It's been said that the two hardest genres to nail in movies are comedy and horror, especially since one can slide easily and unknowingly into the other. The results when that happens can often be a chore to sit through. But on the other hand, if comedy and horror are combined in just the right way together, the movies that are produced can be some of the most entertaining couple of hours you spend with either genre.
Even harder to get right is the horror spoof: Yes, you can make a comedy with scary moments, or you can create a funny horror movie. But spoofs, when they are at their best, lovingly mock the genre they're taking aim at (think Galaxy Quest on the sci-fi side). That's a tough balancing act to get right, because the best parodies come from a place of love and not contempt.
Below are a few of the best horror spoofs we've seen while watching horror movies and parodies for more years than we prefer to admit. These are not just comedies that use horror tropes or horror movies that have funny moments; you won't find either Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein or, say, Re-Animator on this list. But you will find movies that take aim at the horror genre and make you laugh while appreciating the very thing you're laughing at.
Did we leave any of your favorites off the list? Let us know below.
Young Frankenstein (1974)
Directed by Mel Brooks, who co-wrote it with the late, great Gene Wilder, this classic stars Wilder as Frederick Frankenstein, who tries and fails to avoid any association with his infamous grandfather Victor. But when Frederick inherits the family castle — and grandpa's lab — he can't help but get pulled into the family business. Brooks used props and sets from the original Frankenstein (1931) and shot the movie in black and white, all in homage to the Universal monster milestone. Wilder is brilliant, aided by a lunatic cast that includes Marty Feldman, Teri Garr, Cloris Leachman, Madeline Kahn and Peter Boyle as the creature — whose duet with Wilder on "Puttin' On the Ritz" is pure cinematic joy.
Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
Yes, everyone knows about The Rocky Horror Picture Show and its musical spoof of horror/sci-fi movies, but Brian de Palma's Phantom of the Paradise is arguably the better rock/horror mash-up. William Finley is Winslow Leach, a naive composer looking to get his rock opera staged by sinister music mogul Swan (Paul Williams). After Swan steals Winslow's work and has him framed and sent to prison, Winslow escapes, is mutilated in an accident and returns as the Phantom — intent to wreak havoc on Swan's new rock palace, the Paradise. The Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein and Faust are a few of the iconic tales that De Palma sends up in his scathing satire of the record industry, aided by a terrific Finley and a surprisingly diabolic Williams, who also provides the film's 10 terrific songs.
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978)
In case you didn't get it from the title alone, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is clearly a spoof — of bad sci-fi and horror movies. The plot, or what's loosely strung together as one, is exactly what the title says it is: tomatoes suddenly begin to turn on the human race and slaughter us. Eventually it's discovered that only bad rock music can kill the tomatoes, which at least is something we can empathize with. Directed by John DeBello, who later made three sequels, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is charmingly silly and utterly ridiculous, which is kind of the point.
We enjoy both versions of Piranha — the 1978 original directed by Joe Dante (Gremlins) and the 2010 remake helmed by Alexandre Aja (who also remade The Hills Have Eyes). The first is a knockoff of Jaws, of which there were quite a few at the time, but Piranha at least played it for laughs. As with his later films like The Howling and Gremlins, Dante does manage to generate some genuinely suspenseful sequences, but the broad performances, situations and dialogue stop things from getting too grim. Same goes for the 2010 version, which changes most of the story and ramps up the nudity (it's set during spring break) and gore to ridiculous levels (in 3D no less, at least theatrically), making it clear that Aja isn't taking any of this seriously either.
Love at First Bite (1979)
It's been hard for some reason to do vampire movie spoofs right — even Mel Brooks whiffed in 1995 with Dracula: Dead and Loving It — but this one (from obscure director Stan Dragoti) hits the mark. Kudos must go to George Hamilton for his perfect send-up of the classic tuxedo-clad Dracula, who resettles in New York City after the Romanian government evicts him from his castle. Arte Johnson, Susan St. James and Richard Benjamin are all terrific, and while the movie may be a little dated now, the scene of Hamilton twirling St. James around the dance floor to disco music never fails to amuse.
The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
The modern zombie genre was born in 1968 with George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead, and the zombie spoof — almost a genre unto itself — came into its own 17 years later with this pitch-black comedic gem from writer/director Dan O'Bannon (who also wrote Alien), which starts by hinting that Romero's movie was based on true events. The movie has all the gore you'd want and expect (watch out for the half-dog that may actually make you queasy), while making its zombies talk ("I love you Tina... I want to eat your brains") and having punk rockers as its "heroes." The zombie movie would get spoofed many times later, but perhaps never with such gleeful nihilism.
Evil Dead II (1987)
Evil Dead II may be the first film to spoof its own predecessor. While Sam Raimi's 1982 low-budget debut The Evil Dead was a nasty slice of splatter (with some choice humorous moments throughout), Evil Dead II goes for full-on comic lunacy while keeping the blood and gore flowing as copiously as they did in the first one and reaching levels of sheer insanity. Bruce Campbell became a genre icon in this, his second outing as Ash, and the extended sequence in which he battles his own hand is one for the ages. Ash said it himself, right here for the first time: "Groovy."
Okay, so Repossessed isn't that great. But we felt like it was worth including since its an out-and-out parody of the greatest horror film of all time, The Exorcist — and features that movie's star, Linda Blair. She's unexpectedly funny as a woman who is, not surprisingly, possessed by the devil, while Leslie Nielsen is also quite amusing as the priest trying to save her. The movie around them kind of limps along, desperate to fill up 90 minutes, and it may miss more than it hits. But we'll give it a pass for Blair and Nielsen alone.
