiness Of The Katakuri’s
Takashi Miike is one of the strangest and most prolific Japanese auteurs working today, no films attests to his eccentricity greater than The Happiness Of the Katakuri’s, a remake (of sorts) of Kim Jee-Woon’s directorial debut the Quiet Family. The premise for that film followed a family moving to the countryside away from the bustle of the big city to run a hotel only for the customers to die in a range of mysterious ways. Miike has taken that concept and turned into a musical with zombies, Claymation and deaths that tread closer to slapstick than anything. A sumo wrestler and his young girlfriend visit the hotel, the pair are having sex (with the wrestler on top) only for him to have a heart attack and die suffocating his girlfriend underneath his heft. Far more comedy than horror, Happiness Of The Katakuri’s is included in this because of the horror iconography being played alongside that of Gone with the Wind. It might be the most playful entry into it the last, but when its one of Miike’s best films it’s more than deserving of its place.
24 – Tokyo Zombie
Fujio (Tadanobu Asano) and Mitsuo (Sho Aikawa) spend their free time wrestling. Their boss interrupts one day and starts yelling at them. After a heart attack, they dump his body on Black Fuji, a mountain of trash that contains everything, from everyday trash to bodies. The chemicals in the mountain cause the dead to rise, and now Tokyo has some real problems. It’s a simple film which takes to the comedy angle of the genre, all you need to know about Tokyo Zombie with its J-punk rock soundtrack, is that it stars the finest living Japanese actor in Tadanobu Asano with an afro, wrestling zombies. That ticks both boxes and then some as far as I’m concerned.
23 – Slither
James Gunn’s breakthrough Slither and its shotgun approach to the genre is a work of immense affection. Slither sees an alien life-form crash-landing on earth, infecting Michael Rooker turning him into a giant slug creature who then turns everybody else in town into zombies through small slug’s entering the mouth. With plot points and references ranging from the creature feature and body horror to the zombie film, there’s plenty of splatter and slime to share around. The locals might be charactertures, but the way in which they struggle and fail to come to terms with the chaos brings up plenty of laughs. Also, Slither is one of the few films that successfully adopt the gore as humour ideal; when gore and splatter becomes so excessive the only way to react is to laugh.
22 – Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon
The slasher has a slew of genre films that point out and make fun of the genre conventions, very few of which are as clever as this. Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon takes place in a world where Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and Freddie Krueger are not the work of fiction, but real. Allowing a camera crew to follow him Leslie Vernon shares the reality of the serial killer, the tricks of the trade and what is psychically and mentally required to be a masked murderer. There are some memorable gags and one liners, pointing out the predictability of the behaviour patterns of the slasher victims. Best of all, the way it humanises and makes a likeable person out of Leslie before the documentary makers turn the cameras off and it mutates into a straight slasher for the final run in, makes for a special film.
21 – Fearless Vampire Killers
When people think of Roman Polanski, they think of Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown and the multiple tragedies of his personal life. The last thing they think of is Fearless Vampire Killers. For such a film to be disregarded is truly is a shame because there is a lot of merit here, with the pale vistas, desolate landscapes and a unique take on the myths of the vampire. The titular vampire hunters are discovering the vampire through trial and error, they also aren’t quite as fearless as the title suggests, and giving the horror angles a relatable spin. Unlike many of the other entries on this list, FVK puts the comedy before the horror with pratfalls and witty lines at plenty, that’s not to say the horror isn’t there it’s just confined to certain scenes. First and foremost, Fearless Vampire Killers is very funny. A standout is the scene in which one of our vampire hunters tries to use a crucifix on a vampire for it not to work because he is Jewish.
20 – Spider BABY, or The Maddest Story Ever Told
Bold film making from the late 60s, not only does it include a family of mentally damaged adults there is also lines to be drawn between this and Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There’s a scene towards the end of Spider Baby that begs the question that the similarity isn’t coincidental but much more direct. These damaged adults behave like children and have murderous tendencies and are looked after by Lon Chaney Jr. (Bruno). Their childlike behaviour makes for some sweet moments and there’s a nice recurring sight gag that develops a darker edge. Spider Baby presents a unique play on the popular horror trope of paedophobia, young adults with the behaviour pattern of small children seeking to kill their house guests. The meaning behind the name provides some great horror shenanigans too.
