It’s that time of year again – pumpkins line porches, bags of candy fill the drugstore shelves, and children everywhere are encouraged by their parents to ring the bells of strangers’ houses and demand handouts.
Halloween season also is the one time of year where it’s pretty much impossible to avoid horror movies. If you’re a horror fan like I am, there’s really no change in your viewing habits because you were probably going to be watching Suspiria and The Abominable Dr. Phibes tonight anyway. But if you’re only a seasonal horror fan, it can be a bit daunting to navigate the sea of bloody entertainments that flood the airwaves this time of year.
To that end, we’ve put together a list of over 50 horror movies that are as funny as they are scary (whether intentionally or by accident). Hopefully with the list below as a reference, even the most horror-averse moviegoer can have a Halloween movie night appropriate for the season without having to resort to the umpteenth re-watch of Hocus Pocus and The Nightmare Before Christmas.
WHY YOU WON’T FIND VAMPIRES SUCK ON THIS LIST
We’ve hand-picked these films because they’re all actually good enough to be worth watching (sorry, Teen Wolf!). And to make the list easier to navigate, we have assembled them according to type, with ratings for type each indicating the laughs-to-screams ratio viewers can expect.
So grab a candy apple, check it for razor blades, and let’s get this party started!
At the silly end of the spectrum lie horror spoofs – movies that have no interest in actually scaring anyone, and in fact aim to point out how ridiculous the conventions of horror movies actually are. These movies are usually pretty stupid, but that’s okay – we’re supposed to be laughing at the gags, not analyzing their subtext. So they rank about here:
Oh, also: Most horror spoofs are terrible. Here are a few notable exceptions:
This wackadoodle horror spoof from Alfred Sole (the director of the cult horror classic Alice, Sweet Alice) stars Judge Reinhold, Carol Kane, Tommy Smothers, Paul Reubens (pre-Pee Wee), Eileen Brennan, Eve Arden, Tab Hunter, Phil Hartman and more in a story of a series of murders that take place at a cheerleading camp. It’s broad, ridiculous, and totally awesome – think Airplane! with cross-dressing killers and hilarious murder scenes.
Check out this gem of a scene that spoofs Carrie:
See also: Student Bodies (1981), although it really isn’t nearly as funny as I used to think it is
Scary Movie (2000) and Scary Movie 2 (2001)
The first two movies of the Scary Movie franchise are pretty solid comedies with a smart eye for the genres that they spoof (in the first film it’s teen slashers, in the second it’s haunted house and possession movies). After that they devolved into total crap, so avoid the later installments. I particularly love the fact that the Wayans brothers were behind this wickedly smart and funny send-up of what is unfortunately often a lily-white genre.
Here’s one of my favorite scenes from either film, featuring my favorite character, Brenda (Regina Hall):
See also: Mel Brooks’ classic Young Frankenstein (1974), and his inferior-but-still-amusing Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995)
COMEDIES WITH HORROR THEMES
This next set of recommendations is for folks who want to get into the spirit of Halloween but really don’t want to be scared. These movies are essentially just comedies that play with horror conventions and cliches but don’t wander too far into the dark and dangerous woods. In other words, these are “horror movies” that you can watch with your Nana.
Death Becomes Her (1992)
A broad comedy with a clear love of classic horror movies, Death Becomes Her is one of those movies that defies all logic: Meryl Streep in a musical production of Sweet Bird of Youth, Bruce Willis as a nebbish with a mustache, and Goldie Hawn with a hole blown through her just shouldn’t add up. But somehow they do – the movie is hilarious in parts, and still delivers some wow factor thanks to its innovative special effects. And by “special effects” I of course mean Meryl Streep’s comic genius. Just look:
See also: High Spirits (1988), Beetlejuice (1988), The Addams Family (1991)
Ghostbusters is a classic. It’s also an amazing time capsule of mid-eighties comedy (two words: Annie. Potts.) It’s funny, it’s got a few ghoulish scares, and its pedigree is impeccable. It also has aged pretty well, and deserves a second look if you haven’t seen it in awhile.
See also: Arachnophobia (1990), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Rocky Horror is special because it was one of the first films to send up the horror genre and all its ridiculous trappings. But in the meantime it’s also completely original, totally bizarre, and a hell of a lot of fun thanks to brilliant songwriting, iconic comedic performances from Tim Curry and Susan Sarandon, and a solid directorial hand.
