Find the perfect film for a Halloween date night through the subtle art of compromise
M y boyfriend jokes that we might have a problem: I like scary movies and he likes funny movies. Why, you might ask, is this a problem? Because of a compatibility analysis by the founders of OkCupid (who, not for nothing, are also Harvard-grad mathematicians). This analysis determined that the longevity of a relationship can be determined by your answers to three seemingly innocuous little questions. We’re all good on the first two — one, have you ever traveled alone, and two, would you want to live on a sailboat for a year. (Yes, and yes, for both of us.) But the third question — do you prefer scary movies or funny movies? — apparently spells disaster. He loves comedy. I love horror. According to the data, we’re doomed.
While my boyfriend does not usually trust personality tests, he does trust data (it should be noted he is a software engineer). So this conclusion gave him a nasty knock. Luckily, he’s been willing to look past the numbers and see that we can smooth over our apparent incompatibility through the art of compromise. I’ve come to like our evolving Sunday night ritual, which is to watch the previous night’s Saturday Night Live and see if it’s still good. (The answer is “sometimes.”) And even though he’s a wuss about horror, my boyfriend is willing to surprise me with a trip to the #1 haunted house in the Pine Barrens. We take turns being more than one kind of person for each other. And ultimately, what is love sometimes if not equal parts hilarity and horror?
During the Halloween season, this kind of compromise becomes particularly crucial, both for horror buffs who are desperate for someone to watch Haunting of Hill House with and for wimps who are nervous someone’s going to jump out at them on the SUPPOSEDLY non-haunted hayride. If you’re in a mixed relationship like mine, what the hell do you watch on date night?
The good news is horror movies — like love — can do more than one thing at a time. They can even be funny! I’ve organized this on a scale of compromise depending on where you each fit on the comedy/horror scale. We begin with the funniest and end with the scariest.
This one is pretty easy to negotiate for because it’s not that scary (more fantasy than horror) but has all the trappings of Halloween. A young Michael J. Fox stars as Scott Howard, a disappointingly average high school character. He pines after Pamela who won’t notice him, ignores the advances of his best friend, Boof (???), and gets bullied by Mick, a rival high school basketball player who happens to be dating Pamela. When Scott starts to notice some pretty intense forms of puberty (hair everywhere!) he tries to hide it. But when he goes to a party with Boof (STILL NOT OVER THIS) and the two “accidentally” start making out in a closet, he gets too aggressive and claws her on the neck. Scott, horrified with himself, goes home to confront his father who tells him he’s a werewolf. When the secret gets out that he’s an aggressive wolf man, Scott becomes popular overnight (the full moon helps) and a basketball all-star courtesy of his wolf-strength. He’ll have to choose between who he is as a wolf and who he wants to be as a teenage boy.
Bill Murray! Woody Harrelson! While there may be some bits of flesh and gore and zombies in this one, Emma Stone models how to keep it all together and Jesse Eisenberg distracts us by being typically annoying. The film follows Eisenberg, a nerdy college kid who’s just trying to survive the zombie apocalypse. (Aren’t we all?!) In his search for sanctuary, he meets three strangers who join him on the deadliest road trip across the Southwestern United States. Watch this one for a bona fide confessional moment from Bill Murray (playing Bill Murray) regarding the one regret he has in life.
Shaun of the Dead
There’s nothing like an existential crisis that takes place in the middle of an apocalypse to spark the fires of love. If you’ve determined that your partner is willing to embrace the zombie genre and might be okay with a little blood and death so long as everyone expires in good spirits, then it might be time for you to graduate to Shaun of the Dead. Shaun has no direction, his friends don’t respect him, and his girlfriend has just dumped him. He’s too caught up in feeling sorry for himself to notice the plethora of zombies crowding in on his spot at the pub until it’s too late. Hilarity, gore, and even romance ensues. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll never hear Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” the same way again.
The Cabin in the Woods
An homage to the slasher, this film written by Joss Whedon and David Goddard (who worked together on Buffy the Vampire Slayer). A group of college students takes a trip to an abandoned cabin in the middle of the woods. Meanwhile, two special agents (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford — a supreme duo) in some underground high tech facility are controlling the show. They’ve given all the students mind-altering drugs that will frustrate good decision making and increase libido. Part of an international experiment, the two agents make bets on which one of the students will get killed first, and by which monster. There’s also a blood sacrifice to be made. It’s a satire that still promises lots of slasher gore and jump scares, even when you know they’re coming.
