Horror and comedy thrive on two sides of the same spectrum. Without digging too deep into genre theory, a huge amount of comedy comes from watching someone else suffer in amusing ways. Slapstick mines physical pain for laughs, satire makes mincemeat out of its subjects, and theatre scholars have literally spent centuries debating whether comedy can exist without someone suffering as the punchline.
In film, the relationship is even tighter. After all, a cinema is built around timing and tension, but no two genres play with the sense of buld-up and release with such similar structure as horror and comedy. Whether it’s a scare set-piece or a great comedic bit, horror and comedy operate on pinpoint execution of mounting tension, precision timing, and ultimately, big payoff. In comedy, the payoff is a laugh. In horror, it’s screaming, jumping and wincing. But in a great horror-comedy, it’s both; a heady combination of physical and mental reaction that can make the scares scarier and the humor even funnier.
No wonder then that horror-comedy has long been one of the most popular and consistently high-quality subgenres in film. By combining the two, you end up with the perfect sleight of hand that makes each new trick pay off even better. Too busy laughing to remember to be scared? That’s when the perfect horror moment will pop up. Too scared to remember why you were laughing? Then it’s time for another bit of humor to let some of that tension out.
Without further ado, here are our picks for the greatest horror-comedies of all time, from the stone-cold classics to the newest gems of the 21st century.