Mixing horror and comedy together successfully can be a daunting prospect for a filmmaker. It’s a difficult balance to master between the spooky chills and effects of a horror film and the laughs and light-hearted tone of a comedy. For every Gremlins, Saturday the 14th, or Shaun of the Dead there are ten Dead Heat‘s. (Just imagine that for a second… nine sequels to Joe Piscopo’s Dead Heat. That is scary.) Ricky Gervais takes his stab at mixing comedy with ghosts and the afterlife this weekend with Ghost Town, where he stars as a man who dies on the operating table before being brought back to life with a little extra baggage… namely the ability to see and hear ghosts. Here’s hoping he’s following in the tradition of some classic ghostly comedies, and not in the wake of the horrifically bad ones.
Eight Great Ghostly Comedies
8.Casper – Yes, it’s a kid’s movie, and as such it stars Cristina Ricci before she grew up and turned all hot and trampy for Black Snake Moan, but it’s still a fun movie. Great effects and a strong, classic story combine to bring the friendly ghost to life. Seriously, this list isn’t complete without Casper. Or so I’ve been told. Although now that I’m thinking about it, a crossover would be nice… a sexually frustrated and eternally child-like Casper kidnaps a scantily-clad adult Ricci and chains her up in the mansion’s basement where he proceeds to swede himself a copy of The Entity…
7. Topper – Cary Grant was the George Clooney of his day (minus the good will and conscience) meaning he oozed class, charisma, star power, and pheromones. Here he plays one half of a couple who just so happen to be dead. The duo take it upon themselves to help out a living friend and find that it just may be the good deed that gets them into Heaven. Isn’t that a great (if ultimately empty) message?
6. Ghost - Remember when Whoopi Goldberg was more than just an annoying windbag on daytime TV? She doesn’t either. But her Oscar-winning turn as psychic Oda Mae Brown added the comedy into this tale of ghostly revenge, eternal love, and erotic pottery. Jerry Zucker (Airplane!) shows he can turn down the pratfalls and wordplay and play up the action, suspense, and love story at the core of the film. Patrick Swayze and a never-been-hotter Demi Moore co-star.
5. The Frighteners - Peter Jackson’s first foray into Hollywood was a disaster for him, Michael J. Fox, and the studio because it bombed big time at the box office. It’s found revenge on DVD though and more people have had a chance to enjoy Fox’s physical comedy and delivery. As a fake paranormal investigator with real paranormal gifts, he finds himself joking with apparitions one minute and facing down a frightening demon shrouded in black the next. And yes, the reaper does look suspiciously like a Ring Wraith from Jackson’s little Tolkien trilogy. As good as Fox is, the twisted-as-hell comedy gold in this movie is found in Jeffrey Combs’ portrayal of the Hitlerish-looking FBI agent, Milton Dammers. He’s a little out there and over the top, but he plays it just right, and it adds an interesting dynamic to the main plot.
4. House – I won’t deny that this is a cheap-looking movie. But as William Katt trudges through the horrible Vietnam sets, fights rubber-suited monsters in his quest to find his missing son, and warns George Wendt about the giant raccoon in his closet, you also realize the that House has heart and laughs to spare. It’s like a hooker with a heart of gold who’s memorized the stand-up routines of Mitch Hedberg, Steven Wright, and Patton Oswalt. Or something. Point is, it’s an underrated gem of a movie. Just be sure to avoid the lame sequel starring the other bar bum from Cheers, John Ratzenberger.
3. Beetlejuice – The first of Tim Burton’s four great films, Beetlejuice is a madcap romp about an affable dead couple who hire a bio-exorcist to scare away the living folks who’ve moved into their home. Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis are the likable couple and Michael Keaton is the disgusting, foul, mean, and funny as hell poltergeist eager for their business. Burton’s use of miniatures, puppets, and other practical effects is refreshingly old-school in today’s world of CGI. And you can’t help but smile when the shrunken head dude shows up in the waiting room scene.
2. Poltergeist – As scary as this movie is, people often forget it’s also pretty damn funny. Craig T. Nelson has some great lines and the final shot of the motel room’s TV getting wheeled out the door is classic. A family of five drops to four after their youngest gets sucked into the TV set, and only a diminutive Zelda Rubinstein can save her from the white light. JoBeth Williams falling in the muddy pool? Terrifying. Researcher clawing his face off in the mirror? Disgusting. Clown beneath the little boy’s bed? The scariest fucking thing you’ll ever see in a PG movie. Goddamn that clown. Goddamn him.
1. Ghostbusters – This is a no-brainer for the number one spot. Ghosts are plentiful and outnumbered only by the laugh-out-loud quips and conversations. Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, and Harold Ramis are stellar, and their chemistry as a threesome is unrivaled (although the trio from Wild Things gives some pretty stiff competition.) Murray’s deadpan Dr. Venkman is a particularly sarcastic joy. The keymaster/gatekeeper combination of Rick Moranis and Sigourney Weaver provides some laughs but also some chills, and of course, the Stay Puft Marshmellow Man terrifies beyond the capacity for rational thought.
Five Ghostly Comedies That Forgot to Add the Comedy
5. Ghost Rider - I never said this list could only contain intentional comedies… If you must watch Ghost Rider, and I’m not recommending you do, watch it as a comedy and you won’t feel so bad when it’s over.
4. Ghostbusters 2 – I’ll catch heat for this one, but anyone thinking about resurrecting the franchise for a third film should sit down and watch this stinker a few times. There are some laughs to be found, but it suffers in my mind (possibly unfairly) due to its severe inferiority to the original. The entire team returns from the first, including Weaver and Moranis, but even they can’t help the flat jokes and inane storyline. A river of slime beneath New York City that gains power from all the hatred and bad thoughts above? Some old czar in a haunted painting trying to possess Weaver’s newborn baby? The Titanic? The sloppy shotgun approach just doesn’t work, and an animated Statue of Liberty pales beside the genius terror that is the Stay Puft Marshmellow Man.
3. Over Her Dead Body – Oh, Paul Rudd. Did someone have pictures of you fellating a hamster or urinating on a small boy? Why else would you say ‘yes’ to a movie pairing you with the comedic black hole that is Eva Longoria? There’s not a single funny line in the movie which most likely means Rudd stuck to the script verbatim, collected his paycheck, and went home. He provided more laughs in Halloween: Curse of Michael Myers than he musters here.
2. High Spirits – Is there anyone funnier than Steve Guttenberg? I know, stupid rhetorical question. But the rest of the cast looks so good… Peter O’Toole can be funny, but he’d be the first one to tell you that he’s a whore who accepts any film offer period. Beverly D’Angelo can be funny, but she was in between Vacation movies and needed something to keep her SAG membership current. Liam Neeson, well I don’t know if he can be funny, but he’s usually a lot better than this. Director Neil Jordan can’t be funny (see We’re No Angels for further proof.) Darryl Hannah and Peter Gallagher were a lot more humorous together in Summer Lovers when his eye brows were at their bushiest, and her body was at its nakedest.
1. Ghost Dad – Comedic genius Bill Cosby died during production on The Cosby Show, and he was replaced by the guy who starred in Leonard Part VI, Ghost Dad, and who hates black people. True story.