After years of waiting, we'll all finally get to see Drew Goddard's The Cabin in the Woods on April 13. The film, co-written by Avengers director Joss Whedon, is yet another movie about teenagers going to a... well, a cabin in the woods, where they're slaughtered one by one. But The Cabin in the Woods has a horror-comedy twist that we're still not technically allowed to tell you yet, but let's just say you should be ready to watch the conventions of the genre lampooned right along with your the audience's own apathy bloodlust.
Of course, The Cabin in the Woods is but the latest in a long line of horror comedies. That is to say, genuinely scary movies that aren't afraid to be funny too. So before you see how The Cabin in the Woods stacks up to the classics, let's run down the Top Ten Horror Comedies you have to see... before you die!
10. Waxwork (dir. Anthony Hickox, 1988)
Largely forgotten but utterly wonderful, Anthony Hickox’s Waxwork stars Zach Galligan of Gremlins fame as a college student investigating the mysterious disappearance of his girlfriend at a morbid wax museum run by David Warner (Time Bandits). It turns out that each horrific wax display – featuring werewolves, mummies, zombies and the Marquis de Sade – can transport the viewer into the past, where they take over a doomed figure in the subject’s story. The film’s cheeky humor and unexpected goriness are a treasure, but the real treat is the story, which flies by the seat of its pants and never seems to come down for a landing. Also recommended: the hilarious sequel, 1992’s Waxwork II: Lost in Time, which reinvents the franchise as a fantasy adventure sending Galligan and his new girlfriend from one movie genre to the other in a dimension that a talking crow describes as “God’s Nintendo.” Doesn’t get much wackier than that.
9. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (dir. Scott Glosserman, 2006)
Before the horror mockumentary genre settled into a series of Paranormal Activity knockoffs, Scott Glosserman co-wrote and directed this witty satire of slasher conventions, about a documentary film crew that tracks down and chronicles the daily routine of Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel), a Jason Voorhees-esque serial killer. His activities include putting nearly dead batteries in teenagers’ flashlights and sawing tree branches in half to prevent their escape from upstairs windows. Thanks to Vernon’s charisma and charming sense of humor (holding up a John Milton book, he exclaims, “Paradise Lost? Found it!”), the film’s climactic massacre seems to slip the documentary crew’s minds until the last minute, when they finally have to decide where their loyalties lie. Sure, it’s just a slasher version of the 1992 Belgian classic Man Bites Dog, but it’s a really good one.
8. Cemetery Man (dir. Michel Soavi, 1994)
On the surface, Italian director Michel Soavi’s Cemetery Man feels like just another splatstick comedy. My Best Friend’s Wedding’s Rupert Everett stars as Francesco Dellamorte (“Francesco of Death”), who works at a cemetery where the corpses inevitably come back to life within seven days of their demise. But Francesco treats his task of destroying these “Returners” with all the enthusiasm of a plumber cleaning hair out of a drain, giving the film a wonderfully droll sense of humor unlike anything else on our list, and giving the film’s mindbending finale a greater, existential significance. There are actually a lot of great Italian horror comedies (if you can find it, check out Umberto Lenzi’s Eyeball for a Scream-like deconstruction of the Giallo genre, decades ahead of its time), but Cemetery Man is the best.
7. Tremors (dir. Ron Underwood, 1990)
Stepping away from the ultraviolence we find Ron Underwood’s 1990 monster comedy Tremors, about a small desert town under attack by race of giant, prehistoric subterranean monsters. The Graboids, as they come to be called, burrow underground at lightning speeds, picking up vibrations from the footsteps of its victims, forcing everyone to seek higher ground (there really isn’t any) and risk dehydration to stay alive. Underwood and his game cast (including Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward and Reba McEntire) masterfully balance the film’s goofy concept with genuine peril and sharp characterization. Tremors rocks from start to finish.
6. Dead Alive (dir. Peter Jackson, 1992)
Before he made those Tolkien movies, Peter Jackson spent most of his time making off-kilter and ultraviolent genre comedies like Bad Taste, Meet the Feebles and Braindead, which was released in America as Dead Alive for some reason. In the film, the bite of a Sumatran Rat Monkey turns poor Timothy Balme’s Mum, Elizabeth Moody, into the walking dead. In an attempt to keep up appearances, and care for his supposedly sainted mother, he tries to pretend like everything’s normal, resulting in series of hilarious misunderstandings, a zombie pregnancy, kicking ass the for the Lord and a blood-soaked finale considered by many to be one of the goriest and funniest scenes in horror history. Watching it now, it’s nothing short of a marvel that somebody gave this director The Lord of the Rings, but of course we’re glad they did.
