Parody Horror Films

Comedy Horror

By Nicole Cicchetti, Christian Eltell, and Caitlin Aase


Comedy Horror or Parody Horror is a film genre that uses the conventions of both comedy and horror to mock or make comments on human fears. This genre can tend towards dark comedy.

Parody Horror uses the typical horror formula (a stock cast of characters, an inescapable situation, a killer who returns at the end) and meshes it with classic elements of comedy, such as a mix-up or misunderstanding, an extreme solution to a problem, and its own stock cast of characters. Instead of eliciting fear from the audience, the goal is laughter. This genre mocks the horror film formula and often times acknowledges that all the characters are in a movie (ex: Scream).

This genre became popular around the 1960s and 1970s and continues to thrive today.

Comedy Formula:

In films, comedy is usually based on jokes including a mix up between the characters and/or situations they are involved in. Comedic situations can be misunderstanding someone or something, and events can be unexpected based on imitations of famous figures. Comedy can follow a well-structured story most of the time, or just go off topic like in parodies or satires. The characters in comedy, such as a nerd, a hot girl, or an authority figure, manage to find solutions to problems in funny and extreme ways.

Horror Formula:

Many horror films have a very formulaic structure that they follow; this is what the comedy-horror film sets out to poke fun at.

There is the Set-up, which is the beginning of the film and introduces the characters and the situation. Generally the story begins with people usually teenagers who are somewhere they should not be or doing something they should not be doing. Such as hanging out in an abandoned building or playing with an Ouija board.

The group of people introduced in the Set-up is our Crew. The Crew is comprised of a hero, a heroine, an attractive female, a jock and a nerdy kid.  The group dynamic is usually that the nerdy kid is the side kick, the jock and the attractive female are dating or engaged in sexual relations and the hero and heroine are the chaste couple or just friends but always virgins. Alternately the Crew can also be a young, newly married heterosexual couple.

The Lockdown is the first notice that terrible times are in our Crew’s future. During the Lockdown a few things can happen. In a supernatural horror film the first subtle signs of the supernatural will appear such as objects being moved around or creepy noises, but the characters dismiss these signs. In slasher films often some disaster strikes such as a black out, storm, or broken down car that renders our Crew unable to escape the situation.

After the initial signs that something horrible is about to happen It Begins. The nerdy kid is killed first but no one will notice this and the attractive female and the jock will either be shown having sex or it will be explicitly implied. This is to show off how immoral they are.  If our Crew is a couple the female will be harassed in some way usually in a violent or sexual way.

Now what our Crew needs is a little Help? To get them out of this situation.  The Crew will discover the nerdy kid’s death and become aware that there is some killer or unseen entity that is out to get them. Alternately the male in the heterosexual couple will discover or start to believe in the harassment that the female in the couple is facing. The Crew will formulate plans on how to kill the monster or protect themselves but they will be fruitless. Some kind of authority figure usually a cop, someone’s father or a priest depending on the type of unseen entity will try to rescue the Crew but they too will perish.

The Final Win? The Crew will try to avenge the horrors that have been committed against them they will try and they think succeed in killing or removing the supernatural entity and they will feel relived.  Unfortunately for our Crew the last scene of the film will reveal that the monster, killer supernatural entity has not been killed.  The evil will return again to torment our Crew in a sequel.

Comedy Horror films poke fun at this formula by inventing rules that will help you survive in a horror film situation. Such as these rules created for the Zombieland world.


Movies by decade:

  • 1920s

Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pryde (1925)

  • 1930s

The Old Dark House (1932)

  • 1940s

Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

  • 1950s

The Blob (1958)

House on Haunted Hill (1959)

  • 1960s

Hillbillies in a Haunted House (1968)

  • 1970s

Young Frankenstein (1974)

Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978)

  • 1980s

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Creepshow (1982)

Ghostbusters (1984)

Gremlins (1984)

Once Bitten (1985)

Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

  • 1990s

Frankenhooker (1990)

Dracula: Dead and Loving it! (1995)

Cannibal! The Musical (1996)

Scream (1996)

Idle Hands (1999)

Serial Killing 101 (1999)

  • 2000s

Scary Movie Series (2000-2006)

Eight Legged Freaks (2002)

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Fido (2006)

Zombie Strippers (2008)

Zombieland (2009)

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010)

Film Examples:


Young Frankenstein (Mel Brooks, 1974)

Young Frankenstein is a parody of the classic horror film, Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein (1931). In this horror parody, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) is the grandson of Doctor Frankenstein, who created the Monster in Boris Karloff’s film. Frederick finally inherits his grandfather’s castle, and later becomes interested in his grandfather’s laboratory and experiments in bringing back the dead. Then, Frederick plans on conducting his own experiment in bringing back a dead person. Frederick and Igor eventually steal a corpse and, similar to Karloff’s film, Igor makes the mistake of stealing an abnormal brain instead of a normal one. The Monster (Peter Boyle) is formed due to the lightning storm at the roof of the laboratory. Eventually, the Monster escapes and attacks Frederick, and encounters a young girl (another similarity to Karloff’s film). Only the ending is different from Karloff’s film because the Monster is not killed, he marries Elizabeth, and Frederick Frankenstein also transfers some of his intellect to the Monster. This parody mainly works due to the combination of comedy and horror film elements. The laboratory props and lab equipment used in this film were also used from Karloff’s film. This movie was released in 1974, but was filmed in black and white and using 1930’s style credits.

