The Best Movie Ever | Horror Comedies
Everyone has their favorite horror comedy, but everyone also admits that they’re pretty hard to do right. Screaming in terror is basically the polar opposite of laughing out loud, so a bad horror comedy might be too scary to make you laugh, or too darned silly to be convincing as a horror movie. Sometimes, however, a filmmaker gets it just right.
So while everyone debates the quality of the new Ghostbusters (mostly, as of this publication anyway, without having seen it), we wanted to take a hard look at the best horror comedies our critics actually HAVE seen. We asked our panel – Crave’s William Bibbiani and Witney Seibold, and Collider’s Brian Formo – to reach into their vast knowledge of the horror comedy subgenre and each pick just one film to single out as the best ever made.
Find out which horror-comedies they picked, let us know your favorites, and come back every Wednesday for more highly debatable installments of The Best Movie Ever!
Witney Seibold’s Pick: Young Frankenstein (1974)
Laughter and fear are, on the emotional spectrum, pretty much polar opposites. One denotes the magical uncontrolled explosion of good will from deep within the human soul, and the other denotes unease and a general suspicion of the world in general. Blending the two extremes, then, is a naturally enjoyable juxtaposition often mused upon by artists, comedians, and smart alecks everywhere. Since the early days of cinema, filmmakers have attempted to blend the tropes of horror and comedy, with only rare success. When a horror comedy works, it’s often held in high regard (there a reason The Rocky Horror Picture Show continues to persist as a cult phenomenon), and some horror comedies have come to shape the minds of generations (you try arguing with any member of Generation X or Y that Ghostbusters isn’t the best movie of all time).
But the pinnacle of the blended genre came in 1974, when Mel Brooks gathered on the 40-year-old set of James Whale’s already-pretty-comedic Bride of Frankenstein to make what is the funniest and most savvy horror satire of all time: Young Frankenstein.
Young Frankenstein looks and feels very much like the classic and indelible Universal monster movies of the 1930s, right down to it’s pretty great-looking black-and-white photography. The castles, spooky interiors, and flashing lightning is all pretty accurate. But Brooks, eager to lampoon, manages to goof on every known element. In this version, the secret doorway slams shut on someone’s face. Brains are stolen from a handy neighborhood brain bank. Igor’s hump might be moving from side to side. And the monster, cobbled together from pilfered corpses, is a dancing man about down who sings the chorus of “Putting on the Ritz.” The film has become perhaps all too familiar to horror and comedy fans, but still possesses its lovely atmosphere, killer jokes, and amazing performances from the likes of Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, Teri Garr, Madeline Kahn, Peter Boyle, and Kenneth Mars.
William Bibbiani’s Pick: Ghostbusters (1984)
Ghostbusters is one of those movies that seems to surpass the geeky concept of subgenres. Functionally it is a horror story about scientists who do battle with an unthinkable eldritch abomination that turns helpless innocents into monster dogs, unleashes an army of spectral monstrosities upon New Y0rk City, and plans to destroy the whole world. But it’s also such a rich comedy, full of likable personalities and casual humor, that it’s usually lumped into the general “comedy” category instead of the “horror comedies” sub-section where it truly belongs.
I wouldn’t call Ghostbusters my favorite movie, but it’s right up there. It’s such a carefully constructed world, rich with interesting characters and smart mythology and clever dialogue, that it improves with each repeat viewing. As a child I responded to the sci-fi gadgets and horrifying ghosts, and as I grew older I began to recognize the plight of the working class in these blue collar heroes. They turned something fantastic into an exhausting day job, and half the time nobody even appreciates them for it. It’s a story about capturing ghosts and yet somehow, Ghostbusters feels universal.
Every horror comedy has to decide how to balance their scariness and jokiness. Ghostbusters definitely leans on the side of comedy, but it doesn’t forget to make you jump out of your seat. That library ghost transforms into a truly frightening beast, and even Slimer – who would go on to become an annoying comic relief character in the cartoons – has a few moments where he’s creepy as hell. And the shocking sense of scale on the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is perhaps the ultimate cognitive dissonance: he’s the stupidest thing we’ve ever seen, and he looks so damned real that he’s also the scariest.
Brian Formo’s Pick: Evil Dead II (1987)
For me the answer to this prompt is essentially the same movie. Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead and Raimi’s Evil Dead 2: Dead Before Dawn. I think the first film is a masterpiece and a marvel for achieving perhaps the most terrifying film (this side of Eraserhead) that was made on a shoestring budget. Evil Dead flexes sheer will and filmmaking prowess, but if we’re talking just straight up “horror comedy” the extra money Raimi got for Evil Dead 2: Dead Before Dawn lets him go wilder than the original film. And where he goes is for the funny bone—by exposing every bone he can.
Blood spray from every direction, exploding body parts and new re-animated surprises make this film the goriest slapstick film ever. But that extra budget doesn’t just go to gore in Dead Before Dawn, Raimi got to explore a lot more with his camera in this cabin in the woods. He rotates the set and takes more camera points of view to represent various spirits. Star Bruce Campbell gets some great one-liners in, but really he’s playing it as straight as possible against every splatter that Raimi throws at him. Story-wise this is essentially the same film as the original: a backwoods cabin is overrun with demons after a guest reads a passage aloud from the dusty Book of the Dead (made from flesh, and again, more visually fleshed out here than in the original). But Raimi still surprises us again and again by throwing new bloody things at us.
For the overall level of growing creepiness—and the film school audacity that’s worn on its sleeve—I prefer Evil Dead as a film. But if I wanna laugh gleefully at body parts searching for prey, or dancing dead girlfriends and a mounted deer come to life, then Dead Before Dawn it is. This isn’t a re-mastered album, Raimi actually creates different moods from the same set-up.