19 – The Frighteners
Long before the over bloated cinematic odysseys that were the Lord of the Rings and King Kong, Peter Jackson was a highly accomplished maker of genre films; this being the first of two entries. Michael J. Foxx puts in a career high performance as the anti-hero of the piece in Frank Bannister who abuses his ability to see the dead to con people out of money with his impromptu “exorcisms”. That is until the mystery behind him being able to see ghosts comes back to haunt his life and unsparingly kill off people the town. The Frighteners is a comedy action film just as much as it is a horror, with themes of the ghost story and slasher recurring regularly. The star and source of all the best jokes is one of the icons of the B-Movie in Jeffrey Combs as the manic FBI agent Milton Dammers.
18 – Hot Fuzz
Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frosts’ second big screen adaptation and the second instalment of the Blood and Ice-cream trilogy – Hot Fuzz. At face value, this film is a loving homage to action police films and television shows of the 70’s and 80’s, the reason that it is included into this list is that it is also a slasher. The deaths that are happening around the small English village are fresh from a slasher film, just as bloodily as any entry on the list, including a gargoyle being pushed from a church roof onto someone’s head. As ever with anything these three writers are involved in, there is a constant barrage of jokes poking fun at a variety of things from and not exclusive to popular culture, the sleepy small town and how different the police force is compared to the romanticised version.
17 – Versus
Ryuhei Kitamura has had a mixed career to date, from Midnight Meat Train and the ill-judged Godzilla: Final Wars to the two “sexy teenage ninja” movies in Azumi and Sky High, the highlight of his career so far, though, is his breakout film, Versus. A convoluted story, messily told, Versus opens with a statement about how there are 666 portals that connect this world to the other side. These are concealed from all human beings. Somewhere in Japan is the 444th portal… the forest of resurrection. A battle of good versus evil ensues with another entry into that elusive group of films that successfully adopt the gore as humour ideal. A scene in which a zombie uses his limbs like spider legs has all his limbs chopped off by the hero, yet he doesn’t die he continues to flop about on the floor alive. Versus is over the top in every conceivable way, enjoyably so.
16 – Zombieland
The breakthrough for perennial cinema-nerd Jessie Eisenberg and director Ruben Fleischer is Zombieland. Merging together the road trip genre and the zombie film is another unique take on the zombie sub-genre. If anything has become apparent through writing this list, it’s the amount of comedy takes on the zombie. While the film does nothing particular bold for a piece of genre cinema other than the inclusion of the brilliant Woody Harrelson and includes everybody’s least favourite zombies (the running ones). On the other hand, as a comedy it stands head and shoulders above the competition for three reasons, the first is thanks to the running gag of zombie kill of the week (won by an elderly woman dropping a piano on a zombie). Second is Bill Murray, I don’t want to mention that any further for fear of running one of the best cameo’s I’ve seen for years. Lastly is the running gag of visualised rules to survive the apocalypse. It might favour the comedy over the horror, but when you have so much going for you on that angle there’s plenty there that make Zombieland such a firm fan favourite.
15 -Dog Soldiers
Neil Marshall is one of the select few British directors who has made horror films that are worthy of your time, the other being the magnificent (the) Descent. Dog Soldiers follows a troop of soldiers who are on training movements through woods in deepest darkest Scotland only for them to be set upon by wolves. They take refuge in a nearby house only to be overwhelmed in the night by scores of werewolves. Admittedly the werewolves do look a bit cheap, but the concept and the set-pieces are all nervy, jumpy and relatable to the iconic archetypes of the genre. Unlike some entries, the humour is always organic and straight. The actors aren’t playing for laughs; the dialogue is natural and sardonic which allows for some dark moments of comic relief.
