This list was harder than I thought. I honestly thought it would be easy to scrape up a handful of funny horror movies, or scary comedies, or even unintentionally funny, Ed Wood-type movies. But the more I started poking around, the more I discovered a healthy and thriving subgenre, packed with potential classics. This year's hilarious, disturbing Black Sheep is just one example, as well as Fido (which I missed). There were also many shades within this subgenre, ranging from flat-out comedies with supernatural elements (Beetlejuice, The Witches of Eastwick) to horror movies with just a hint of the absurd (The Invisible Man, An American Werewolf in London) to spoofs (Young Frankenstein, Scary Movie) So I stuck with my original impulse and went with the ones that I found the "funniest" that were actual "horror" movies. Oddly enough, most of my choices went -- arbitrarily -- to zombies. I guess vampires and ghosts just aren't as funny.
1. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
I've seen this four or five times now, and I just don't get sick of it. On a purely technical level, it moves beautifully, from the camera setups and tracking shots to the fluid editing. It's so well executed that the jokes are more or less imbedded within the film, rather than jumping out of the film, so that it remains funny each time. Some of the subtler jokes get better each time, such as Ed's "two seconds." What's even more amazing is how well it works as both a character-driven movie and a zombie movie. It's so good, it even earned the seal of approval from the zombie master, George A. Romero (the boys, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, went on to make cameos in Romero's Land of the Dead).
2. Army of Darkness (1992)
The debate rages on around Sam Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy: which one is best? I love them all, and Evil Dead II is my admitted favorite, but this third entry -- at one time entitled "Medieval Dead" -- is definitely the funniest. Bruce Campbell earned himself a lifelong cult following with his deadpan readings of lines like "boom stick," "primitive screwheads," "gimme some sugar, baby," etc. The drawback is that this film is definitely the least scary of the three films, but it does have its share of monsters, gore and creepy Harryhausen-like effects.
3. Braindead (1992) 4. The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Peter Jackson's manic gore-comedy was released in the United States in 1993 as "Dead-Alive," perhaps to avoid confusion with the not bad 1990 film Brain Dead (with Bill Paxton and Bill Pullman). The bite from a Sumatran rat-monkey creates a hoard of vicious, jerky zombies, and our hero Lionel (Timothy Balme) wards them off the best way he knows how: with a power lawnmower. If you don't laugh during that, there's something wrong with you.
This was the original zombie comedy, directed by Dan O'Bannon, a writer and artist who worked on John Carpenter's Dark Star (1974) as well as on Star Wars and Alien. The film unfurls with a crazy, shrieking pace and bizarre dialogue delivered in lurching tones. It takes place in a post-modern world where the movie Night of the Living Dead exists, but was secretly based on a true story! A mortuary worker and his new, young assistant inadvertently open a government-sealed drum of the zombie chemical and bring the undead back to life. The high point is the band of punk rockers hanging out in the cemetery at the wrong time. Scream Queen Linnea Quigley plays "Trash" and does a memorable striptease atop a tomb.
4. The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
5. Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter (1966)
Not so much the movie itself, but the commentary track by drive-in movie critic Joe Bob Briggs is very much worth checking out. Briggs is a genuine movie historian and social satirist who seems to know everything; he can rip a movie to shreds and make it fascinating all at the same time. And, with his deadpan, good-natured Texas drawl, he's absolutely hilarious. The 74 year-old William "One Shot" Beaudine directed the movie, which was something like the 350th of his career (if you care to count). Get ready for new levels of ineptitude, or perhaps apathy.
6. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)
The original movie never got even a nibble of the love that the TV series had, but it has its own weird, "B" movie charms. (The whole comic idea behind the title, originally, was the juxtaposition between the brain-dead cheerleader and the vicious skill of the slayer.) Kristy Swanson was the original Buffy, with Donald Sutherland as her "trainer," Luke Perry as her potential beau, Rutger Hauer as the bad bloodsucker and Paul Reubens as his Renfield-like underling. It has some pretty funny, early-90s-era dialogue, but the scene that keeps me laughing is Reubens' extended, exaggerated death scene. It's like something out of some dark, lost episode of "Pee-wee's Playhouse."
7. Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
This is probably not all that funny, or scary, but I loved it as a kid; I consider it my first movie, or at least the first one I remember seeing (on television, at age 7 or 8). I'm counting it because the real McCoys -- Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr. -- reprise their roles as Dracula and the Wolf Man, although someone called Glenn Strange plays the Frankenstein monster and clearly lacks Boris Karloff's presence. The comedy duo play a pair of baggage handlers who are charged with delivering the bodies of Dracula and Frankenstein's monster to a house of horrors, little realizing that they're still alive and have dastardly -- and rather silly -- plans. Lawrence Talbot (Chaney) tries to help, but keeps growing hair and fangs. For a good triple bill, Lugosi and Chaney also teamed up for The Wolf Man (1941) and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943).