See also: The Phantom of the Paradise (1974), Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988), Psycho Beach Party (2000), The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001), Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Horror-comedies take things a step further by setting two separate but equally important goals: they want to make you laugh, AND they want to make you scream. It’s a very hard balance to strike, and as a result there are lots of unsuccessful horror-comedies out there. When done wrong, horror-comedies can be excruciating to sit through. But when done right, the combination of scares, drama, laughs and splatter can be incredibly rewarding.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Wacky, violent, shocking, touching, and incredibly clever, Shaun of the Dead may be the most perfect horror-comedy ever because it is completely successful as both a horror film and as a comedy. Wonderfully in-tune with the conventions of both genres and smart enough to know when to play along with or against them, Shaun is a rousing, scary, and fun flick that pretty much anyone can enjoy – but the squeamish may have to watch some scenes through their fingers.
Here’s a scene that strikes a great balance:
See also: Zombieland (2009), Slither (2006), Doghouse (2009)
Motel Hell (1980)
Motel Hell is a gem – it hilariously spoofs the ’70s “Hillbilly Horror” craze (Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Deliverance, etc.) while playing by its rules, and the result is a movie that is weird, scary, shocking, and extremely funny. Hell also deserves special credit for celebrating the genuinely offbeat – for example, the sequence where a swinger couple checks in and the leotard-clad woman trashes the room with a bullwhip is utter gonzo genius. Motel Hell wasn’t afraid to let its freak flag fly, and that’s why it’s awesome.
See also: Private Parts (1972), Theatre of Blood, (1973) Basket Case, (1982) Vamp (1986)
The lurid, cheesetastic lovechild of Stephen King and Night of the Living Dead mastermind George Romero, Creepshow is a horror-comedy that celebrates the classics – in this case, the old horror comics of the ’50s and ’60s. In paying tribute to the monsters of days gone by, Creepshow brought them to a new audience, filtered through a lens of nostalgia and loaded with playful humor. The result was a horror movie loaded with death and dismemberment that somehow still felt like it came from a simpler, more wholesome time.
See also: Gremlins (1984), Waxwork (1988) Tremors (1990), Eight-Legged Freaks (2002), Night of the Creeps (1986), The Monster Squad (1987), Fright Night (1985), House on Haunted Hill (1959), Critters (1986)
“Splatstick” is a relatively new subgenre – the term used to describe a specific kind of horror movie that wants to get to your funny bone by way of your stomach. In other words, they want to gross you out until you can’t help but laugh.
Evil Dead II (1987)
The genre was likely launched by Sam Raimi with his visionary Evil Dead II, in which he remade his own movie The Evil Dead – a relatively straightforward and effective horror film – as a gore-filled, blood-soaked, pratfall-happy slapstick comedy. Thanks to the incredibly innovative tricks devised to accomplish the task on a limited budget, the result is one of the most hilarious, captivating and beloved horror movies of all time. Plus, it cemented Bruce Campbell as both a ham actor par excellence and the #1 late-’80s crush of gay horror fans everywhere. If you haven’t seen it, you really should.
See also: Peter Jackson’s wonderfully gory Dead Alive (1992, aka Brain Dead), Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2011)
Piranha 3-D (2010)
While not nearly as inventive or clever as Evil Dead II, the recent 3-D remake of the considerably more tame Piranha (a Jaws knockoff that had a wicked sense of humor itself) made a splash with its no-holds-barred approach to the utter devastation of its hot young cast. The movie claims to have used more fake blood than any other movie in history, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true – and somehow the vague commentary parallelling Spring Break debauchery and Girls Gone Wild with flesh-hungry fish actually kind of works. This movie is utterly disgusting, but that’s why it’s also pretty darn fun.
See also: Chillerama (2011), Wild Zero (2000)
HORROR MOVIES WITH SICK SENSES OF HUMOR
Further down the scale are movies that are bona fide horror films that offer a dollop of humor atop their gut sundaes. These movies are out to scare you, to be sure – but they also realize that well-timed humor can often elevate the enjoyment of an otherwise tense horror story. Be warned – these movies can be scary or intense, but if you share their sick sense of humor, you’ll get a few yuks with your yucks.
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Just a wee bit over the line, in my opinion, to classify as a horror-comedy, American Werewolf is nonetheless a very funny film. Thanks to wisecracking corpses and a tongue-in-cheek attitude to lycanthropy, what could have been a gory but staid entry into the horror genre was elevated to a classic.
I’ll let the movie speak for itself:
See also: Alligator (1980), Piranha (1978), Slumber Party Massacre (1982), Night of the Demons (1988)
American Psycho (2000)
American Psycho is loaded with dark comedy – but it still probably isn’t enough to balance out the insane display of sadism, carnage, and bad ’80s fashion that splash across the screen. Considering that it was adapted from one of the most notorious horror novels of all time, it’s a miracle that this movie was even made, much less made with such verve and wit (and with such a brilliant central performance, courtesy of Christian Bale). An absolutely unique comedy of terrors.
