Fright flicks

  • By Andy Rathbun Herald Writer
  • Monday, October 29, 2007 6:22pm
  • Life

When it comes to movies, horror and comedy can be kissing cousins, equally related to the unexpected.

Without a certain amount of surprise, audiences would neither laugh nor scream.

It’s not hard to separate the two genres, of course. A pratfall signals comedy, while a cleaver to the back means horror — unless, of course, you’re mentally disturbed.

Come Halloween, those stuck inside handing out candy like movie theater concessionaires can cue up these modern classics for a fright or a laugh. The first three flicks are good for a chuckle, while the second three are meant to scare.

Before you read on, dear reader, please beware: Some of these synopses reveal plot points and give away jokes.


“Shaun of the Dead”: Billed as a “rom zom com,” or romantic zombie comedy, this 2004 movie has a few frights and plenty of laughs.

The zombies lurch along at slow pace, as is their wont, giving our slacker hero Shaun time to figure out which records to throw at them.

Purple Rain? No. Stone Roses? No. Batman soundtrack? Throw it.

Shaun, played by co-writer Simon Pegg, isn’t only trying to beat back the advancing horde of zombies, however. He’s also trying to win back his girlfriend, who feels he spends too much time at the pub.

It’s almost worth watching this movie for the cameo from Coldplay, as they raise money for victims of the zombie affliction through a benefit called ZombAid.

“Ghostbusters”: You probably already know the plot: After losing their jobs at Columbia University, three professors start a ghost-busting business. This coincides with a spike in paranormal activity throughout New York, making them celebrities as they try to save the world.

There are plenty of reasons to see this 1984 flick again, including a chance to enjoy Bill Murray at his sarcastic best. Suited up with his gear, a proton accelerator strapped to his back, he tells a man in a hotel that he’s an exterminator.

“Someone saw a cockroach up on 12,” Murray says.

“That’s gotta be some cockroach,” the man says.

“Bite your head off,” he replies.

The movie sits right outside the top 50 grossing movies of all time, at No. 51, having earned $238.6 million. It deserved every penny.

“Young Frankenstein”: So Igor is telling Dr. Frankenstein that the brain placed in the head of a deranged hulk belonged to “Abby someone … Abby normal. … I’m almost sure that was the name.”

Needless to say, it was an abnormal brain, sending Gene Wilder, as Frankenstein’s grandson, into conniptions.

Mel Brooks’ 1974 classic blends clever puns with bawdy jokes, slapstick humor, satire and some of the best comic actors of its day, including Peter Boyle and Madeline Kahn.

Sure, some of these jokes are a bit obvious — the old “walk this way” gag, followed by an imitation of the person’s walk — but it’s hard to knock Wilder correcting a student about the pronunciation of his name.

It’s Fronkensteen, incidentally, not Frankenstein.


“The Shining”: “The movie is not about ghosts but about madness and the energies it sets loose in an isolated situation,” Roger Ebert wrote of “The Shining.”

There’s also an elevator filled with blood, so it works on that level, too.

Stanley Kubrick’s epic version of Stephen King’s best-seller finds Jack Nicholson playing an alcoholic writer, holed up in an isolated hotel, kept company by his wife, his son and some ghosts who encourage him to have fun with an ax. While there are dozens of frights here, the best of all could be Shelley Duvall as the besieged wife. Her face registers pure terror for what seems like the entire third act. She’s so believable, the viewer forgets she’s playing a part.

“The Ring”: A haunted hotel is all well and good, but who actually stays at places like that? Now, a haunted videotape can hit home.

Playing a Seattle reporter, Naomi Watts watches a video that kills its viewers after seven days. Her son watches the video, too. Properly motivated, she then sets about trying to solve the mystery behind the tape.

Director Gore Verbinski gives audiences only a glimpse of the twisted effect the video has on its first victim — just long enough to unsettle a person.

The rest of this 2004 movie, particularly its climax, may upset a person after their TV’s turned off.

“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974 version): Be warned: This movie is graphically violent and could upset appetites, as well as a night’s sleep.

The plot is simple. A group of college-age kids stop at a home in Texas to try to get some gasoline, but the home is filled with cannibals. People then start dying.

There are a number of reasons this gore-fest might frighten a person decades after its release. Laying some of the groundwork for the low-budget scare flicks that followed, director Tobe Hooper subjects his characters to daytime slayings and the unsettling use of a meat hook.

Granted, there aren’t many pleasant uses for a meat hook, but you get the meaning.

Reporter Andy Rathbun: 425-339-3455 or e-mail

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