Are you watching iZombie? The new show about a girl infected with a zombie virus who works in a morgue and solves crime? On the CW on Tuesday nights? Well you should be. It’s one of the most promsiing combinations of witty, banter-y humor and horror that I’ve seen in a while.
It also made me realize that while I’m a fan of horror in general I really love horror that knows how to laugh at itself. Because I’m more sensitive to visual scares than written ones, I actually refused to watch any horror movies until Evil Dead came along. There’s something so cathartic about laughing in the middle of something terrifying. While there are a lot of horror (novels and films both) with moments of unexpected humor, I’m talking here about laugh-out-loud funny stuff, rather than the dark-as-night black humor of something like Bret Easton Ellis. Some of my favorites are genuinely scary horror with comic relief, some are more comedies that adopt horror scenery, but they all combine that desire to bring you to an uncomfortable place through a scary or gross set-up and then make you laugh. This kind of push-pull of maintaining tension and then releasing it through humor is actually incredibly impressive, so if you like to laugh-scream, here are some picks for you.
I know, I know, this is new and it could end up sucking hard, but the first episode made me fall in love. Viv was a medical residents with bright prospects and an adorable boyfriend before she was attacked by zombies. Now she’s trying to keep the secret from her family and friends while getting the brains she needs to not turn into a shambling monster. She gets a job as a resident in the morgue, breaks things off with handsome boyfriend, shuns her family and friends and tries to keep her humanity by skulking alone in her room. But her boss at the morgue finds out she’s a zombie (and thinks it’s fascinating), her family keep forcing her to interact with them and the world, and she discovers she can see visions of the people whose brains she eats. She and her coroner boss Ravi figure out they can use this new talent to solve a murder, tell a local cop Liv is psychic and away we go. This is from the creator of Veronica Mars and has some of the same witty, clever dialogue and similarly high levels of snark. Based on a comic of the same name from Chris Roberson and Michael Allred.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which balanced horror and romance and comedy in brilliant ways, is one of my favorite horror/comedy combos. Not every single episode was a winner, but when taken as a whole, this series is just so good. The set-up alone is ridiculous and so, so funny: a blond, perky high school student is all that stands between us and apocalyptic evil. The bad guys were seriously bad news, but Buffy always had the Scoobies for comic relief (by the way, Scooby Do? Comedy/horror. Think about it.). Buffy has the kind of humor that I like best – smart and smart-alecky. Not that I don’t appreciate a good pun or general silliness, but good looking people bantering with each other will always be my catnip. Because the show got very very dark towards the end, I tend to re-watch early seasons. I love the quick-talking humor of Joss Whedon’s shows (Buffy and FIrefly are two of a small number of TV shows I own on DVD) the same way I love Gilmore Girls.
Honorary Mention: Supernatural
Yes, I was horribly late to the Supernatural bandwagon, but I’m on board now, trying to catch up! While Supernatural does not have as many laugh-out-loud moments as some things in this post, it has more genuine horror than most. And when it IS funny? Damn, it’s really funny. It’s the whole light dark thing. The show goes darker than most, so you appreciate the humor even more.
Shaun of the Dead
The first of the marvelous cinematic collaborations of Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, this is still my favorite. It falls in the camp of making fun of the horror genre, especially the zombie movies it apes so well. Shaun is a slacker who is SO much of a slacker that he barely notices the zombie apocalypse has come to pass. But once he does, he steps up and rescues the things he cares about most: his mom, his best friend, his ex-girlfriend, and his local pub. The brilliance of this and the other films in director Edgar Wright’s Cornetto trilogy is that it has a lot of respect for the film genres it is skewering. There are tense moments in Shaun of the Dead, but usually they are very quickly turned into humor.
The Cabin In The Woods
This is much more violent than I usually like in my horror films, but good golly is it funny too. It takes a bog standard horror movie premise — five friends head for a remote cabin for a getaway and encounter mysterious supernatural evil. But the absolute fun of the movie is juxtaposition of the five teens and the bureaucrats sitting in a remote facility watching them. It would be a shame to give too much away, but this one is excellently scary, with lots of “boo, eek” moments that made me jump in my seat. It is also exceedingly clever.
