Although they aim to provoke contrary emotional responses, horror and comedy needn’t be mutually exclusive. Granted, they are strange bedfellows but can pair together nicely under the right circumstances.
Indeed, some of our most beloved scary movies also happen to be quite effective rib ticklers. Even if you discount those that occupy the realm of explicit parody (like Zombieland or What We Do in the Shadows), there are still plenty of genuine horror flicks out there that have a good sense of humour.
For whatever reason, this was especially common in 2022, with almost every major release containing some light-hearted relief. Perhaps this levity is just what the doctor ordered after everything we’ve had to endure lately.
With all the depressing news, unrelenting chaos, maddening politics and unprecedented hardships of the past few years, it’s hardly a stretch to say that we were in need of laughter. And, sometimes, horror can be an unlikely source of this release.
With that said, here are some of the funniest moments that the horror genre gave us in 2022. It goes without saying, but major spoilers ahead….
NOPE – Title Drop
Relative to its budget, it’s hard to think of another film that benefited from as much word-of-mouth publicity this year as Terrifier 2. It even managed to usurp Halloween Ends as October’s most controversial and talked about slasher flick, dominating the media cycle with reports of disgusted walkouts, multiple fainting episodes and copious amounts of vomiting.
Whether you found this reputation to be off-putting or (as was surely the case for most of our readers) enticing, it’s impossible to deny that Damien Leone’s sequel knew how to push buttons and make headlines. It might surprise you to learn then, that Terrifier 2 is not really that nasty. It’s undeniably extreme, but it also has its tongue lodged firmly in its cheek.
When Art the Clown extravagantly butchers Allie by scalping her, flaying her alive, ripping off her arm, removing her face, and then literally rubbing salt in the wounds, it’s so over-the-top that it becomes utterly cartoonish. As he gleefully skips back into the room, so that he can douse his victim in a full bottle of bleach, it resembles Itchy & Scratchy more so than it does endurance test cinema like Martyrs or The Human Centipede.
Key to striking this darkly playful tone is actor David Howard Thornton, whose flamboyant performance as Art is always walking a fine line between menacing and mischievous. A great example of this is the scene in which he taunts Sienna at the Halloween store.
Every time our protagonist turns around to see what her stalker is doing, he’s either messing around with a new prop or donning a silly accessory. And the well-timed editing makes each of these reveals feel like a true punchline. Complementing this, Thornton’s exaggerated facial expressions and theatrical body language (at their most striking when he’s adopting a bizarrely rigid posture and using a party blower) are legitimately hysterical.
Terrifier 2 is obviously a gruesome film, but moments like this show that it can also be a very funny one at times. Either that or I urgently need psychiatric help.
Scream – Delayed Gratification
Once you’ve consumed enough horror media, you begin to learn its patterns. It can be very difficult to catch genre devotees off guard because we know the conventions, can easily suss out the identity of killers, and have become alarmingly desensitized to gore.
Of course, the Scream franchise is known for taking advantage of this and for upending our expectations with crafty meta gags. While the 1996 original parodied the “rules” for surviving a horror movie — and films 2 through 4 poked fun at sequel tropes — the 2022 outing takes aim at the legacy reboot trend.
Characters talk at length about the importance of staying true to formula, playing it safe by rehashing old ideas and placating entitled fans with nostalgia. However, the satire isn’t confined exclusively to dialogue exchanges, as Radio Silence’s filmmaking has a sarcastic streak as well.
Take the build-up to Wes’ death for example, which is a ludicrously protracted sequence that teases a solitary jump scare and nothing else. Ignoring every clichéd opportunity for a cheap jolt, it has you following the would-be victim for three whole minutes, during which there is no plot progression, character development or creepy imagery to speak of.
Wes exits the shower, performs his morning ablutions, gets dressed, and prepares breakfast, all without incident. It’s frankly astonishing for horror aficionados to see a character shut their bathroom medicine cabinet, only for there to be nothing in the reflection. Likewise, when somebody closes the fridge door in a movie, you automatically tense up because there’s guaranteed to be a threat standing right behind it.
Yet here, there’s just nothing. The shots are framed with prominent empty space that goes unfilled; the camera lingers in vacant rooms for an inordinate amount of time (as if it too is impatiently waiting for something to happen) and the music keeps prematurely crescendoing for fake-outs.
Filled with misdirects, it’s a witty sequence that subverts your genre knowledge and goes on for an absurdly long time, until you are lulled into a false sense of security. Then, when you’ve finally given up trying to anticipate it, Ghostface appears.
