Comedy Horror: LOL! You’re Killing Me!

Creepshow (1982) screenshot
Creepshow (1982)

Comedy Horror Films – More than Just a Scary Clown 

Does placing the word comedy in front of the word horror make sense? It does if you’re making a killer comedy horror film! Comedy horror is one of the best oxymorons! Indeed, it ranks at the top! Among such greats as jumbo shrimp, bittersweet, original copy, and, of course, the walking dead! Oxymorons add many dramatic effects, and mixing up scary with dark humor is popular among all the horror genres. It’s an over-the-top concept with lasting appeal and doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.

Take the 80s, for example. A decade that produced so many memorable comedy horror films. Fright Night (1985) gave audiences a light-hearted script, a sexy vampire as a next-door neighbor, and unforgettable special effects. The film’s opening weekend not only cemented the genre as a fun new style of horror, but it also knocked the long-running and wildly popular Slasher Horror genre from its throne. Horror fans were also treated to experience life near the boardwalk, carousing with brooding and rebellious, somewhat campy, vampires in the blockbuster flick The Lost Boys (1987)

The Lost Boys (1987) screenshot
The Lost Boys (1987)

The Creepiest Kind of Comedy Horror Films

Also from the 80s came cutting-edge animation and classic anthology storytelling in Creepshow (1982) and Creepshow 2 (1987). Narrated by the Creep, a cloaked gargoyle-like skeleton, the Creepshow anthologies gave short stories a kiss of horror and a chance to be both lighthearted and downright terrifying. Many critics described the films as “almost as funny and as horrible as the filmmakers would clearly love it to be.” Camp, gore, and monsters. That’s comedy-horror at its finest! 

And who can forget the two zany, funny, and creative comedy-horror creations by the legendary director Tim Burton? The brilliant Beetlejuice (1999) and Edward Scissorhands (1999).

Beetlejuice is an exploration of death at many different levels. The film blends live-action with stop-motion animation and even revived crooner Harry Belafonte’s career. Day-O, his traditional Jamaican folk song, used in a hilarious dinner party scene, recharted on the 40 pop charts! 

Beetlejuice continues to be “celebrated by its millions of fans. Diehards attend screenings dressed as its title character. The film even inspired its own cartoon series and an action figure range. The popularity of the film even spawned a Broadway musical adaptation.

Edward Scissorhands is a gothic horror fantasy with a lot of heart. It is a beautiful story of learning to understand the true meaning of acceptance. Each character in the film represents society’s problems, hatred, bigotry, racism, political correctness, overzealous religious beliefs, immaturity, and selfishness. Edward represents innocence and kindness. In fact, “even if the only thing Edward wants to bring is happiness to his friends, we see how society will try to change a man only for its own prosperity.*”

World War Z (2013
World War Z (2013

Comedy Horror, Zombies, Brains, and Love!

If zombie horror films portray the undead, ravenous for brains, then World War Z (2013) was a global rodeo. Brad Pitt is in search of an antidote to reclaim humanity from the endless, roving pack of infected, dead-in-the-eye, flesh-eating humans, running aimlessly through cities and wide-open countryside. Attracted to sound or the smell of fresh flesh, pound for pound, hungry dead people are entirely neurotic. And super annoying.

When Warm Bodies (2013) and Shaun of the Dead (2004) arrived in theaters, the zombie genre was upended. Although both films followed the usual zombie narrative, they’re both ripe with side-splitting humor.  

Not a pretty Shakespearean sonnet, Warm Bodies is a love story of sorts. The film centers on a zombie named Z, who meets a non-zombie named Julie. The film has all the expected gore and hungry demands for “brains.” However, it’s more intelligent than the average zombie movie. It makes a social commentary, showing how a brief encounter with the living can get a dead heart beating and heal the whole of humanity from a rabid infection. 

Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Comedy Horror’s Funniest Zombies

Shaun of the Dead gave audiences a blood-splattering, side-splitting comedic twist on Dawn of the Dead (2004) and 28 Days Later (2002). Author Peter Dendel sums it up best. In his brilliant essay The Zombie as Barometer of Cultural Anxiety, Dendel writes, “It is a fully-realized homage to the greatest zombie films of all time. It proved how a zombie renaissance of a horror subgenre revealed a connection between zombie cinema and post-9/11 cultural consciousness” because “horror films function as barometers of society’s anxieties, and zombie movies represent the inescapable realities of unnatural death while presenting a grim view of the modern apocalypse.” Smart, scary, bloody, and funny. Touché! 

Lake Placid (1999)
Lake Placid (1999)

It’s Funny Because It’s (Almost) True

Drawing from the Jaws (1975) tagline of “You’ll never go in the water again,” the horror classic, Lake Placid (1999), is the story of an oversized alligator living Lochness-style in a backwoods New York waterway. The film bites back with loads of dry wit and ridiculously hysterical paranoia. The realistic special effects are cutting edge. The best part of the film is watching scene-stealing veteran actress Betty White. 

“Overall, horror films, especially classics like Halloween (1978), or possibly its alter ego, Freaky (2020), can teach us that monsters can be defeated if we choose to face them. That bonding together is the ultimate survival mechanism. And ultimately, they can teach us that no matter how horrific a situation gets, there’s always hope.” 

In the comedy-horror film, Happy Death Day (2017) and the excellent sequel Happy Death Day 2 You (2019), the lesson goes beyond survival and suggests the importance of “How we treat other people matters.” After getting trapped in an infinite time loop, a girl named Tree, suffering from a painful loss is forced to repeatedly find her murderer, a la Groundhog Day, with funny and terrifying consequences. In the process, the film continually draws the audience into an uncomfortable and relatable situation. 

Death Becomes Her (1992) screenshot
Death Becomes Her (1992)

Siempre Viva, Live Forever!

Making fun of the dead never looked more ridiculous than in absurdly comic horror spoof Death Becomes Her (1992). However, the film’s story proves more than the old saying, “life imitates art.” Even more so, the film reveals several truths. One that the intersectionality of modern movie star culture has always been artificial at best. Two, dried-up Hollywood starlets have a ravenous appetite for “never growing one day older,” and youth looks good at any cost. 

Throughout “Death Becomes Her,” the film points out that maintaining one’s youth has nothing to do with health and wellness. The story revolves around two well-connected frenemies spinning out of control after drinking an eternal youth elixir. The film pokes an extreme finger at ageism. More importantly, it reveals the desperate Hollywood underbelly. The fear of fading away and the endless craving to find the secret of immortality. Madeline and Helen will stop at nothing, not even murder, to remain relevant. And pretty. 

Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Edward Scissorhands (1990)

The Last Laugh

Comedy horror can make you jump, scream, and laugh uncontrollably. According to cultural and tech website Mashable.com, over the last decade, “the horror-comedy essentially is a place for us to purge our collective guilty conscience over a swath of social issues left unaddressed for far too long.” Not to mention, comedy horror films draw the most diverse audiences. Unlike Slasher, Gore, and Psychological horror films, comedy horror films provide a sense of relief, are more relatable, and definitely get the last laugh!

*Edward Scissorhands: An allegory about our society – MG aesthetics.” 1 Jan. 2016