It’s almost inevitable every Halloween – that one friend in your group who doesn’t like getting scared puts the kibosh on watching horror movies. Or maybe you’re that friend who wants to get into the spirit of the season, but doesn’t want to get too frightened. Fear not, for here are a collection of horror comedies designed for laughs as well as screams, complete with a handy guide to tell you just how tame or terrifying each movie is.
The Cabin in the Woods
The Cabin in the Woods is at the top of this list because it's an incredible subversion of horror tropes. The titular cabin is the setting for the film, where a group of hapless college students is caught up in a global conspiracy to keep the elder gods below happy. In order to do this, a team of engineers located beneath the cabin orchestrate traditional horror techniques to kill off their victims as a form of ritual sacrifice.
The film deals heavily in horror stereotypes. In order to appease the elder gods, the sacrifices must be very specific. They include the deaths of an athlete, a scholar, a fool, and a promiscuous woman. The final sacrifice, that of the virgin, is optional. Written by director Drew Goddard and Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon, Cabin has a great horror pedigree. It's funny, smart, and features lots of little nods to the very horror movies it's taking apart.
How scary is it? Cabin features a few scary moments, but they're pretty heavily undermined by the concept of the control room below. It's definitely a gory film, but much of the violence is comedic, especially in the second half.
An American Werewolf in London
An American Werewolf in London is the granddaddy of all horror comedies. Written and directed by comedy master John Landis, American Werewolf helped found the genre when it was released in 1981. The film tells the story of two college students who are attacked by a werewolf. One of them dies but cannot go on to the afterlife until the werewolf is killed, while the other becomes a werewolf himself.
American Werewolf features a great soundtrack (Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising" is used to great effect) and stellar performances from its leads. It also shows off some incredible special effects, including a werewolf transformation scene that is as scary as it is gross. This is one horror comedy that blends the two genres perfectly, and is as terrifying as it is funny.
How scary is it? An American Werewolf in London shouldn't be too bad for viewers used to today's gory films, though there are a few uncomfortable moments. It's a classic, and even viewers who avoid the nasty stuff should check it out.
Shaun of the Dead
The first of director Edgar Wright's Cornetto Trilogy, Shaun of the Dead is a hilarious look at what people might actually do if zombies were real. The average person isn't an ace zombie fighter, and protagonist Shaun is about as ill-equipped for the apocalypse as possible. His idea of a battle strategy involves picking up his loved ones and hiding in a pub until it all "blows over". Filled with funny moments and lines that quickly became catchphrases, Shaun of the Dead is a horror comedy with a dark sense of humor and a big heart.
How scary is it? This one's middle-of-the-road scary. There are definitely some frightening moments, but the funny ones are close behind.
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
Much like The Cabin in the Woods, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is a subversion of horror tropes. The movie centers on two blue-collar guys who buy a fishing cabin and go out to fix it up one weekend. A group of teens is out partying at a nearby cabin the same weekend, and when one of the teens falls and nearly drowns, our titular heroes rescue her. The problem is, her friends think that Tucker and Dale kidnapped her and are actually evil hillbillies. This comedy of errors only worsens as the teens kill themselves off one by one in horrific accidents. The most gruesome (and funniest) of these happens when a teen trips and goes straight into a woodchipper.
Tucker is portrayed by Alan Tudyk, who is clearly having a blast being a cranky, world-weary guy who just wants a break. His best friend, the optimistic Dale, is played by Tyler Labine. The film is very funny and makes a good point about assuming the worst in people.
How scary is it? Not at all, though it is gory. Most of the violence is cartoonish or for comedic effect, however.
What We Do in the Shadows
Created by the same guys who brought us Flight of the Conchords, What We Do in the Shadows isn't just a horror comedy, it's also a mockumentary. The faux documentary follows a group of vampires around New Zealand as they explain what it's like to be undead. There are some fantastic send-ups of vampiric lore, including a Nosferatu-esque vampire, a vampire that's clearly based on Dracula, and some hilarious encounters with werewolves. The movie is getting a sequel about the werewolves (cleverly titled We're Wolves) sometime soon. What We Do in the Shadows is a bloody brilliant bit of filmmaking with a refreshing take on the well-tread vampire genre.
How scary is it? Not at all. It's also one of the least violent films on this list, and probably the safest for the squeamish (save for one bit of vampiric puke that's super gross).
Kiwis must really have a thing for mixing horror and comedy. The second of four New Zealand film on this list, Housebound is a funny and frightening film about a young woman under house arrest in a creepy home with old secrets. Protagonist Kylie left home after feuding with her mother for years. She pursued a life of crime, and after getting caught, ended up right back where she started, trapped in a house with her mother. Kylie's mom believes in the paranormal, but Kylie doesn't, at least in the beginning. Things start getting really weird around Kylie's personal prison, and Housebound takes incredible twists and turns. This is a movie where spoilers should be avoided.
How scary is it? Housebound is very scary in places, but it's also very funny. This is one film where both sides of the horror comedy spectrum are played to their fullest.
The Frighteners, helmed by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, barely made an impact when it debuted in the U.S. despite doing well in its native New Zealand. It found a following on home video, however, and is often hailed as one of the best horror comedies. The Frighteners stars Michael J. Fox as a man who develops the ability to communicate with the dead after his wife dies in a tragic accident. He uses his powers to con people, sending ghosts to haunt them only to charge exorbant fees to "exorcise" the ghosts.
When he discovers that the spirit of a mass murderer is going around killing people and posing as the Grim Reaper, our hero finally uses his powers for good to track the spirit down and send him packing. The Frighteners is silly and scary, and features Fox in his last leading feature-film role.
How scary is it? The Frighteners really isn't too scary, and definitely leans heavily toward the comedy side of things. There are ghosts and killings, but they're not too bad.
Evil Dead 2
Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead was made for a tiny budget and was intended to be a true horror film. His sequel/soft reboot, Evil Dead 2, expanded on the horror elements of the first film while including more comedy. Star Bruce Campbell is a physical comedy genius, and he has a ball here, throwing himself around like a rag doll. Evil Dead 2 is about a group of college students who go to a cabin in the woods and accidentally unleash ancient evil. It's a tried and true trope that allows the film to get as nasty as it wants. A great deal of the humor in Evil Dead 2 is based on being gross, so it's not a film for the squeamish.
How scary is it? Evil Dead 2 is less scary than its predecessor, but it still has some spooky moments. Most of the horror and comedy here is derived from violent gags, so expect lots of blood, gore, and pus.
Before he made The Frighteners, Peter Jackson made one of the nastiest horror comedies ever committed to celluloid. Released as Braindead in its native New Zealand and Dead Alive in the U.S., the film is horrifically violent and disgusting, but very, very funny. The low-budget gorefest is about a zombie virus carried by "Rat-monkeys" that infects a small town in New Zealand in 1957. Our hero, Lionel Cosgrove, attempts to defeat the zombies and keep his loved ones safe with hilarious and heinous results.
Dead Alive follows in the tradition of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead films and the work of Troma's Lloyd Kaufman. It's vulgar, violent, and vile. Dead Alive features a zombie killing kung fu priest who "kicks ass in the name of the Lord", a zombie baby in a blender, and a lawnmower as a weapon. It's zany, but this is one horror comedy for those who have seen all of the more mainstream films on this list.
How scary is it? Dead Alive is never really scary, but it is incredibly disgusting. Consider yourselves warned.
There are plenty of other great horror comedies out there, so here are some that rock our socks off but didn't quite make the list for one reason or another: Zombieland, Fright Night, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, Slither, The Final Girls, John Dies at the End, and Gremlins.