Rocky Horror Picture Show (Jim Sharman, 1975)

(Click title to view hyperlink)

There is the chaste heterosexual couple, Brad and Janet. There is a disaster that leaves the couple in an in escapable situation, flat tire. There is a big spooky castle; instead of it being inhabited by ghosts or monsters, strange and sexually liberated characters inhabit the castle.  Instead of Brad and Janet being purposefully frightened on entry to the castle they are treated to the Time Warp, an odd dance.  The mad scientist is Dr. Frank-N-Furter a clear play on words to the original mad scientist Dr. Frankenstein. His assistant Riff Raff is based on Fritz from the original Frankenstein, but to put in the comedy element Riff Raff ends up being the one in charge at the end.  Dr. Frank-N-Furter also creates life through “science” rather than reproduction. However, instead of the creation being a monster, Rocky is meek, pretty boy. There are also classic elements of comedy along with the elements of horror. In one scene the characters are all chasing each other around the house a common sight in comedy films.

The Little Shop Of Horrors (Frank Oz, 1986)

(Click title to view hyperlink)

The Little Shop of Horrors is a film based on a Broadway musical. While it doesn’t necessarily match up with the horror and comedy formulas, it can certainly be classified in this genre. There is the young, nerdy guy, Seymour, who works in a flower shop on skid row for the authority figure, Mr. Mushnik. He works alongside a hot babe, Audrey, who isn’t too bright. Audrey is dating a villainous bad-boy dentist known as Orin Scrivello. Seymour’s life is turned upside down when a strange plant from outer space arrives; a strange plant from outer space that has a taste for human flesh. The secondary characters are sacrificed to the plant’s voracious hunger, while Seymour and Audrey remain safe and ultimately destroy the plant. This film falls in the parody horror genre because it takes elements of horror (the stock characters, the supernatural creature, etc.) and fuses it with do-wop music and humorous lyrics.

Scream (Wes Craven, 1996)

(Click title to view hyperlink)

Scream is a parody of many well-known classic slasher horror films including Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare On Elm Street. At the start of the film, a high school student gets a mysterious phone call one evening from an anonymous person, and he asks her, “What’s your favorite scary movie?”. When she fails to answer a question about horror films, she sees at a window that the caller has murdered her boyfriend, which leads to her death in which a masked killer stabs her. The plot of this film revolves around another high school student named Sydney, who is struggling with the death of her mother. Sydney and her friends are eventually hunted by the masked killer and are taken down one by one until the main characters remain and take down the killer(s) with the mask. The end of the film is set up for the masked killer to return in a sequel(s). Scream borrows heavily from slasher films because the killer is masked most of the time and never revealed until the climax. One difference in this slasher parody is that the main characters in the film, especially Sydney, have knowledge of horror films. However, the characters are in uncontrollable situations where the killer can attack them at any time.

Scary Movie (Keenan Ivory Wayans, 2000)

Scary Movie is a parody combination of horror and comedy. It makes fun of slasher films like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, especially when a girl receives a threatening phone call from a stranger in the beginning of the film, and is then murdered by a masked killer with a knife, called Ghostface in this movie. Another similarity is that the main female character, here named Cindy, is left a note in class that says, “I know what you did last Halloween”. This parody also makes fun of The Sixth Sense when a character named Shorty (Marlon Wayans) is smoking marijuana and says, “I see dead people”. A chase scene also occurs when a hand held camera views characters speaking directly to the audience, similar to the film The Blair Witch Project. Scary Movie is a well-made parody of horror and comedy that does not have a clear plot, and does a good job of not taking itself seriously. This film also manages to make fun of numerous situations that have occurred in many famous horror films.

Works Consulted:

“Little Shop of Horrors (1986): Teaser Trailer HQ.” YouTube. Web. 25 Apr. 2012. <;.

 “Little Shop of Horrors (film).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 21 Apr. 2012. Web. 25 Apr. 2012. <;.

“Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 21 Apr. 2012. Web. 25 Apr. 2012. <;.

“The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) Trailer.” YouTube. Web. 25 Apr. 2012. <;.

“Scene from Scream: The Rules for Surviving Horror Films.” YouTube. Web. 25 Apr. 2012. <;.

“What Is the Horror Movie Formula?” Yahoo! Contributor Network. Web. 25 Apr. 2012. <;.


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