Spook Series continues! I have to say, this is a category I’ve been looking forward to for some time. So far we’ve covered Creepy Classics, Family-friendly Frights, and Ghostly and Ghoulish Greats. If you missed those, feel free to peruse the Spook Series Archives. Now, let’s have some laughs. I feel like horror and comedy are two peas in a pod—they’re both usually over the top and striving to get strong reactions out of people (screams or laughs, respectively), but when they’re cleverly combined, the resulting madness is disturbing, hilarious, and 100% wacky fun. I’ve picked out a few horror-comedies guaranteed to put smiles on those spooked faces. I give you 11 Sinister Side Splitters, Part One.
#11: The Monster Squad (1987)
Synopsis: “Dracula is alive. In fact, he plans to rule the world, and that is why he seeks the help of other legendary monsters. However, a bunch of kids regarded by their peers as losers uncover the devious plan and prepare for a counter strike.” –www.imdb.com
Why It’ll Split Your Sides: A handful of kids versus monsters of legend. Piece of cake, right? Well…not so much. The Monster Squad follows a group of young monster buffs who inherit the hefty responsibility to save the world from the clutches of ancient evils. You see, Dracula (Duncan Regehr) and Frankenstein’s monster (Tom Noonan) intend to tip the balance of power in evil’s favor. With the help of a werewolf, a mummy, a swamp creature, and some of Dracula’s vicious vampire ladies, the monsters plan to destroy a special medallion that somehow subdues their power and keeps good and evil on a level playing field. But Sean (Andre Gower) begins to realize that something is slightly off around town. With some further digging, he comes to realize that the monsters he’d read about are real and very deadly. He recruits his fellow monster enthusiasts in a desperate attempt not only to save their town, but to save the world. The Monster Squad may be a typical, cheesy ‘80s comedy, but it’s still fun. With so many over-the-top monsters running around, it actually feels like the song “The Monster Mash” in movie form. Or maybe like a cross between The Goonies and Ghostbusters. The pack of kids is a fun bunch, even if they do come off a little bratty. As for the baddies, the best one by far is Frankenstein’s monster. The gentle giant is rediscovering speech and learning new words throughout the film, and it’s pretty funny. The Monster Squad may not have an abundance of belly-shaking laughs, but it’s a fast-paced, lighthearted good time that’s perfect for Halloween.
My Grade: B-
#10: The Lost Boys (1987)
Synopsis: “After moving to a new town, two brothers are convinced that the area is frequented by vampires.” –www.imdb.com
Why It’ll Split Your Sides: The Lost Boys is yet another silly ‘80s flick that may not best example of horror-comedy out there, but it’s still a very fun little cult classic. Brothers Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim) move to a new town with their mother (Dianne Wiest). Michael develops a crush on a local girl and quickly falls in with her crowd—a rough bunch led by mysterious wild child David (Kiefer Sutherland). But Michael notices something is off about these rowdy motorcyclists. Meanwhile, Sam gets to know brothers Edgar (Corey Feldman) and Alan (Jamison Newlander), comic book geeks who are convinced the town in is overrun with blood-sucking killers. As the story unfolds, we get nice doses of brotherly love, a big finish, and lots of wonderfully awful ‘80s outfits and hairstyles. Seriously, I’ve never been so fascinated/repulsed by fashion. The humor is steady throughout, but two characters stick out to me as the real comedic relief. The first is Feldman’s Edgar, a deep-voiced, solemn teenager who takes himself and his vampire-annihilating duties so seriously that I couldn’t help laughing. He feigns bravery and knowledge, but underneath the bravado he’s just a scared, clueless kid. The other surprisingly funny character is Michael and Sam’s grandfather, played by Barnard Hughes. This sassy old man has some great one-liners; he even gets the last line of the film, and it’s a very funny one. The story in this film is nothing particularly unique or spectacular, and it starts out pretty slow, but it’s a fun flick that’s worth a view.
My Grade: B
#9: Army of Darkness (1993)
Synopsis: “A man is accidentally transported to 1300 A.D., where he must battle an army of the dead and retrieve the Necronomicon so he can return home.” –www.imdb.com
Why It’ll Split Your Sides: The third of Sam Raimi’s horror trilogy (the first two being The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II), Army of Darkness has elements of horror, but it actually feels more like an action/sci-fi/fantasy film. However, it is without doubt a comedy and probably the wackiest whirlwind of over-the-top hilarity you’ve ever seen. At the helm of this oddball mixed genre film is Ash (Bruce Campbell), the recurring protagonist in the trilogy. Poor Ash has already faced evil twice, but this time he has to go 600 years back in time to battle undead foes. Sucked into a mysterious portal at the end of the previous film, our hero finds himself tossed into 1300 A.D. among medieval folks who don’t trust him. One bizarre thing leads to another, and somehow Ash manages to raise an army of the undead hell-bent on retrieving a book he stole—a book he must have in order to return to his own time. It’s a pretty wild ride with lots of intentionally cheesy and ridiculous stuff along the way. Ash himself is one of the strangest and most wonderful parts of the film. Gone is the reluctant, bewildered hero of the first two films. This is Ash 2.0, and he is the groovy, conquering king of the world of weird. He sweeps women off their feet with outrageous lines like “Hail to the king, baby,” he mows down skeletal foes with his tricked-out car, and he chainsaws anyone who gets in his way. The heavy slapstick humor and Ash’s exaggerated masculine behavior often make me feel like this film is trying too hard, but it’s still a very fun, very worthy horror-comedy for the Halloween season.