14 – Rare Exports
YouTube hit turned movie, Rare Exports is about a boy called Pietari who believes in the magic of Santa Claus. Don’t be mistaken though as this isn’t the same Santa who brings you presents, this couldn’t be further away from the coca cola image, Pietari believes in the Finnish version. In Finnish folklore Santa does some brutal things to bad children, much worse than a lump of coal. Nearby up a hill there is a camp of American workers who are digging something up, something big. They are on an excavation to retrieve Santa, and when they finally do get him he is coming for you. While not a comedy per se, the inclusion of Santa as a figure of horror provides memorable and most importantly funny dialogue. It’s another example where the ludicrous is played straight, that alone provides some well-placed laughs.
13 – Tremors
Whenever I want to watch a film late on a Saturday night, Tremors always figures somewhere in there with it’s perfectly pitch mix of 1950’s creature feature and invasion scenario horror. The “graboid’s” are one of those horror monsters who you don’t see for long stretches but the threat of their presence is always there lingering away. It’s a hopeless situation for these people, one made worse by them being surrounded by sand the very same environment what the mysterious creature dominates at the top of the food chain. A concept sold by the friendship between a young Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward, constantly goading each other and challenging each other despite the fact that these huge monsters stalk their every movement. Tremors is one of those rare horror films that is both good and can be watched by the whole family.
12 – Scream
Wes Craven is one of the genre kings and in Scream, one of his career defining pictures, metatextuality is king. Scream was the rebuttal to the state of the slasher in the mid-90s, a rebuttal that was presented through the medium of the slasher. Ignoring all the sequels which begged the question whether he was making bad films as a comment on the poor nature of the genre or whether the proceeding films just weren’t very good. The original sequel is the only film in the series that matters. In the film, a killer known as “ghost face” begins killing off teenagers, and as the body count begins rising, one girl and her friends find themselves contemplating the “Rules” of horror films as they find themselves living in a real-life one. While not an overtly jokey film, the laughs come from the situations which lovingly recreate genre clichés, pointing out how stupid such films are whilst falling into same pitfalls. This may ruin many films, but the thing which elevates Scream above the chaff is how successful it is as a genre film (both slasher and murder mystery) and a satire which shattering the fourth wall.
11 – Gremlins
Joe Dante is the king of horror for kids and there is no greater example than Gremlins, we’ll pretend its awful sequel doesn’t exist. The original sees the adorable mogwai Gizmo be fed after midnight and came into contact with water, the two things you should never do. Spitting out of Gizmo’s back come some nasty little monsters that destroy the town in sea of violence of chaos. This is a film that follows the most celebrated ideal of its not what you see but what you can imagine via these monsters scurrying around town, all you can hear is there manic laughter. It’s one of the only entries on this list where the balance between horror and comedy is about perfect, for every scene of manic energy there is a scene whose sole intention is to unsettle. My favourite scene, and by turn the one that scared me most as a kid is when Stripe jumps into the local public swimming pool, then at the other end of the spectrum, the town becomes silent as gremlin-kind watches Snow White.
10 -Night Of The Creeps
Following on from Fright Night, Night Of The Creeps directed by Fred Dekker is another quintessentially 80s movie. Dekker was also responsible for Monster Squad in 1987. Night of the Creeps and Slither have a lot in common, not just because of the homage that James Gunn paid by having slugs aliens diving down people’s throats to infect them with a zombie like state, they also both have a massive affection for the genre. The names of the characters express this perfectly; George Romero, Sam Raimi, John Carpenter and John Landis were referenced. Taking place on prom night, one of the infected who has been kept in cryogenic sleep since 1959 breaks free thanks to two nerdy students trying to impress a frat house which is in turn to impress a beautiful girl on campus. From this we are led into a zombie film turned slasher, admittedly the practical effects have dated badly, especially with the infected animals. It might have always been the intention to make people laugh through the inclusion of zombified household pets, but through the aging of these scenes the comedy value has risen exponentially. There is also a brilliant script, the basic plot might not be up to much, the dialogue however allows for a tender and sweet friendship between Jason Lively and Steve Marshall, as well as plenty of laughs and jump moments. Allow me to quote a line of dialogue delivered by Tom Atkins, “The good news is your dates are here. The bad news is… they’re dead.”