The Sadness – Technical Difficulties
Capably living up to its title, The Sadness (which did the festival circuit last year but had a wider release on Shudder in 2022) is quite the downer. A not-so-subtle allegory for recent global events, it tells the story of a viral outbreak, circulating throughout Taiwan, that is initially dismissed as nothing more than a harmless flu variant. The warnings of experts are entirely ignored, politicians refuse to take decisive action, and bogus information spreads like wildfire across social media. Noticed any real-world parallels yet?
Anyway, it turns out that the “Alvin” virus is a little more severe than your average case of the sniffles and in fact triggers a total loss of inhibitions in its carriers. This means that anyone who is infected with the disease can’t help but act upon their basest impulses, without any regard for the consequences.
As you might expect, this leads to all manner of depraved NSFW behaviour, from infanticide to necrophilia, self-mutilation, wanton violence, and numerous rapes. Suffice it to say, it’s hardly a barrel of laughs.
Yet that’s not to say that the film is entirely straight-faced either, as there is a satirical overtone here that is pretty hard to miss. Lampooning the West’s chaotic response to COVID-19, The Sadness is dripping with irony if you can look past all of its graphic shocks.
This is best exemplified when a bunch of survivors tune into an emergency press conference after holding up in a hospital, trusting that their government will have some kind of plan. Alas, their leaders prove to be woefully ill-equipped for dealing with this catastrophe and use the broadcast as an opportunity to downplay their failures instead.
It’s the usual damage control spin that we’ve all grown accustomed to hearing lately. That is until a military General starts to exhibit symptoms of Alvin live on air and then proceeds to grapple with the Taiwanese President, before shoving an unpinned grenade into his mouth.
While the patriotic music swells, the public watches on in disbelief as their head of state’s cranium explodes into tiny giblets. A few seconds later, the broadcast abruptly cuts to a “technical difficulties” message, but it’s already far too late to save face. Their cover-up has been exposed in the most humiliating, slapstick fashion.
To be honest, it’s probably still more reassuring and dignified than a lot of actual government briefings we’ve had in recent years.
X – Chekhov’s Heart Condition
For a lot of horror antagonists death is naught but a slight inconvenience. It doesn’t matter how conclusively you deal with the likes of Jigsaw or the Leprechaun because, as long as people are still hooked by their exploits, they’ll keep on coming back. In Friday the 13th Part VIII, Jason melted into a pile of viscous sludge for pity’s sake, yet his atomization didn’t prevent him from staging a miraculous comeback a few years later.
Not all evildoers are blessed with such immortality though and, on the rare occasion that a horror villain pops their clogs, it can be extremely satisfying to watch. For every unkillable Pinhead, there’s a Henry Rhodes getting torn to shreds in Day of the Dead or a Mrs. Carmody from The Mist having their brains blown out.
Less cathartic is Howard’s demise in X, which is so pitiful that you almost end up feeling sorry for the murderous geriatric. Throughout Ti West’s exploitation throwback, this curmudgeonly killer turns down repeated advances from his wife Pearl, arguing that his frail heart is not capable of withstanding the excitement of physical intimacy.
As it later turns out, he is able to perform just fine in the bedroom and what actually does him in is an unexpected fright. After shooting Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) in the face with a double-barrel shotgun, Howard starts dragging the teenager’s body inside to make it look like she broke in, thus justifying his actions as self-defence.
Unfortunately for him, Lorraine has a post-mortem spasm that sees her gurgling up blood, startling Howard and in the process triggering a fatal cardiac event. He then keels over clutching at his failing ticker and promptly stops breathing. It’s such an unceremonious, tragicomic way for a repulsive character like Howard to go out.
Prey – The Fur Traders’ Comeuppance
The best entries in the Predator franchise understand that taking down a Yautja isn’t accomplished via brute strength or immense firepower. When Dutch’s team unloaded an arsenal of miniguns, assault rifles, SMGs and grenade launchers at one during the original movie, they failed to bring down their foe. And, throughout the entire series, these intergalactic big game hunters have managed to shrug off other bombastic displays of force.
In the end, it always comes down to smarts. That’s why — despite not having access to any military hardware or a bulging six-pack — Naru is able to survive her Kuhtaamia in Prey. Tremendously observant and resourceful, she learns the Yautja’s tactics and eventually comes to master its technology as well. She deduces that it only wants to hunt those who actually pose a challenge, figures out how to elude its heat vision by ingesting certain herbs, and tricks it into committing suicide with its own laser targeting system.
Not everyone is so shrewdly perceptive though. At the complete opposite end of the spectrum, we have the French voyageurs, who totally misread the Predator (and its sportsman motives) when they attempt to use a captured Naru as bait. Planning to take the creature on in head-to-head combat, they are summarily massacred in a gloriously violent set piece.