See also: Trick ’r Treat (2007), Sleepy Hollow (1999), Ginger Snaps (2000), Jennifer’s Body (2009)
Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986)
Maligned and misunderstood, TCM2 is an underrated gem. When Tobe Hooper refused to make the necessary cuts to achieve an R rating, the movie was released Unrated, which spelled certain death at the time because mainstream moviehouses wouldn’t run it and newspapers wouldn’t advertise it. Which is a shame, because the movie is a brilliant example of how a balls-to-the-wall horror movie can carry a blazing streak of comedy without compromising its scares or intensity. I mean, come on – the poster was a parody of The Breakfast Club, for Pete’s sake!
Now, to be clear – this movie (which stars Dennis Hopper and genre mainstay Bill Moseley in the role of fan favorite “Chop Top”) is gruesome, disturbing, loud, and totally insane – but it’s also very, very funny. If you’re looking for a scream-along Halloween rental to leave you shaken and stirred, this is a great pick.
See also: Return of the Living Dead (1985), The Human Centipede: First Sequence (2010), Audition (1999)
The Scream Series (1996-2011)
When the Scream series revived (or destroyed, depending on who you ask) the slasher genre in the early ’90s, it introduced a self-awareness to the genre that gave filmmakers the chance to wink at their own movie and the horror tradition while devising new ways to scare audiences. In my opinion, Scream 2 and Scream 4 are the most successful installments in integrating humor into the horror (like most people, I think Scream 3 tipped too far into camp and is a mess, besides), but even the original had fun delivering smiles (and the occasional belly laugh) amidst the carnage. To illustrate:
See also: The Final Destination Series, The Faculty (1998), Bride of Chucky (1998), Jason X (2001)
HORROR MOVIES THAT ARE UNINTENTIONALLY HILARIOUS
And completely off the charts for our intents and purposes is one of my favorite subgenres: Horror movies that set out to be scary but accidentally wound up screamingly funny. I hold a special place in my heart for these films because, as Homer Simpson once said, “stupid babies need the most love.” If you have a tendency toward cinematic schadenfreude, you are guaranteed to get a kick out of these stinkers.
The Unborn (1991)
A Roger Corman cheapie about a woman (Brooke Adams) whose fertility treatments leave her carrying a murderous mutant fetus that, among other things, forces her to kill their cat. Thanks to a preposterous side-plot about a hippy-dippy mothering group (featuring Kathy Griffin as a lesbian whose pregnant partner kills her with a hammer) and more bad taste than you can shake a rattle at, this one is a total scream.
See also: The Devil Within Her (1975, aka Sharon’s Baby)
Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Don’t get me wrong – Sleepaway Camp has a decent bodycount, some creepy scenes and shocking deaths. But it’s also one of the most hilarious time-capsules of the early ’80s in the horror canon, with herds of vulgar, mean teenagers in preposterous outfits talking trash and behaving like animals. And then of course there’s the whole matter of the showstopping surprise ending, which still leaves jaws in laps to this day. Audacious, bitchy, and wonderfully dated, this one is a fun one to watch with a group.
See also: Girls Nite Out (1982)
The Fan (1981)
One of the most gloriously misguided horror movies of all time, The Fan stars Lauren Bacall as an aging star making her Broadway musical debut who is stalked by a murderous fan (Michael Biehn). What transpires is supposed to be scary, but how can a gory thriller sustain tension when it’s punctuated by awesomely bad musical numbers and clueless camp? Answer: It doesn’t, and we love it that way.
Yes, this is a still of Maureen Stapleton getting her face slashed on the subway.
See also: Damien: Omen II (1978)
A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
It would be a crime for me not to include what is generally known as The Gayest Horror Movie of All Time in this list – yes, the sequel to the groundbreaking, dream-sullying A Nightmare on Elm Street is a hilariously bad extended metaphor for repressed teen gay lust. Seriously – it’s a must-see.
Shark Attack 3: Megalodon (2002)
Okay, I really can’t recommend watching Shark Attack 3: Megalodon in its entirety. But I had to mention it here because it’s become notorious for containing one of the most hilariously WTF lines of dialog in horror movie history, thanks to the vulgar ad-libbing of star John Barrowman (and knowing Mr. Barrowman, are we even remotely surprised?). Still, as far as lousy direct-to-SyFy flicks go, this one is pretty awesome thanks to the bargain-basement special effects employed whenever the massive shark attacks and they simply superimpose a shot of a boat or raft or jet-ski over the same NatGeo stock footage of a Great White’s open mouth.
See also: Jaws the Revenge (1987), Orca (1977)