Phillip's Horror Lists -- Part Seven (The Best of the Funny)
Horror-comedies are extremely hard to pull off. Too often, the scales are tipped in one direction or the other. More often than not, the results are incredibly slap-dash, silly affairs like "Scary Movie" that are insulting to true horror fans. We don't want someone to make fun of our genre, godammit...we want someone to poke fun at the conventions WITH us. Here, then, are my top picks for those horror films that bring the scary and the funny in equal measures. We'll start with the best of the best, my 5-star films. I'll detail the runner-up 4-star films in my next post. Spoiler alert: you won't find "Shaun of the Dead" on either list. While I like the film, I just don't love it, despite my love of Simon Pegg. Rest assured, however, you'll find plenty of other films to take it's place. In alpha, then...the best of the horror-comedies:
Army of Darkness (1992) – At its best, “Army of Darkness” plays out like a live-action Looney Tunes cartoon or a Three Stooges adventure with walking skeletons. Although this is a direct sequel to “Evil Dead 2” (it starts, literally, where “ED2” left off), there’s very little of the creepy atmosphere from the earlier films. Rather, “AOD” is a comedy first, a horror film second. It also happens to be one of my all-time favorite films and one of my favorite movies to quote from (the “boomstick” line may be my single favorite line of dialogue, ever). Even though it’s silly, there’s more than enough nods to genre conventions to keep horror fans happy. This is actually a great kids’ movie, with lots of parental supervision required.
Botched (2007) – As far as newer horror films go, there aren't many that I like more than “Severance” and “Botched.” Almost two peas in a pod, both films take realistic, violent situations and stretch them like taffy into completely outrageous, cartoon-like new forms. Stephen Dorff is fantastic as Ritchie, a down-on-his-luck thief who’s just managed to land himself in some seriously hot water. He’s botched a job and, as punishment, has been sent to Russia to steal a valuable antique cross from a fortified office building. Once there, the job spins spectacularly out of control and Ritchie finds himself with several idiotic Russian cohorts, lots of hostages and the entire Russian police force waiting on the ground floor. Things go from bad to worse, however, when he becomes trapped on the 13th floor (along with everyone else) by a barbarian. You read that right. I will reveal nothing else but know this: if you enjoy horror films, there’s no way you won’t love this one. Laugh-out-loud funny, crude, vulgar, bloody, boisterous…I’m running out of adjectives here. Comes with my highest possible recommendation.
Burke and Hare (2010) – Oh, John Landis…how I missed you! One of the genre greats, Landis had been conspicuously absent from the horror field until he returned with this excellent horror-comedy. Starring Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis as the titular duo, as well as several of Pegg’s “Spaced” cast-mates in various roles and the wonderful Tim Curry as Dr. Monro, “Burke and Hare” is a loud, raunchy and quite wonderful period piece. Pegg and Serkis are a couple of bumbling con artists who decide to make some money in the grave-robbing business. Burke and Hare provide cadavers to kindly Dr. Knox (an outstanding Tom Wilkinson) and are, in return, able to pay for Burke’s girlfriend’s theatre troupe and Hare’s wife’s booze. Things eventually unravel, as they always do, leading to a bittersweet conclusion. This film had me laughing from beginning to end: Pegg and Serkis make a truly inspired comic duo. I’d like to see them appear in more films together!
I Sell the Dead (2008) – Almost a companion piece to “Burke and Hare,” “I Sell the Dead” is also about a grave-robber. Like “Burke and Hare,” it’s also one of the funniest films I've ever seen. The horror element in this one is much more pronounced and fantastical than in “Burke and Hare,” as well. In addition, you get the holy trifecta of Larry Fessenden, Angus Scrimm (The Tall Man) and Ron Perlman in supporting roles. A grave-robber awaiting his execution relates tales of his career to a monk (Ron Perlman, as Father Duffy). These tales involve some outrageous adventures, most of them supernatural, turning the film into something approaching an anthology show. One of my all-time favorite films and something that I re-watch on a regular basis.
Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer (2007) – This film is as silly as the day is long but it’s always crowd-pleasing and endearing. After witnessing the murder of his family, as a boy, Jack Brooks grows up to be a plumber and…well, a monster slayer. Unlike other slapstick horror comedies like the “Scary Movie” franchise, the humor in “JB:MS” doesn't tend to be grating or obnoxious. Where “Scary Movie” is stupid, “Jack Brooks…” is much more subtle, throwing out plenty of genre references for fans. Plus, you get Robert Englund as the bad guy, Professor Gordon Crowley. Add some top-notch latex and makeup effects and you have a seriously old-school throwback that actually delivers the goods.
Slither (2006) – Dig deep enough into my cinematic psyche and you’ll find a door marked “Troma: Do Not Enter!.” I admit a love for the purveyors of all things trash but, aside from a couple of the Toxie movies, don’t find a lot to recommend about them, aside from the shock value. James Gunn (along with Trent Haaga) are two Troma residents that have managed to do good in the real world. Gunn, alone, is responsible for two of my fave films, “Slither” and “Super,” along with “PG Porn,” which has to be seen to be believed. “Slither” also features Nathan Fillion, my man-crush from “Firefly,” so there’s a lot working in its favor. Slithery worm-aliens begin to take over a small town, turning the residents into disgusting mutants. A few non-affected citizens must band together to stop the takeover. Gut-bustingly funny and with enough ooky effects to make anyone turn away at least once, “Slither” is primo horror-comedy gold.
The Frighteners (1996) – Before there was “Lord of the Rings,” there was “The Frighteners,” one of my favorite Peter Jackson movies, as well as one of my favorite Michael J. Fox films. Fox plays a fake exorcist who can actually communicate with ghosts. A few of them are even his friends and travel with him from job to job, creating a spectral disturbance so that Fox can “clean” the house…pretty great scam! Everything’s coming out great until they butt heads with a seriously scary serial killer ghost dressed like the Grim Reaper. From there on, Fox and his cohorts are in for the fight of their lives (undead or otherwise). This is one of those films that’s just unbelievably fun and features a jaw-dropping bit of role reversal from Dee Wallace Stone. There’s also a nicely unhinged Jake Busey performance to tide everyone over. Simply magical.
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010) – And now…one of the best for last: “Tucker & Dale vs. Evil.” Part of the beauty of “T&DvE” is that it’s a meta-horror, in much the same way that “Cabin in the Woods” is a meta-horror. Whereas “Cabin in the Woods” cast its net wide and deconstructs the horror genre as a whole, “T&DvE” has a much more focused scope: slasher flicks. Imagine, if you will, a cinematic world where Jason is not a bad guy, merely misunderstood. You see, it’s actually the fault of those pesky teenagers, perpetually horny morons that continually put themselves into harm’s way. That, my friends, is the selling point behind this little gem. Tucker and Dale are super-friendly, socially-awkward rednecks that have a vacation house in the woods. On one of their trips, they run afoul of the typical collection of slasher-movie teenagers: jock, hyper-sexual blonde, stoner, etc…Despite all of Tucker and Dale’s efforts to convince them otherwise, the teenagers are positive that our titular heroes are actually maniacs and do everything in their power to prove it. As a result, they constantly put themselves into dangerous and (frequently) fatal situations, while poor Dale and Tucker scurry around to clean up the carnage. The filmmakers even manage to throw a genuinely touching love story into the mix…aww…This is a genius concept pulled off absolutely flawlessly. If “T&DvE” has any problems, I sure can’t see them. If possible, watch this with a big group of drunken friends: I can guarantee that beer will get spit across the room at least five times during the screening.