Article by: Anthony Florez
Last year I put together a list of my favorite scary movies, from the perspective of someone who does not, in fact, like scary movies at all. It was a thoughtful list mostly devoid of my two least favorite cinematic techniques: the jump scare and torture porn, and it trended more towards psychological horror than anything else but the one thing that was also largely missing, aside from Planet Terror, was humor. So I thought I’d put together a revised list, one that focuses on that weird and difficult to execute combination of horror and comedy. Nothing too slapstick (I have a real weakness for Dracula: Dead And Loving It) and nothing too surreal (Beetlejuice could probably make it on here, as well as Little Shop of Horrors), but that right blend of self-aware and authentically committed to the atmosphere and suspense of tried and true horror. This will mostly be a more modern list with a few exceptions and I thought I’d stick to the somewhat lesser known films, to the extent that my limited knowledge on the genre can provide. Also, Shaun of the Dead will not be included, just to get that out of the way, it’s waaay too obvious to be included on this list but is too perfect to not mention. In no particular order…
Long before James Gunn conquered the known Marvel Universe with his colorful, musically-inclined interpretation of the relatively obscure Guardians of the Galaxy comic books, he was a relatively obscure, musically inclined indie filmmaker specializing in quirky, character driven movies that not a lot of people went to see. His break out horror movie Slither, however, developed a bit of a cult following, not only from fans of the genre for its sleek, imaginative fun but also from fans of the recently cancelled Firefly who were jonesing for Nathan Fillion in any way, shape, or form. But a well-rounded cast and the sort of tongue-in-cheek pop-culture awareness that Gunn perfected in his Guardians movies gives the whole experience a great popcorn flick feel, perfect for a casual date night or something to throw in with friends. Just, a fair warning, this was my experience checking out the trailer as a refresher earlier:
*picks up macaroni and cheese bowl, mixes with spoon*
*clicks play on trailer for Slither*
(30 seconds later) *spoon freezes on it’s way to mouth, is returned to bowl, bowl set down on desk*
Make sure, if you do throw this delightfully entertaining movie on, that it’s not wing night or something equally gnarly. I’d forgotten how hilariously disgusting this thing is.
An American Werewolf in London–
I love any opportunity to talk about this film, it’s one of those weird experiences that stays with you afterwards like a fever dream or a bad acid trip. For a flick made in 1981, the make-up and effects stand up remarkably well, with the former winning the first ever Academy Award in the category, and deservedly so. Not to spoil anything (I mean, duh) but the werewolf transformation sequence is still one of the most f’d up things I’d ever seen on film and, until the awkwardly paced and still-mostly-kinda-good Hemlock Grove that came out just a few years ago, was the best example of what lycanthropy might look like in real life, i.e. it would suuuuuck. There’s a ton of things going on in this film that I won’t spoil, however, it’s absolutely worth the price of admission if it were just a horror. However, it’s also directed by John Landis, who had also at that point directed the two seminal comedy films of that generation National Lampoon’s Animal House and The Blues Brothers and would go on to direct a few more classics of the 80s. But the actual humor is decidedly on the darker side and would go on to have a massive influence on a newer generation of filmmakers. Granted, it is an 80s movie so the pacing is a lot slower than what audiences are used to nowadays but it’s 100 percent worth watching to see the film that inspired the likes of Sam Raimi and Edgar Wright to do their thing.
Dead Alive (Braindead)-
Okay. So this movie…. It’s hard to know where to start. Long before the two Lord of the Rings trilogies, Peter Jackson was a filmmaker in his native New Zealand and, on a reported budget of 3 million dollars, he made this absolutely ridiculous, over-the-top, spectacular piece of cult insanity that was originally released as Dead Alive before being changed to Braindead here in the States. So batshit crazy is this movie that it supposedly held the record for the most amount of fake blood used for effect for many years after. I could drop a few mentions of things that take place in what is essentially a zombie flick but it isn’t like any other zombie flick that you’ve seen before. In fact, it might be a little too ridiculous given the restrictions on absurdity I mentioned earlier. I mean, it is. But there’s a certain fraternity (or sorority, for the ladies) among folks who have sat through this entire bizarre experience, a certain kinship knowing that we have seen the things we have seen, and can never un-see them again. And for all the absolute wackiness (like the priest who kicks arse, for the Lord) and insanity that takes place, the film is also pretty fascinating from a technical standpoint. Jackson, for all his faults as a director of emotional drama, is a fantastically creative technician with regard to practical effects and camera technique and Dead Alive (or Braindead, depending) is an absolute clinic in making a relatively low budget film look like, well…., I guess a medium budget one. But it’s still worth a shot if you can find it.