9- Bubba Ho Tep
Picture the scene for a second, the Elvis who died was look alike with a striking resemblance and JFK is still alive but because of political reasons his skin was dyed and he went into hiding, now picture Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis playing the roles. Based on a script by Joe R. Lansdale and Adapted for the screen by Phantasm director Don Coscarelli, we see the retirement home that JFK and Elvis live at besieged by a mummy feeding on the life energy of the elderly. The dark and desolate halls of the retirement home builds up a presence of malice and dread, and unlike certain other films, the mummy (the titular Bubba Ho-Tep) is rarely seen. The real high point of the film, alongside the audacious concept, is the dialogue which has a certain lo-fi Raimi quality; the characters are usually annoyed at the world and do something about it. Enter Elvis to kick ass and save the day.
8- Tucker And Dale Versus Evil
A play on the archetype of dangerous hillbillies is Tucker And Dale Versus Evil. A group of college students are heading to the Deep South for good times during the summer break, focusing more on the beer they have forgotten than the road they nearly crash into some locals. These very same locals are best friends and thoroughly nice guys Dale and Tucker. When they all meet in the nearby woods, where misunderstandings are played with to hilarious and grisly effects. The students believe the hillbillies to be pure evil and up to nefarious, murderous ends and Dale and Tucker believe the kids are part of some suicide cult. Playing within the rules of the genre results in a constant barrage of laughs, there’s also a stellar reference to Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
7- Return Of The Living Dead
The first in a franchise of punk rock zombie films, return of the living dead sees the zombie mass at their most invulnerable. Centred on a cemetery, we see the zombies released into the world by a boss showing off, essentially, to a new recruit which leads to a gas being emitted that brings anything that was dead back to life. Anything, there’s a small dissected model of a dog which comes back to life even though it’s been cut in two. As many zombie films have stated before, how do you kill that which isn’t alive? Return Of The Living Dead answers that question simply, you can’t kill zombies. You can destroy the brain; cut off all their limbs, anything, whatever you do to them they will always draw breath. As terrifying a concept as that is, it also brings about many great set-pieces and laugh out loud moments. The real stars though are there zombies, Tar-Man included, there are some great set pieces as the zombies retain their personality and intellect. The array of inventive ways that the zombie horde sucker people in with varies. Whether they dress up and set the scene for the authorities before jumping them or they simply state “send more paramedics”, down the intercom (a line which was used for a now defunct zombie thrash punk band). As funny as the film is, it’s never anything less than a grimy and authentic zombie picture, right down to the token bleak ending.
6- American Werewolf In London
Alongside Joe Dante’s The Howling, the John Landis directed American Werewolf In London stands at the top of pile for films with the most impressive werewolf transformations, both films present the mutation akin to something fresh out of a body horror. Two American students visit England, going to the wrong pub, aptly titled the slaughtered lamb they are dragged into a world of werewolves. A unique spin it is too, the person who infected David with a werewolf must be killed for the curse to be lifted, and a werewolf is haunted by the people they killed. The connection between the living and the afterlife and the tourist dynamic make American Werewolf in London a fish out water comedy, but more importantly – one of the greatest werewolf films ever made.
5- Attack The Block
An incredibly divisive film in its own country, the true definition of a love/hate film thanks to the nature of the kids featured. First time director and British TV comedy legend Joe Cornish made Attack the Block as an ode to all those horror films that he couldn’t get into as a kid. The result sees an inner city London block of flats attacked by what looks like a cross between a gorilla and a dog with fur blacker than the nights sky and teeth that glow blue. It’s an inspired monster design that fits the architecture of the British inner city perfectly. The script is equal parts natural (thanks to the director getting assistance from the young actors, so the dialogue would be authentic) and dry sarcastic references to popular culture. Playing on the strengths of the locale and the acting talent, Cornish developed a film that was the important shot of adrenaline into British genre cinema whilst capturing the mood of the city-centric alien invasion movie.
