10 classic horror comedies
The soon-to-be-released “World’s End” is just the latest in a long line of those hard-to-kill hybrids — scary movies that are also funny. Here’s a list of some of the best films starring creatures and comedy.
San Francisco Chronicle
LOS ANGELES — When is a horror comedy not a horror comedy?
When it’s too funny or too scary? In most cases, the answer is when it is neither. But let’s put such unfortunate incidents aside.
We are helpfully informed that this week’s “The World’s End” is the final part of an apparent trilogy by filmmakers Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg. The trailers make it look as if “Children of the Corn” meets “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” with lots of pub jokes. By the way, what makes “The World’s End,” 1970s cop-movie sendup “Hot Fuzz” and low-key zombie spoof “Shaun of the Dead” clump together is that in each one, a character orders a particular brand of British ice cream (Cornetto). Thus, the “Cornetto Trilogy.” Seriously.
But back to the notion of horror comedies. For instance, do “Slither” and “Young Frankenstein” belong in the same genre? The former is a sci-fi/horror flick with flesh-rending monsters, buckets of blood and some humor; the latter, a fond parody of the 1931 James Whale classic.
These very different films are part of a long-standing tradition: Harold Lloyd quietly got into some Scooby-Doo-like trouble in 1920’s “Haunted Spooks”; the “Abbott and Costello Meet (insert famous film monster here)” series started in 1948.
Today, the hybrid genre is undead and well, as evidenced by the more than 100 qualifying entries on IMDb’s list of 2013-14 releases. These include “Warm Bodies,” “A Haunted House” and “A Haunted House 2.” They also include lesser lights with gotta-be-good titles such as “Zombeavers,” “Silent But Deadly” and “Bach From the Dead” (“Great musicians never die ... they just decompose”).
Some of the best horror comedies generate scares while trafficking in the very absurdity of their monsters (“Zombieland,” “The Cabin in the Woods”). Other, more deadpan efforts create such tension that laughter is almost stabbed out of the viewer (“Baghead”). Others still simply go for parody — the highly lucrative “Scary Movie” franchise comes to mind.
The lines can be blurred — it’s difficult to consider “Ghostbusters” here because of its total lack of horror. We ain’t, in fact, afraid of no ghosts. Is “From Dusk ’Til Dawn” jokey enough to fit in? Does “Scream” count? And why is it so hard to find an intentionally funny vampire movie?
Here are some favorites that could be loosely stuffed into the same casket:
“Young Frankenstein”: Perhaps too absurd to really belong, but since it is one of the funniest movies of all time, here it is anyway. Mel Brooks directs a stellar cast, including Cloris Leachman absolutely killing it as Frau Blücher.
“Baghead”: The genre beyonder, apparently made for $20 in someone’s backyard, is a shining example of what can be done with nothing but talent and ingenuity. And an excellent performance by Greta Gerwig. Real scares, real laughs and, most surprisingly, real heart.
“Zombieland”: After this, “28 Days Later,” the “Dawn of the Dead” remake and “World War Z,” only zombie purists could argue for George A. Romero’s shambling flesh-eaters over the sprinting variety — in the same way that baseball purists pooh-poohed interleague play, the wild card and night games at Wrigley Field.
“The Cabin in the Woods”: One thing the best often share is meta-genre savvy. “Cabin” has it in spades. It’s an exercise in horror clichés exploited, explained and surgically fused in a single narrative universe. If that sounds hoity-toity, there is also plenty of hot-teens-chased-by-monsters fun.
“Return of the Living Dead”: Speaking of meta-genre savvy, in this ’80s time capsule, punk types discover that “Night of the Living Dead” was based on a true story. “Brainnnns!”
“Evil Dead 2”: You could make a case for any entry in this series. The first two definitely lean more toward horror than the third, but a wicked sense of humor courses through all.
“An American Werewolf in London”: This film was a revelation for cineastes of a certain age.
“Tremors”: Rollicking fun, with the dad from “Family Ties” freaking us out as a survivalist dude.
“Slither”: If you’re a fanboy and haven’t seen this: (a) turn in your fanboy card, and (b) Netflix it — this is the guy (James Gunn) who’s directing the forthcoming “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
“Attack the Block”: The student becomes the master as Joe Cornish, a Wright and Pegg kind-of protégé, surpasses them with this fast, funny, location-specific alien-siege flick.