5. Night of the Creeps and Slither (dirs. Fred Dekker, James Gunn; 1986, 2006)
Many a horror fan has noticed the similarities between Fred Dekker’s 1986 cult classic Night of the Creeps and James Gunn’s 2006 horror comedy Slither. Both films are character-driven horror comedies about outer space slugs that take over the bodies of their victims, but James Gunn claims it’s nothing but a coincidence. Since both Night of the Creeps and Slither are f*cking hilarious, scary, and gory as hell, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Dekker’s film is about a college campus overrun by slug monsters who turn their victims into zombies (“The good news is, your dates are here.” “What’s the bad news?” “They’re dead.”), while Gunn’s film takes small town route, with Sheriff Nathan Fillion fighting off an alien invasion using nothing but his unbridled, dopey charisma (“My easygoin’ nature is getting’ sorely f*ckin’ tested!”). And they’re both horror comedy classics.
4. An American Werewolf in London (dir. John Landis, 1981)
After making a name for himself with comedies like Animal House and The Blues Brothers, John Landis decided to direct a nightmarish horror movie that turned out to be one of the best werewolf movies ever made. The cast of An American Werewolf in London is just plain charming, making the plight of its protagonist, played David Naughton, all the more tragic. The film’s bravura centerpiece, the most vivid transformation sequence ever filmed (at the time, although it’s still “Top Ten” material), shows just how painful and horrific turning into a giant wolf monster would really be. The hilarious asides, in which Naughton is visited by the decaying ghost of his best friend, are just plain inspired. An American Werewolf in London is a comedy classic and a horror classic.
3. Bubba Ho-Tep (dir. Don Coscarelli, 2002)
Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm movies, particularly the first one, were horror classics to begin with, but the director outdid himself with 2002’s Bubba Ho-Tep, a movie with one of the nuttiest concepts imaginable. Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell), having switched places decades ago with an impersonator, is wasting away in a retirement home along with John F. Kennedy (Ossie Davis), who claims his assassination was a conspiracy, and that they made him Black to cover it all up. Together, they team up to fight a mummy. With a premise like that, you’d think that Bubba Ho-Tep would be one of the silliest movies ever made, but somehow Coscarelli, adapting a short story by Joe R. Lansdale, turned his film into a beautiful character study, and gave Campbell the best role of his entire career. Don’t worry, it’s still really, really silly, but it’s also probably the only horror comedy on our list that can make you cry.
2. Re-Animator (dir. Stuart Gordon, 1985)
H.P. Lovecraft’s stories usually defy adaptation, since they’re often bleak, cerebral affairs with little character development and, with few exceptions, no female characters. So it’s fitting that Re-Animator is remains the finest Lovecraft movie to date, since it’s the pulpiest of his works (he only wrote it for the money). Jeffrey Combs stars as Herbert West, a college student who has invented a formula to bring people back from the dead. Unfortunately, he hasn’t perfected it yet, and all of his experiments come back homicidally insane. Enlisting his hapless roommate in his extracurricular activities, he runs afoul of a professor, whose severed head takes control of a zombie army and engages in one of the most unusual sexual acts ever caught on film with the comely Barbara Crampton. Stuart Gordon plays the story straight, allowing his fine cast – particularly Combs, in an iconic performance – to let the comedy flow as naturally as the blood does.
1. Evil Dead 2 (dir. Sam Raimi, 1987)
Was there ever any doubt? Sam Raimi’s sequel (and quasi-remake) to 1981’s The Evil Dead took the “cabin in the woods” genre to new heights by reinterpreting the horror genre as a series of grotesque “Three Stooges” routines. Bruce Campbell makes his second appearance on our list as Ash Williams, whose girlfriend gets possessed by a demonic force on their vacation. But the “evil dead” seem more interested in driving him insane than actually killing him, forcing into hilarious situations like hunting down his own severed hand like it was a scurrying rat. Raimi’s whip-crack direction tears down the barriers between “Boo” scares and comedy beats, crafting the ultimate horror comedy in the process. The Evil Dead 2 is the best horror comedy ever made. Period.
Honorable Mentions: Bride of Chucky, The Bride of Frankenstein, Fright Night, Gremlins, House, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Piranha 3D, The Return of the Living Dead, The Theatre of Blood
Full Disclosure: This article has been sponsored by Lionsgate.