My Grade: B
#8: Fright Night (2011)
Synopsis: “A teenager suspects that his new neighbor is a vampire.” –www.imdb.com
Why It’ll Split Your Sides: I will admit that I’ve heard from several sources that the 1985 original version of Fright Night is somewhat better than this recent remake. Alas, I haven’t seen the original so I can’t say. But if that’s the case, it must be incredible because I’m already thoroughly entertained by this version. Leading man Charley (Anton Yelchin), has a pretty amazing life—he has a good relationship with his mom (Toni Collette), he’s somehow dating the hottest girl in school (Imogen Poots), and he’s recently escaped the overwhelmingly nerdy clutches of his former best friend, Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Things are golden. Then, Jerry (Colin Farrell) moves in. Charley doesn’t pay much attention to his new neighbor at first, but then pushy, persistent Ed won’t stop bothering him about this stranger whom he insists is a vampire. Charley doesn’t take much stock into it, but then strange things start happening—people disappear and Charley begins to notice Jerry’s peculiar behavior. It all escalates to a life or death (undeath?) battle for Charley and the ones he loves most. One thing I really appreciate about this film is though there are a number of laughs (many of them provided by the wonderful David Tennant as over-the-top Las Vegas performer Peter Vincent), it’s also fairly creepy. At the peak of the Twilight era, Fright Night came to theaters and reminded us that vampires are, in fact, quite scary and vicious. With his rows of razor-sharp teeth, claw-like fingernails, superhuman strength, and sinister plans, Jerry is stark proof of that. Fright Night will split your sides, sure, but it’s also a thrilling ride and a pretty solid creature feature to boot.
My Grade: B+
#7: The Frighteners (1996)
Synopsis: “After a tragic car accident that killed his wife, a man discovers he can communicate with the dead to con people, but when a demonic spirit appears, he may be the only one who can stop it from killing the living and the dead.” –www.imdb.com
Why It’ll Split Your Sides: I don’t know what it is about this film, but I have a serious soft spot for it. The Frighteners is this wacky, fast-paced, often over-the-top horror-comedy that somehow manages to be charming and lovable in a very silly way. It’s like Ghostbusters meets Casper meets Bonnie and Clyde. Oh, and throw a con artist in there somewhere. Yep. It’s bizarre. Nonetheless, I think this film is vastly underrated. “Supernatural private eye” Frank (Michael J. Fox) uses his psychic powers and undead friends to con unwitting victims. Scouting out potential “clients” at funerals, Frank sends ghosts to their homes to haunt them. Their next step? Call the supernatural private eye by looking at the business card they conveniently just received. Frank has it down to a science. But things begin to change when Frank gets blamed for a string of mysterious murders—murders that he soon learns are the result of a ghostly killer. Fox instills his character with charm, general goodness, and a sympathetic quality that you have to admire, and his ghostly friends are a lot of fun (particularly Chi McBride as feisty disco-era ghost, Cyrus). Though the story sometimes gets a little too out there or even completely ridiculous (Jeffrey Combs’ Special Agent Milton Dammers is often far too kooky), The Frighteners is a wild, enjoyable ride that you should definitely try. And if none of what I said above draws you in, how about this: Peter Jackson directed it!
My Grade: B+
#6: Evil Dead II (1987)
Synopsis: “The lone survivor of an onslaught of flesh-possessing spirits holds up in a cabin with a group of strangers while the demons continue their attack.” –www.imdb.com
Why It’ll Split Your Sides: A MAN GETS A CHAINSAW FOR A HAND. I’m sorry. I’m still processing that ridiculous, wonderful piece of information. The sequel to Sam Raimi’s fun, campy horror, The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II takes Ash’s adventures to a whole new level—a level that is 100% hilarious. The difference between The Evil Dead and its sequel is undoubtedly the tone. The former, despite its enthusiastic silliness, is steeped in gore and trying to disturb viewers at least on a visceral level if nothing else; the latter is so entrenched in slapstick gore that it seems purely meant to entertain. And my God does it entertain. It’s definitely a bigger production than the previous film. Even though we’re stuck in a cabin most of the time, it feels more like an adventure than the previous film. With his priceless, over-the-top expressions, Bruce Campbell’s Ash is thrust into a slew of crazy situations—his girlfriend dances in the woods headless, all of the objects in the cabin literally join in to laugh at him, and his own possessed hand tries to kill him, just to name a few. This is a film that does not at all take itself seriously, and it’s a beautiful thing. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so pleasantly surprised by a horror-comedy. My only qualm is that the beginning of Evil Dead II doesn’t really mesh with the first film. It’s almost like they just start over, and I don’t really know why. Nonetheless, this is film is horror-comedy at its finest. As far as Side Splitters go, it’s a must.
My Grade: A-
So there are the first of the Side Splitters! But do you really want to get those ribs a-crackin’? Come back tomorrow to see the top five contenders! I double dare you…