It’s a question every genre fan has been asked at some point or another: why do you like horror so much? I don’t know about you but in the moment I rarely have an intelligent answer. I usually splutter something vague and inarticulate about how being scared is fun. Which never feels right, but then sometimes it is that simple: I like to feel scared. And then there are those times where I want to feel scared and I want to laugh my ass off. How on earth to explain that?
The only thing trickier than breaking down why laughing at death is fun is making films that do just that: that hit the sweet spot of horrific and humorous. It is, arguably, an easier task to lean into the comedic and relegate carnage to a wacky gross-out status. Don’t get me wrong, Shaun of the Dead is hilarious, but I don’t find it scary.
Below you’ll find a collection of films that walk the fine line between the funny and the frightening. Of note: two of us independently invoked John Hughes. Which feels weird until you remember that being a teen is perhaps the darkest horror comedy of all.
10. Creep (2014)
You’d be hard-pressed to find tougher genres/formats to get right than horror/comedies and found footage films, but Patrick Brice‘s franchise-starter just nails every beat. It’s terrifically scary thanks to a smart combination of jump scares and unsettling tonal shifts. The damn thing’s also hilarious as Mark Duplass gives a performance for the ages that has you laughing one minute and frozen in fear the next. The man is a very believable psycho. And finally, it works beautifully as a found footage-like film that avoids the usual pitfalls of dumb characters, irritating behavior, and utter boredom. Give it a spin and enjoy the execution perfection right up through the ending. — Rob Hunter
9. Trick’r Treat (2007)
Trick’r Treat is the rare horror anthology where every story works. It’s genuinely scary, particularly the “Halloween School Bus Massacre” segment. This flashback features 8 children being murdered by a school bus driver. Oh, and the bus driver was paid by the parents of the children. This scene is scary for three reasons – school bus, murderous parents, and old-timey Halloween masks. Eep. The film also manages to be quite funny. Dylan Baker stars as a lunatic principal that likes to poison kids with some assistance from his son. This is equal parts terrifying and darkly humorous. And the film as a whole manages this same balancing act between laughs and scares. Whether it’s Anna Paquin looking to make her “first time” special or the antics of a strange trick-or-treater named Sam, Trick’r Treat is the sort of movie that makes you pull a blanket over your face and then giggle underneath. — Chris Coffel
8. Arachnophobia (1990)
Spiders suck, man. I don’t care what anyone says, they’re hideous creatures. And although I fully understand that the ramifications of eliminating spiders would likely be very bad, that’s a risk I’m very much willing to take to remove the eight-legged monsters from our world. That’s why when I see Frank Marshall’s terrifying horror film referred to by many as a horror-comedy, I’m flabbergasted. What is funny about deadly spiders infesting the world? Look, I’ll admit that John Goodman as an obnoxious exterminator taking a flamethrower to insects is humorous as a concept. The problem is that while the rest of you are laughing at that scene I’m too concerned about the prospect of scooping up a handful of spiders when reaching for the popcorn to even muster up the slightest smirk. — Chris Coffel
7. You’re Next (2011)
Families are the worst. You spend the first eighteen years or so of your life trying to break yourself free of them, but then come Thanksgiving, Christmas, or whatever to drag you back together. Even worse, those self-imposed reunions where Mom and Dad fire off the flares in an effort to rekindle the harmony that wasn’t there in the first place. The beauty of You’re Next is how it places the audience behind the view of the outsider girlfriend. Poor Erin is just trying to keep it quiet, speak as few words as possible, and make a nice impression on potential in-laws. Then arrows start shooting through windows, and family dinner is transformed into a melee of slasher horrors. You’re Next never allows itself to fall into outright comedy (the scares are legit), but as motivations are revealed, and the body count rises, one cannot help but take glee in the absurdity. Erin has already broken free from her family, and she’ll be damned if she’s going to allow these goons to deprive her of life. A warrior emerges, and the onslaught she perpetrates is a riotous good time. — Brad Gullickson
6. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
With an iconic poster parodying a John Hughes classic, it’s no secret that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a different kind of party from its scummy, skin-crawling origins. Rather than attempting to one-up his own work, director Tobe Hooper leans into the overlooked Red Humor of his excruciating classic to make the rare horror comedy that doesn’t sacrifice its effectiveness by adding levity. From the opening truck chase sequence to the Sawyer’s cavernous carnival compound, the unpredictability of our villains doesn’t stop being scary because the film’s tongue is rooted in cheek. Both a biting commentary on the excesses of the decade and a satirical reflection on the modern horror genre, Part 2 is still undeniably unnerving. — Jacob Trussell
5. American Psycho (2000)
A lean, mean horror-comedy classic, Mary Harron’s American Psycho takes preening, wolfish wall street psychopathy to its logical extreme: chainsaws. Nothing says “modern man” like serial murder as upsetting as the subtle off-white coloring on Paul Allen’s business card. A darkly comedic critique of corporate masculinity, American Psycho tackles the horrors of disconnected, image-obsessed yuppies with a critical wit and a knowing grin. Valuing social status over human life? That’s business, baby. — Meg Shields
4. Housebound (2014)
What could be worse than eight months of house arrest with your mom? Eight months of haunted house arrest with your mom! New Zealander Gerard Johnstone’s Housebound may be the driest horror-comedy the genre has ever offered, but the heart of the film is far darker than the conceit gives it credit for. Following career criminal Kylie as she uncovers the mystery of her estranged home, Housebound taps into a universal fear in an unexpected and oddly heartwarming way. Johnstone balances the awkward comic bickering of mother and daughter with a truly sinister and wickedly bloody third act, crossing sub-genres into a masterful comic nightmare. — Jacob Trussell
3. The Innkeepers (2011)
Ti West deserves more love for this slice of absolute genre perfection. Sara Paxton and Pat Healy give incredibly sharp performances as co-workers at a supposedly haunted hotel, and the script is in perfect sync with them when it comes to comic timing, character beats, and scares. We’re laughing nervously along with them throughout even as Paxton crafts someone we come to care about so acutely that her fears become our own. Brilliantly executed jump scares and an increasing tone of terror build to an ending that is both a nerve-jangling delight and a massive kick to the heart. — Rob Hunter
2. The Loved Ones (2009)
Every once in a while, a movie comes out of nowhere and strikes you harder than a hammer to the cranium. Once upon a time, The Loved Ones was that movie for horror buffs. Sean Byrne’s directorial debut is as demented and cruel as cinema gets, as we witness a rejected high school girl and father kidnap her dream hunk on prom night for a torture party at their house. The atrocities that take place onscreen aren’t for the faint of heart, and the jet black gallows humor peppered throughout is for an acquired taste. Still, if you ever watched a John Hughes movie and wished it was more like Saw then The Loved Ones has everything you need. — Kieran Fisher
1. An American Werewolf in London (1981)
John Landis wastes no time: he lets the credits roll over forbidding Scottish moors and slaps on “Blue Moon,” by The Marcels. We’re in for lunacy. Armed with naught but glib sarcasm our two dumb smucks bumble blindly into a Hammer film, point slack-jawed at pentagrams, and wander into the wolf-infested fog despite hushed local warnings. Soon enough, David has been bitten and Jack torn to pieces, the latter condemned to nag his friend to accept an early grave, the former, doomed undergo a landmark makeup effects sequence. The comedy in American Werewolf squirms between frighting and fish out of water, calamity and college humor, body horror and bawdy. It’s a fine, uneasy line that raises neck hairs, demands winces, and, to the horror hound’s delight, prompts giggles. — Meg Shields