Rocky Horror Picture Show
This one sits in the middle of the list because everyone needs to compromise. Maybe someone doesn’t like musicals. Maybe someone doesn’t like anything with “horror” in the title. Maybe someone has social anxiety or hates walking around in public in their underwear. Now you can all shut up and join the cult by going to a screening of Rocky Horror Picture Show. Bring toast, toilet paper, and a watergun and under no circumstances tell anyone it’s your first time. You’re welcome in advance for the date night advice.
In what might be the best portmanteau ever, this movie is about a tornado made of sharks. A freak cyclone picks up the ~man-eating sharks~ and floods the streets of L.A. with hungry aquatic monsters. Surfer dudes rush out to rescue their damsels. The tagline of the film is “Enough said!” but clearly that’s a lie. There was plenty more to be said in five more films: Sharknado 2: The Second One, Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!, Sharknado: The 4th Awakens, Sharknado 5: Global Swarming, and finally, The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time. You think we’re making up those titles, but we’re NOT.
It’s 1954, and Michael is a socially-awkward 10 year-old with an overactive imagination. He and his parents have just moved from one suburbia to another. He has weird dreams that only get weirder after he accidentally sees his parents having sex one night. He believes he sees his parents biting each other, which in short order, leads him to believe his parents are cannibals. Watch this one when you’re trying to get your partner to consider vegetarianism.
Evil Dead II
This one is very gory but also very funny. A parody sequel to the original Evil Dead, which was funny but not on purpose, the movie opens with Ash and his girlfriend Linda taking a romantic trip to a cabin in the middle of nowhere. (Relationship advice: avoid cabins in the middle of nowhere.) Ash plays a tape of the previous inhabitant of the cabin reading from the Necronomicon (more advice — don’t do that) which inadvertently unleashes a demon that inhabits Linda and turns her into a “deadite,” so Ash has to cut off her head and bury her in the woods. After a overnight stay with Ash, the demon spirit re-inhabits Linda’s dead, severed head which then attacks Ash with a chainsaw. Ash is forced to kill her again. More severed and possessed limbs ensue. This one is really just loads of blood and guts. But they’re funny blood and guts, really! (An example that will appeal to Electric Lit readers: After Ash cuts off his own possessed hand with the chainsaw and traps it under a bucket, he weighs it down with a copy of A Farewell to Arms.) If you’re not quite ready for this level of gore, sequel Army of Darkness could claim a place several notches towards the “funny” end.
An early adopter of subverting horror for satire, before The Cabin in the Woods was a twinkle in Joss Whedon’s eye, Scream is a film in which all the characters know what happens in horror movies and still make bad choices anyway. A girl gets a call from an unknown stranger who asks her what her favorite scary movie is, and then she ends up dead. With the murderer still on the loose, the film follows Sidney Prescott, the next victim being stalked by the murderer known as Ghostface. It’s the Pumpkin Spice Latte of halloween films (and costumes). Disgusting and too much, it’s a good idea in theory.
Our editor-in-chief Jess Zimmerman is the wimp in her mixed relationship, and has refused to refer to or even consider this alien impostor film as anything but “the one where the dog skis down the mountain in a pot.” In this 1987 Czech film, a group of teenagers arrive at a cottage in the mountains for a ski trip. They don’t know how or why they were selected. There are eleven teenagers in attendance, but the workshop leaders are adamant that there should only be ten of them. Who is the intruder? There are a few ridiculous moments to leaven the fear; the big hint that the ski camp counselors are Not What They Seem is that they like to undress and thrash around in piles of snow when no one’s watching. But the important part is that the dog survives and at one point gets tossed down a hill in a pot, emerges unscathed, and eats the food left behind by the victims. Consider just contemplating that image and not watching Wolf’s Hole at all.
The is the most horrifying end of the comedy-horror spectrum. There are some kind of funny moments that are mired in madness when Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), an aspiring writer and recovering alcoholic, chases his wife and child around an empty hotel with an axe. Okay, that didn’t make it sound very funny. But it’s a classic! And if your partner is a fan of data, you can tell them that scientists at King’s College in London proved that The Shining is the perfect scary movie based on its expert usage of suspense, shock value, relative realism, creepy setting, and gore. Just don’t tell them about the data suggesting that horror/comedy relationships are doomed.
11 Funny Horror Movies to Watch with the Wimp You Love was originally published in Electric Literature on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.