Horror and comedy seem like polar opposite genres to the untrained eye. One is designed to induce the positive reaction of laughter, while the other is designed to make its audience uncomfortable, scared and sometimes disgusted. However, at least two of those emotions are also evoked by many comedies and anyone who often watches horror films at the cinema will know that there are as many uncomfortable giggles as shrieks after a well-deployed jump scare or gore that sends the audience the same colour as a Mr Green bonus code.
The two genres are much closer than they initially seem, and this means that they are often brought together. Mirth and madness have proven to be effective bedfellows in decades of truly brilliant horror-comedies.
Here are five of the best...
THE CABIN IN THE WOODS
In 2012, Joss Whedon brought Earth's Mightiest Heroes together for The Avengers. That increase in profile also allowed for the release of the wildly inventive The Cabin in the Woods, which Whedon co-wrote with Buffy buddy Drew Goddard. The film had been shot way back in 2009, but sat on the shelf for years. Its innovative central conceit suggests that the horror clichés we have grown accustomed to are part of rituals to appease ancient gods, overseen by suit-wearing folk in offices.
It's wonderful that this film finally saw the light of day, with its very smart ideas and deliciously devious sense of humour. It also features a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth riding a motorbike into a gorge, which is just about all anyone can ask for from a movie.
EVIL DEAD II
With the original Evil Dead film in 1981, Sam Raimi marked himself out as a rising star of horror, capable of delivering real scares with the help of excellent, low-budget practical effects. Six years later, he effectively remade that film in 15 minutes and then added another hour of insanity for Evil Dead II – an utterly unique parody sequel featuring Bruce Campbell at the peak of his rubber-faced, slapstick charm.
There's enough gore to make even a hardened horror fan queasy, but it always comes hand in hand with laughter. It's a film that stomps down on the gas pedal from the first frame, and never lifts that foot.
Peter Jackson is now best known as the architect of Middle Earth on the big screen and the man behind some of the most technologically innovative movies ever made. His roots, though, were in his native New Zealand and firmly within the world of outrageous splatter comedy – or 'splatstick', for fans of genre terminology. Braindead – also known as Dead Alive in the US – was his third movie, following the similarly debauched Bad Taste and Meet the Feebles. It's a masterpiece of unhinged carnage.
Braindead is a gore-soaked zombie tale triggered by a rabid rat-monkey and, if that doesn't excite you, I don't know what else I can say. The barmy lawnmower sequence is infamous for its violent excess, but the entire movie is a descent into madness that remains one of Jackson's greatest achievements.
Wes Craven may have opened his 90s slasher classic by disembowelling Drew Barrymore in horrifying fashion, but the film is also one of the funniest dissections of the horror genre ever made. Its analysis of horror movies, within a horror movie itself, is a clear influence on The Cabin in the Woods and still works as the godfather of slasher pastiche. From the character of Randy outlining the rules for surviving a slasher to the Ghostface killer's penchant for movie nerd quizzes, Craven delivered a selection of sly nods to the sub-genre he himself helped to popularise with A Nightmare On Elm Street.
Scream is a rare example of a horror comedy that works equally well from both of those genre positions, delivering grisly scares as well as laugh-out-loud dialogue and sight gags.
SHAUN OF THE DEAD
Edgar Wright's precision-tooled 'rom-zom-com' Shaun of the Dead is not just the greatest example of the horror comedy ever made, but one of the best films of all time, full stop. The script, co-written by Wright with his star Simon Pegg, is an elegant combination of broad humour, elegant foreshadowing and a surprising amount of heart. It's a film about romance, it's a film about friendship, and it's also a film about people being torn to pieces by the rampaging undead. You can't say fairer than that.