Dead Alive (aka Braindead) (1992)
Known in its native New Zealand as Braindead and here in the U.S. as Dead Alive, this mind-blowingly insane gore epic — about how a bite from a Sumatran rat monkey turns a town into an abbatoir — is the third feature from Peter Jackson, who was carving out a career as a splatter king in his homeland until Hollywood and Tolkien came calling. Dead Alive is his gore masterpiece and, in many ways, his best film. It sets up a picture of bland New Zealand suburban culture and then drowns it in an nonstop, unparalleled tidal wave of gore and guts that needs to be seen to be believed. And trust us, you'll be laughing along for the whole bloody thing.
This was one of those game-changer movies that was so successful that it gave us about a decade's worth of films in which hip, self-aware, snarky teens know they're in a horror picture. But taken on its own terms, Scream is both a brilliant deconstruction of the genre as well as a pretty good slasher flick. Wes Craven's direction is right on the money as he milks the material for both well-earned laughs and, in some setpieces, maximum suspense. His cast, led by Neve Campbell and the nutty Matthew Lillard, is up to the task as well. More than 20 years later, Scream is still, well, a scream.
Scary Movie (2000)
Four years after Scream altered the genre landscape, the satire itsef was satirized — although Scream (and most horror movies) was a paragon of good taste next to the raunchy, raucous, and utterly crude laughs delivered by Scary Movie. Directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans, whose brothers wrote and star in the film, Scary Movie parodies Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer and many others with wild abandon and not a small amount of straight vulgarity. Your mileage may vary, but it certainly struck enough of a nerve with audiences to yield four sequels.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
This, if you ask us, is still director Edgar Wright's finest hour — a loving homage to the zombie films of George A. Romero, filtered through a deadpan, play-it-straight British sensibility that ends up making this one of the funniest and most charming horror spoofs ever conceived. Wright co-wrote the movie with Simon Pegg, who stars as the title character, an ambition-free sales clerk who becomes an unlikely hero in the wake of a zombie plague. Pegg and Nick Frost, as his couch potato pal Ed, have terrific timing and chemistry, and the portrait of working class British life set against the apocalypse is spot-on. Shaun is a cult classic all the way.
Fan favorite James Gunn made his directing debut on this gruesomely nasty horror comedy (which he also wrote) years before becoming a Marvel guru with the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. Slither's invasion of slug-like alien parasites is very similar to Night of the Creeps, which makes it more or less a spoof of B-movies and monster pictures, and an awesome one at that. Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks and Michael Rooker (the latter encased in goo for the second half of the picture) catch the exact tone that Gunn is going for, reminiscent in some ways of the over-the-top feel of Peter Jackson's Dead Alive. Lots of fun and a perfect intro to Gunn's crazy-weird humor.
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
Nathan Baesal stars as the title character in this mockumentary about a would-be serial killer who sets up shop for himself by modeling his approach on the conventions of slasher films. Coming just before the explosion of "found footage" movies, Behind the Mask has never risen beyond cult status but remains one of the sharpest and funniest examples of its genre. Everything from the "final girl" to the obsessed doctor hunting the killer is lampooned here, and cameos from Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street) and, in her last screen appearance, Zelda Rubinstein (Poltergeist) add to the fun. A must-see, for fans of genre deconstruction especially.
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010)
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil turns the "backwoods" genre on its head, with Alan Tudyk (Rogue One) and Tyler Labine starring as a pair of innocent hillbillies who are mistaken for killers by a group of knuckleheaded college kids. Eli Craig (son of Sally Field) directed and co-wrote this little indie gem, which shows — in an amusingly dark fashion — how simple misunderstandings and prejudice can escalate very quickly to violence and horror, while poking fun at the tropes of this particularly shopworn subgenre.
The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
The dream team of Drew Goddard (Cloverfield) and Joss Whedon (The Avengers) concocted this rich takedown of the genre (particularly "torture porn"), setting up a premise in which the requisite handful of young dolts (including a just-breaking-out Chris Hemsworth) journey to that archetypal isolated cabin and awaken the spirits lurking there — while we learn the the whole thing is staged by an unusual corporation that has much bigger stakes to deal with. Whedon and Goddard come at all this from a place of love, while also taking the genre's tired cliches to task. The ending, however, with its parade of unleashed monsters from every corner of the genre, is stunning.
What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
If you loved Thor: Ragnarok (and who didn't?), then go back and find this mock documentary from that film's director, New Zealand's Taika Waititi. He and Jemaine Clement wrote and also star in this endlessly inventive and hilarious subversion of both the found footage movie and the vampire flick, with four ancient bloodsuckers sharing a flat in Wellington and bickering about things like chores and whose turn it is to clean up the blood from the previous night's victims. The stars hit all the right notes (even with their exaggerated Eastern European accents) and you might have to watch twice to catch all the jokes. An instant classic.
The Final Girls (2015)
Not to be confused with Final Girl, which came out the same year, The Final Girls takes the "meta" concept of many horror satires one step further by placing our protagonists inside the slasher film they've just been watching, a schlockfest called Camp Bloodbath. Once in the movie, they find it difficult, if not impossible, to deal with the cardboard characters and the stock situations that soon place them in danger. The clash between modern young people and the superficial 1980s teens in the movie is hilarious, as is the way the film keeps moving forward despite all best efforts to change the plot. Taissa Farmiga (American Horror Story), Nina Dobrev (The Vampire Diaries) and Malin Akerman (Watchmen) lead a game cast in a wicked spoof that more people should see.