Short of outright sobs, there are just two sounds you’ll hear coming from movie theaters: laughter and screams. When filmmakers can successfully elicit both — running horror-loving audiences through emotional minefields that chase each adrenaline spike with just enough comedic relief to set them up for another shock — their films take on an almost electric quality. Just thinking of the stunning yet silly reveals in genre staples like “Shaun of the Dead” or “The Cabin in the Woods” can zap a smile on your face, and leave you itching to rewatch other memorable scenes and scares from your favorite funny yet spooky movies.
There’s considerable debate about which title merits being called the first horror comedy. Numerous shorts, including the 1920 silent film “Haunted Spooks,” might qualify. But by the time Bud Abbott and Lou Costello joined the Universal Monster Movies in “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein,” the horror comedy was firmly established as hallowed cinematic ground.
In the ’70s and ’80s, film talents from Vincent Price to John Landis joined in the fiendish fun with titles like “The Abominable Dr. Phibes” and “An American Werewolf in London.” Not long after, “Elvira: Mistress of the Dark,” “Evil Dead II,” “Re-Animator,” “They Live,” and more classics popped onto the scene. Horror comedy musicals of that era have been especially enduring, with “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “Young Frankenstein,” and “Little Shop of Horrors” baiting the Broadway crowd into visiting the dark side.
Of course, the horror-comedy genre really belongs to the films of the ’90s. Wes Craven broke the mold with the 1996 titan “Scream.” It was followed not much later by the Wayans brothers’ stupidly hysterical “Scary Movie” series. With such fruitful, frightful territory already explored, horror comedies are a dime a dozen these days: packing an already overstuffed market with nightmares that might be funny and scary, but too often make a mess while managing neither.
Throughout the 21st century, the best horror comedy movies have set themselves apart by lambasting both the tropes of the horror genre and the genuine fears from which those tropes emerged. Genre-defying marvel “Get Out” saw Jordan Peele find the humor in humanity’s hatred. Karyn Kusama’s cult classic “Jennifer’s Body” boasted an unprecedented revenge arc that just so happened to include a man-eating cheerleader. The latest horror comedy heavyweight? Halina Reijn’s “Bodies Bodies Bodies,” a social media-fueled shitshow you’ll love.
Without further ado (and without any franchise repeats), here are the 25 best horror comedy movies of the 21st century.