The effortlessness with which the alien makes short work of these fur traders is hilarious in and of itself, but there’s even a proper joke at one point that elicits real laughter. Amid all the chaos, a few of the men decided to shoot the Yautja at point-blank range, using unreliable Brown Bess muskets.
When their target blocks this volley with a shield, there’s a brief pause in the action as the hapless idiots accept that they are totally and unequivocally fucked. Kind of like when Wile E. Coyote halts in mid-air upon realising that he’s about to freefall down a canyon.
With perfect comic timing and synchronicity, the voyageurs then panickily try to reload their muskets (a longwinded process that they do not have anywhere near enough time to complete). Before the Predator can then retaliate, we abruptly cut away from the scene because we don’t even need to see what comes next. It’s a forgone conclusion.
Halloween Ends – Dead Air
Not content with indiscriminately slaughtering anyone who happens to cross their path, horror villains often fancy themselves as punitive jesters and like to dispense poetic justice every once in a while.
This is especially true of Freddy Krueger, whose M.O necessitates that he gets to know his victims intimately, learning their fears, weaknesses and character defects so that these can later be weaponized against them. Although he’s not quite as calculating as the Springwood Slasher, Jason Voorhees has a similar knack for dispatching teens in amusingly bespoke ways, even if it’s just a case of crudely beating a guitarist to death using their own instrument.
Conversely, Michel Myers is nothing more than unbridled id, driven solely by an insatiable compulsion to kill. Given his status as a soulless vessel of pure evil, he doesn’t have time for any of that dramatic irony stuff. Instead, he prefers to motivelessly drift around the streets of Haddonfield — stabbing and choking whoever is in reach — like when a jellyfish stings beachgoers who are unfortunate enough to float into its orbit.
As the Shape’s disciple in Halloween Ends, Corey Cunningham takes after Michael in most respects, going so far as to borrow his mask at one point. Yet he’s not quite the perfect student and breaks a few of the sacred boogeyman rules. Specifically, he’s far too loquacious, has romantic entanglements and harbours grudges against those who’ve wronged him.
As far as the Blumhouse continuity is concerned, Michael never seeks out retribution, but his apprentice is a more emotionally invested killer. A great example of this is when he pays a visit to WURG Radio station and enacts vengeance upon the local shock jock, Willy the Kid, with whom he previously had an altercation.
Willy has spent the last few years infecting the airwaves with harmful misinformation and conspiracy theorist nonsense, so it’s only fitting that his venomous tongue be the focus of his demise. Adding a personal touch to the murder, Corey bashes the DJ’s head against a desk — until his jaw is gruesomely dislocated — and then cuts out his lolling tongue with a pair of scissors.
The severed organ is then left spinning on a record player, causing the song to skip each time it collides with the needle. It’s a ridiculous, blackly comic image in a film that’s otherwise preoccupied with introspective meditations on the nature of evil and generational trauma. The fact that it’s all scored to The Cramps’ “I Was A Teenage Werewolf” just makes it feel more sardonic.
Barbarian – AJ Does Some Liquidating
Those who blanketly dismiss the horror genre tend to cite the fact that it relies too heavily on characters doing “unrealistic” or “dumb” things. Which strikes me as quite a charitable view of humanity, given that you only have to turn on the news for a hot minute to see how breathtakingly stupid people can be.
Barbarian is a film that addresses this grievance head-on, by having its eminently sensible protagonist, Tess, make all the right movies. With keen self-preservation instincts, she photographs a stranger’s ID in case he later turns out to be a weirdo, angles a mirror to reflect light down a darkened hallway, and makes the wise decision to leave when shit starts to get out of hand.
Despite all this forethought, she still ends up in the exact same place as AJ, a complete jackass of a man who is his own worst enemy. The movie’s thesis is that, as a woman, Tess has to be a lot more perceptive of everyday threats, while a privileged male like AJ is able to carelessly bluster through life without thinking.
As such, when she discovers an interconnected network of tunnels running beneath Barbary house, her first impulse is to get the fuck out of dodge. Meanwhile, he decides to Google if the additional square-footage might increase his Airbnb’s resale value.
What follows is a very revealing sequence that tells you everything you need to know about AJ, as he nonchalantly crawls around a subterranean rape dungeon, measuring every last inch of the property to see how much it could theoretically drive up its price. His sheer avarice is so overwhelming that he doesn’t register the cages, bloody walls, or voyeuristic camera in his periphery. Like the opportunistic dickhead that he is, he only cares about how he can profit from this situation.
What makes the scene so darkly funny is that, when these red flags were shown earlier from Tess’ perspective, they were treated with an appropriate sense of dread. Yet AJ’s comparably laidback tour of the underground doesn’t even warrant a musical score or creepy camerawork. It’s just a mundane admin task for him.