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The very best horror comedies all have one thing in common: besides being funny, they’re also very scary. They play the scares for real, making the comedy even funnier. Here is a baker’s dozen of my favorites, some well-known, some obscure and all terrific.

1) The Ghost Breakers (1940)
Bob Hope and the ravishing Paulette Goddard star in this knockout comedy, part of which takes place in voodoo-drenched Cuba. Their great supporting cast includes: Richard (It Came From Outer Space) Carlson, the hilarious Willie Best, Noble Johnson (the Skull Island chief in King Kong, here playing a scary zombie) and Anthony (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) Quinn.

2) Murder, He Says (1945)
Finally out on DVD, this screwball classic stars Fred (The Absent-Minded Professor) MacMurray as a pollster trying to find a missing colleague. His search takes him to the hillbilly domain of the criminal Fleagle family (it’s where the Frank Frazetta/Al Williamson/Roy Krenkel/Nick Meglin/Angelo Torres “Fleagle Gang” got their name), headed by matriarch Marjorie Main, who rules her wacky clan with a bullwhip. There’s hidden money, idiot twins (Mert and Bert), a glowing dog, a hay compactor and an inside wink-wink reference to The Ghost Breakers. The mysterious song that Elany Fleagle sings throughout the movie later became the musical theme for NPR. Non-stop wackiness!

3) Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
This classic Abbott and Costello hit never lets the humor get in the way of the genuine scares. Their best movie by far, it features Universal’s Frankenstein monster (Glenn Strange), Dracula (Bela Lugosi), the Wolfman (Lon Chaney, Jr.) and even the Invisible Man (Vincent Price), who all play their horror roles straight. A fantastic comedy.

4) The Tenant (1976)
It might surprise a lot of you to find The Tenant on this list. The first time I saw this Roman Polanski film I was totally creeped-out and horrified. The second time I saw it, I laughed my ass off. This has to be just about the blackest comedy ever made. It stars Polanski, the exquisite Isabelle Adjani, Melvyn Douglas and Shelley Winters in a tale about Trelkovsky, a meek little guy (Polanski) in Paris who rents an apartment with an eerie history in a very strange and disturbing apartment building. Trelkovsky’s growing obsession with what went on in his apartment takes him into some extremely dark psychological places. I consider this Polanski’s best film.

5) An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Director John Landis knows scary (Twilight Zone The Movie) and knows funny (Animal House) and combines both in this groundbreaking werewolf movie. The opening trek across the moors with David Naughton and Griffin Dunne is as well-crafted and funny/scary as Landis’ Twilight Zone opening with Albert Brooks and Dan Aykroyd. Rick Baker’s make-ups pushed his medium into exciting new places (his stunning new transformation effects were “borrowed” by Rob Bottin for The Howling, which beat American Werewolf to the screen). Not real fond of the ending, though — the film just kinda stops without a satisfying resolution. John told me that life is like that — often sloppy, abrupt and imperfect. I know it is; that’s why we make movies that aren’t.

6) Ghostbusters (1984)
Everybody’s seen this one. This huge Ivan Reitman-directed hit, written by its stars Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and (an uncredited) Rick Moranis, brought horror comedy to a new level with its big budget effects. The movie also stars, of course, Bill Murray and a very hot Sigourney Weaver. My pal Bernie (Swamp Thing) Wrightson designed many of the scary ghosts and creatures, launching his career as a well-respected creature designer.

7) The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Talk about combining horror and comedy, this one really delivers on both. Directed and written by the brilliant Dan (Alien) O’Bannon, this low budget little picture has become a huge cult classic, more popular today than when it first was released. The 1982 Godzilla that never got made and Return made me the youngest production designer in film history. I was pretty green but Dan and I had a strong vision. I also worked extremely hard and had lots of help. Our little movie really holds up and, amazingly, I’m still very close to my friends in the talented cast — something that has never happened on any of my other films.

Did I mention it’s got the Tarman?

PS: I’m the wino on the sidewalk that the punks walk past near the beginning of the film.

8) Vampire’s Kiss (1989)
I love Nicolas Cage. He’s at his over-the-top looniest (and that’s saying a lot) in this movie about a publishing executive who thinks he’s turning into a vampire. The delectable Jennifer Beals co-stars.

9) The Frighteners (1996)
This Peter (Lord of the Rings) Jackson-directed film showcases the amazing talents of Michael J. Fox as a man who can communicate with the dead. He gets great support from Dee (The Howling) Wallace, John (The Addams Family) Astin and a very creepy Jake Busey. The Weta effects are unusual and top-notch. Had it been released when Jackson and producer Robert Zemeckis wanted (Halloween), it would have been a huge hit. The studio insisted on a summer release, which pretty much tanked it.

10) Shaun of the Dead (2004)
This great funny zombie movie stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and is the first film in their “Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy”. The other two are Hot Fuzz and The World’s End — both terrific as well. I love how Simon Pegg’s character is initially oblivious to the zombies all around him and that something is very, very wrong in the beginning of the film.

11) Black Sheep (2006)
You might not have seen this one about genetic engineering turning sheep into blood thirsty killers in New Zealand. As fun and wacky as it sounds! With scary sheep!

12) The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Just when you think your watching just another teen slasher flick… WHAM! The film takes a surprise 180 and then never lets up. A great cast, especially Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford — and cool creatures galore. Written by Joss (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) Whedon and Drew Goddard, Joss’ big budget super hero flick The Avengers was released at the same time. I think The Cabin in the Woods is the better of the two; it’s certainly more original.

13) Grabbers (2012)
This wonderful little Irish horror film is about bloodthirsty aliens arriving on an island off the coast of Ireland. The aliens have an aversion to feeding on anyone with alcohol in their system. Did I mention they landed in Ireland? Let the merriment (and drinking) begin! Cool creatures, by the way.

Arguments? Agreements? What films do you think should have been on the list that weren’t?

3 thoughts on “The ONE DOZEN Greatest HORROR COMEDIES

  1. I first spotted Jim Carrey in the vampire comedy, Once Bitten. The film had some fun moments and you could see that Carrey was going to hit it big. He was showing some great comedy chops and that silly putty face allowed him to change into a funny and frightening vampire all at once.

  2. Yes, Bill, I too always loved Ghost Breakers. One day a few years ago I was flipping channels and came across a Martin and Lewis film. It looked intriguing until I realized it was a direct remake of Ghost Breakers. The Frightners was nicely done, and the reaper character was handled in a uniquely stylized way without losing any of its terror. A&C Meet Frankenstein was actually the first time I saw Frankie and his friends on the big screen. Saw it in a rerun at one of the all day matinees (you remember, 25 cartoons, a Command Cody, and Zorro serials and then the feature). I was probably 9 or 10 and I found it a very funny and also a very scary film. The Wolfman scenes in particular with the big closeups, but also the well staged terror of him almost getting Lou, and Lou thinking he should return the apple.

  3. The fact that ‘The Ghost and Mr. Chicken’ wasn’t mentioned invalidates the whole list. But I’m going to watch ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ anyway. Wanna see your RocknRoll film list.

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