Unintentionally funny moments in horror cinema
It’s all too easy for horror to tip over into comedy, so with this in mind, here are a few of our favourite unintentionally funny genre moments...
Horror movies are notoriously difficult things to get right, and cinema history is littered with films that are more funny than frightening. For every justly lauded classic like The Exorcist or Alien, there are dozens of largely forgotten, loveably ridiculous horror flicks that provide their own kind of entertainment.
This list, then, is devoted to a few of our favourite unintentionally funny horror moments. We’ve gone for films that at least attempt to be serious, rather than deliberately trashy – hence the absence of such oddities as Leprechaun or Trolls. Inevitably, there’ll be some classic moments we’ll have missed, so feel free to chime in with your own suggestions in the comments…
The Amityville Horror: James Brolin loses the plot
A mystifyingly popular 1979 movie that spawned a franchise of increasingly ridiculous sequels, a 2005 remake and two further follow-ups that are currently in the making, The Amityville Horror contains some of the most over-the-top and downright silly performances in any mainstream genre film.
George and Kathy Lutz (James Brolin and Margot Kidder) buy a haunted house in Amityville, which proceeds to drive George absolutely nuts. To illustrate this, George stops coming his hair, and takes to shrieking, “My God, I’m coming apart!” during thunderstorms.
It’s hard to choose just one moment that illustrates The Amityville Horror’s rather fraught acting, but the one below’s as good as any. It’s proof, at any rate, that you should never trust a man with a beard.
I Don’t Want To Be Born: “It was the last time I was doing my act at the club.”
Casting Joan Collins as a dancer in a seedy strip joint is an odd decision, but then, this 1975 trash classic is quite an odd film. Having been cursed by a dwarf, Collins gives birth to an ungainly and devil-possessed baby. If the premise sounds schlocky, you should see the way it’s executed – the script is deliciously ripe, the direction inept, and the music quintessentially 70s.
A film I suspect Joan Collins would prefer to forget, I Don’t Want To Be Born’s finest comedy moment is surely the actress’s protracted, ridiculous dance with Hercules the vengeful dwarf during an extended flashback sequence. Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen may have been more popular entries in that weird ‘spawn of Satan’ horror subgenre, but those movies didn’t feature classic moves like this:
Exorcist II: The Heretic: “I was possessed by a demon.”
The success of William Friedkin’s creepy, nasty Exorcist dictated that a sequel had to turn up sooner or later. Released four years later, The Heretic sounded like it had lots going for it, in theory: a great director in the shape of John Boorman, and a decent cast, which included Richard Burton, James Earl Jones and returning players Linda Blair and Max von Sydow.
Sadly, the resulting film was completely absurd, probably due to a troubled shoot, which saw the script undergo a hasty revision, and Boorman suffer from a horrendous respiratory infection. Characters shuffle around muttering “Pazuzu” (the Assyrian demon that caused havok both in the first film and this one), and James Earl Jones shows up dressed as a locust. Exorcist II was derided by critics, and where the original had audiences rushing out of the cinema in horror, the sequel saw cinema-goers tittering in the aisles.
Viewed as a comedy, Exorcist II makes far a full evening’s entertainment. The film’s finest moment is undoubtedly the brief yet hilarious scene in which Linda Blair tells a little girl, “I was possessed by a demon,” before quickly adding, “Oh, it’s okay. He’s gone.” Glorious. Just glorious.
Alien 2: the headless cave explorer
Back in the 80s, it wasn’t uncommon for successful Hollywood films to inspire cheap, rapidly-shot and unofficial sequels or direct rip-offs, usually from Italy. Not all of these were necessarily bad – Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 (also known as Zombie Flesh Eaters, among other things) was made as a sequel to the successful Dawn Of The Dead (called Zombi in Italy), and was actually very good.
Alien 2, also known as Alien Terror, was not good. As you’ve probably gathered, it was made to cash in on the success of Alien. Directed by one Sam Cromwell (actually Ciro Ippolito), Alien 2 was gory, unpleasant, and ineptly produced.
In line with most Italian horror movies of the period, Alien 2’s main draw was its string of violent and imaginative deaths. None of these were especially scary, but many were extremely entertaining. The best one? If I had to choose, it’s the luckless cave explorer who, having become both infected by the alien and somehow stuck upside down approximately 20 feet from the cavern’s floor, abruptly loses his head. Said noggin then falls dramatically to the floor with a thump, horrifying the victim’s friends, and provoking titters of amusement from the audience.