Again, this is a movie I would normally find way too scary and SERIOUSLY way too disgusting, but the humor kicks in at all the right moments to lighten the mood and release the tension. If you have fond memory of creature-feature movies from your youth, this will be a winner. It has a mishmash of horror elements: aliens, parasites, mutant monsters, etc. The reason that it all works so well is that it also has a top-notch cast. Not only Nathan Fillion as they male lead, but Elizabeth Banks and Michael Rooker are both fantastic. Super gross, but also very, very funny.
Another humorous take on the zombie apocalypse, this time with the appealing lead of Jesse Eisenberg, an awkward survivor who meets up with the hilariously gung-ho Woody Harrelson on the road. The two decide to work together, encountering the lovely Emma Stone and her sister Abigail Breslin as they scavenge a ruined landscape for supplies (especially twinkies) and shelter. There’s a fanTASTIC cameo from Bill Murray, as himself. Remember your cardio, people.
A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore
I could choose any number of books by Chris Moore, as I think he can do no wrong. He has had his zany way with demons, sea monsters, vampires and with A Dirty Job – Death himself. The story starts with San Francisco thrift shop owner Charlie Asher, a mild-mannered, utterly normal guy whose wife dies in childbirth. Charlie walked in on Death as he was collecting his wife and inexplicably became Death himself. Charlie has to learn the ropes of being a death merchant, while opposing a rising force of darkness that seeks to plunge the world into chaos. The cast of characters is full of wacky San Francisco types and lots of the smart humor that Moore does better than almost anyone.
Apocalypse Cow by Michael Logan
In this very-British, very funny debut an engineered virus gets loose in the cow population of Glasgow, spreading and turning even beloved household pets into slavering monsters. A bunch of misfits band together to survive the resulting zombie apocalypse, including a teen named Geldof whose militant vegan mother has a hard time accepting that animals are the enemy now. The group is fighting not only the local livestock, but shadowy government forces trying to keep the outbreak under wraps. Funny stuff, with a sequel out this years called World War Moo
John Dies at the End by David Wong
This novel and it’s equally hilarious sequel This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It have a delightfully meta take on horror. Slacker Dave Wong gets a call from his drug-addled friend John that he’s taken a new drug called “soy sauce” and now has access to a higher plane of consciousness. Or maybe it opens a gateway to hell. One or the other. Maybe both, actually. It’s trippy and full of fun pokes at the horror genre and its tropes while still being scary. I loved the sequel too, which adds alien invasions to the horror mix.
Gil’s All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez
A. Lee Martinez, like Christopher Moore, is a writer that I have trusted through many books to tell me a horror story that will make me giggle uncontrollably. Gil’s All Night Diner has a fairly regular zombie incursion issue. The manager asks Duke and Earl, a couple of customers passing through, if they’d be willing to help take care of the problem. Since Duke is a werewolf and Earl a vampire, they would seem eminently capable of dealing with the zombies, but the diner has bigger supernatural problems than they imagined. Quirky and silly in the best way, this makes fun of the genre but has more depth than the jokey surface would imply.
Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix
Warning, you shouldn’t really read this one as an ebook. This is a book that needs to be held in your hands. You will think you’re holding the world’s weirdest Ikea catalog, but really it’s a delightful little horror story set in a fictitious (thinly veiled Ikea) big box store. When the store manager keeps finding the store in disarray – broken items, ruined furniture, etc – he orders employees to stay over night and catch whomever is doing the damage. They find more than they bargained for, of course. Did I mention the store is built on the site of an old penitentiary? The grind of working retail and the blandness of big box consumerism combine wonderfully with horror in this quirky novel.
Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament by S.G. Browne
I haven’t read this one, but my guru on all things horror, Becky Spratford loves it, so it is on my TBR pile. Zombie romance is a stretch, but when played for laughs, I have a feeling this is a charmer. Andy Warner is a recent zombie who goes to Undead Anonymous meetings and meets fellow zombie Rita who gives him a reason to live, so to speak.