John Carpenter is…. a national treasure. He’s a filmmaker/auteur that has experienced some commercial success, with movies like Escape from New York and Halloween, but has mostly been a conspicuously prolific generator of cult classic entertainment like The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, and my favorite of his filmography, They Live. Starring Roddy Piper and Keith David, this is not so much a traditional horror movie or even meant to be funny on purpose at times, as much as it is a stinging social commentary on capitalism and commercialism with all the subtlety of a bag of hammers. It is, however, mostly aware of this and feels like it would be right at home in the 1950s as a B-movie, commenting on the hive-minded, military structured society that came out of World War II. And it would be right at home if it were released today, with commercials starring “celebrities” ending racially-charged protests with a can of Pepsi and a million channels of television to watch and an equal number of ways to buy anything, anytime, anywhere. But when it is funny, and it is, it’s when a surprisingly charming Roddy Piper realizes, as an every-man, that he’s caught up in the middle of a dystopian nightmare and reacts with the appropriate level of irritation/incredulity. In fact, list aside, this is just a must-watch movie in general.
This is just one of those movies that everyone should watch, alone and late on a Sunday night when you’re avoiding going to sleep and trying to squeeze the last few hours of weekend-freedom out of your life before being sucked back to the rat race. Why so specific? Well, this is a weird movie, more of a horror movie with surreal comedy elements to it but it’s also one of those stories that draws you in all the way and doesn’t let go. It’s gross and sad and creepy and also unlike any other movie you’re going to see, marching confidently to its own drumbeat, for better or worse. In all honesty, I can’t say that I loved this movie and haven’t seen it again since that first time but it is, and I say this with the utmost respect, absolutely someone’s cup of tea and it’s worth finding out if it’s yours. Because the people I know who do like it love it dearly and it’s more than worth the time for the spectacular performances from Ossie Davis and the great Bruce Campbell.
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil-
This is one of those smart, hilarious little independent films, the debut from writer-director Eli Craig, that somehow completely slipped through the cracks when it was first released. An inversion of genre tropes that shares a lot of DNA with another parody horror Cabin in the Woods, Tucker and Dale brings together two underappreciated comedic actors together, two characters that need to be sweet and likable for the premise to work at all and Alan Tudyk, who is impossible to dislike and Tyler Labine, star of the short-lived but delightful Reaper, are more than capable of selling that premise. Two good-natured hillbilly types go on vacation in swampland, encounter prototypical college-aged horror fodder who immediately take them for homicidal, unhinged hill-people: chaos ensues. In fact, I’d recommend only checking out about half of that trailer, by the way, it gives a way far more of the visual gags and setups than it should.
Also from Eli Craig and recently released on Netflix is his second film Little Evil, starring Adam Scott and Evangeline Lilly. This time he’s inverting the whole Damian, Omen, Rosemary’s Baby, thing and it’s a lot closer to Edgar Wright’s visual style and pacing. You can check out that trailer by clicking here.
So that is my list. It is short a few things but I wanted to stick with movies that were a little lesser known, that needed some love more than the obvious choices like Ghostbusters, or Zombieland, or The Evil Dead series. Great movies, all around, but not try something a little different? Honorable Mentions include Return of the Living Dead, Ernest Scared Stupid (don’t judge me), and Idle Hands, the Seth Green horror comedy that features the seminal pop-punk band The Offspring, which, of course it does. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go binge watch Supernatural and David Fincher’s Mindhunter at the same time because putting together this list has put me in a really weird mood.