Herbert West is a scientist who is investigating the possibility of bringing dead flesh back to life, after brutally killing his senior in the opening scenes (his eyes explode), he moves in with a young student in America to investigate the effects on humans. Made abundantly clear in the opening sequence, this is an excessively gory film, some of which is hard to stomach (the aforementioned exploding eyes, cutting someone’s head off with a spade) and other sequences which are so over the top it becomes slapstick. Just as was the case with The Frighteners, this attains greatness thanks to the performance of Jeffrey Combs. A brilliant character actor who excels with grotesques and weirdo’s and there is nobody more grotesque or weird than Herbert West. A man obsessed with work like the eponymous Dr. Frankenstein and the Lovecraft story it was based on, he has no idea how to deal with people in a grotesque way Re-Animator is fish out of water comedy. Yuzna’s film is also one of the overlords of comedic gore; you need look no further than the scenes with the severed head to illustrate this point.
The second entry for a Peter Jackson film after the frighteners is Braindead (or to go by it’s more common name Dead Alive). Made in his native New Zealand, we see another zombie outbreak this time confined to a house after a woman his bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey. A bite from the animal sees people infected with a zombie like state. The woman’s son Lionel (played energetically by Timothy Balme) tries to prevent the outbreak spreading by knocking out the few zombies he’s kept in his basement with sedatives. He doesn’t just have to stop the zombies eating him; he also has to stop the zombies having sex. He can’t stop them all the time and despite his best efforts a zombie baby is born, a baby who stars in some of the films funniest scenes. Better than any zombie baby though is the scene with the kung Fu priest. As a genre piece, Braindead is rife with seemingly endless gore; there are gallons of the red stuff. Whether it is still true today, I am not sure, but once upon a time this film was labelled the goriest film ever made. This is thanks to one of the climactic scenes in which Lionel kills a room full of the living dead with a lawnmower. It’s long overdue for Jackson to head back to his roots and make another bloody disgusting horror film. I would rather see another one of those than another one of his over bloated epics.
2-Evil Dead 2
In the UK, the Evil Dead was one of the most controversial films of the 1980’s, a lead name in the notorious collection of ‘video nasties’. Six years later the same film was remade with a much stronger focus on comedy than the red stuff which garnered its predecessor with such controversy. With Evil Dead 2, Sam Raimi found his niche and built upon it, here the mastery with the camera and sound effects were housed within a film where Raimi’s brother Ted and Bruce Campbell could run free with their manic energy. Campbell’s psychical presence and the way he threw himself around the room, fighting himself, with a straight face made him a star of the B-movie and horror world. Then there is the one liner, Bruce Campbell has such a command of the witty one liner it’s almost as if they were invented for him.
1- Shaun Of The Dead
Mockingly labelled as a rom-zom-com on release, Shaun of the dead is one of the very few romantic comedies that takes place with the backing of the zombie apocalypse. The romantic comedy aspect of Wright/Pegg and Frost’s big cinema hit might not be fresh or new in any way other than the pathetic nature of the antagonist yet it still provides laughs for the simple reason that these people act how we do behind closed doors. It also helps that Nick Frosts character Ed has furiously filthy mouth. The zombie side of things is a love story to the work of Romero, a fact that the king of zombie-kind acknowledged by giving Edgar Wright and Shaun Pegg cameo’s in the underwhelming Land of the Dead. Story beats can be followed from the entire original dead trilogy – the media coverage from night and dawn, even the same lines are pitched from the news media. The tower block is there from Dawn Of The Dead. The isolation in a single location is there, (from each entry) only for the zombie mass to invade thanks to the stupidity of one of the survivors. As far as zombie homages go, Shaun Of The Dead is just about note perfect.
Honorary mentions or films I didn’t get around to seeing:
Director of the Re-Animator trilogy Brian Yuzna’s debut – Society, as well as the two follow ups to Re-Animator (Bride Of & Beyond). As also mentioned in the Night Of The Creeps run down, its director Fred Dekker also made Monster Squad, which I didn’t have the time to re-watch. If memory serves me correctly, it would fit perfectly into the list in the same class of horror films as Critters, Tremors and Gremlins. Bad Taste, Satan’s Little Helper, Undead, Murder Party and Feast are some of those I didn’t see either. Rubber could be classified in this group too, but as surreal the concept is, the delusions of grandeur result in a film that takes itself too seriously. The same goes for Black Sheep, it most definitely fits within the mould and has some decent zombie and body horror beats backed up by fantastic practical effects from WETA, yet its let down by being guilty of having more style than substance.
- Rob Simpson