Note that the following clip contains gruesome yet unconvincing special effects.
Silent Night Deadly, Night Part II: “Garbage day!”
The original Silent Night, Deadly Night caused quite a furore back in the mid-80s, coming under fire for its depiction of a serial killer dressed as Santa. Critics queued up to denounce the film, and the film wasn’t even released in the UK until 2009.
Nevertheless, the film did well enough to prompt a hastily-made, bargain-bucket sequel, which sees convicted murderer Ricky (Eric Freeman) embark on another festive killing spree. The movie’s lean 88-minute duration was padded out with generous flashbacks to the first film's events.
Unsurprisingly, the result is appalling, yet not without its moments of unintentional hilarity. The death sequence below, in which Ricky guns down a poor man putting his bins out, has long since passed into Internet legend. We’re not sure what we find more terrifying – Ricky’s disregard for human life, the dreadful acting, or that atrocious blue jumper. Upon reflection, it’s probably the blue jumper.
Prophecy: the hidden danger of sleeping bags
If Jaws taught a generation of filmgoers to stay out of the water, and The Exorcist picked over the dangers of playing with a Ouija board, John Frankenheimer’s 1979 schlock horror, Prophecy, proved that you should always leave your sleeping bag unzipped.
An unforgettably goofy movie that features a duck being eaten by a fish, a couple menaced by a giant raccoon, and a fisherman catching an outsized tadpole, Prophecy’s finest moment is surely the bit where a slumbering camper is attacked by a mutant bear-type-thing. The hapless victim tries to hop away like a demented caterpillar, but the monster’s simply too fast, and too deadly: with the sweep of the beast’s rubbery arm, the camper’s smashed against a rock, and promptly explodes in a flurry of fluffy stuffing. The poor little guy never stood a chance.
The Happening: death by lion
In M Night Shyamalan’s 2008 sci-fi horror flick, humanity comes face to face with nature’s most terrifying force: a soft breeze. Thanks to a strange chemical carried by the wind, the citizens of America are killing themselves in disturbingly high numbers. All school teacher protagonist Elliot (Mark Wahlberg) can do is run away for a bit, stop, mutter, “Oh… no…” and run away a little bit more.
Shyamalan’s concept is far fetched, and his handling of it is downright hilarious. One victim lies down in the path of a ride-on lawnmower. Another notable character drives straight into a tree. Zooey Deschanel says, “It makes you kill yourself. Just when you thought there couldn’t be any more evil that could be invented,” while a crazy old lady asks Wahlberg, “Are you staring at my lemonade?”
It’s all delightfully camp, and from this perspective, one of the most entertaining films of 2008. The film reaches its creative, comedic peak in one key scene where a woman, having watched a man feed himself to a pride of lions, asks Wahlberg, “What kind of terrorists would do this?”
Mr Shyamalan, we salute you.
The Wicker Man: “Step away from the bike.”
There are so many glorious, trouser-wreckingly funny moments in Neil LaBute’s ill-advised, ill-fated Wicker Man remake, that it’s difficult to pick just one. A woman wearing a 50lb beard of bees? Priceless. Nic Cage in a bear suit? Classic. Nic Cage rampaging around a remote island, kung-fu kicking the womenfolk and screaming about scorched dolls? Genius.
For sheer battiness, the scene where Cage steals a woman’s bicycle just about wins it. “What’s with the feathers?” a panting, sweaty Cage asks masked school teacher Sister Rose, who happily rides up a tree-lined lane on her bike. After a tense discussion about the fate of a missing girl, whom Cage’s character assumes is about to be sacrificed, he levels his gun at the teacher’s head and utters the immortal line, “Step away from the bike. And take your stupid mask.”
As horror flick bike thefts go, this one’s undoubtedly the funniest. Exactly why it’s so amusing is hard to pin down; maybe it’s Cage’s rather over-earnest delivery, the disarmingly literal script, or the tone of the music, which suggests we should be taking what we’re seeing very, very seriously. Whatever it is, the scene, like the film as a whole, isn’t quite as dynamic as LaBute surely intended – the result is a non-stop roller coaster of unintentional comedy gold.
“Killing me won’t bring back your goddamned honey!”