Horror/comedy is a weird little sub-genre when it comes to literature. For starters, it’s hard to define what qualifies a book as horror/comedy. Does it have to be scary? Does it have to be overtly funny? Can it be a spoof? Does black comedy count? Given that murkiness, it’s not surprising to find that people don’t always agree on which books belong in the genre. Even some of the acclaimed authors in the category don’t think of themselves as horror/comedy writers. For example, I spoke about the subject with Grady Hendrix, author of Horrorstor, My Best Friend’s Exorcism and Paperbacks from Hell. When asked how he approaches the balance of terror and laughs, he replied, “I was caught totally off-guard when people told me they found Horrorstör or My Best Friend’s Exorcism funny.”
Here are ten great horror/comedy stories you might want to check out if you love this weird little sub-genre. Please note, my list is not exhaustive. There are far more excellent horror/comedy stories than I have space to mention. Also note that I am not ranking these books. They are all wonderful in their own ways, so I’ve listed them by the dates they were written.
Bubba Ho-Tep Joe R. Lansdale (1994). In this short story, an aging Elvis Presley, mistaken for a mere impersonator, is living out his unhappy last days in a retirement home when an Egyptian mummy attacks. Teamed up with an elderly African American man who believes he is John F. Kennedy (skin dyed and minus his brain, which is in a jar in the White House), the King of Rock decides it’s up to them to take care of business.
Blood Sucking Fiends Christopher Moore (1995). The first in a light-hearted vampire/comedy/romance trilogy. Jody is a young, single woman living in San-Francisco, until she is killed in a vampire attack, wakes up under a dumpster and has to figure out how to survive as an undead blood-sucker. Enlisting the aid of Tommy, a would-be writer and night manager at Safeway, she not only has to wrestle with understanding the intricacies of her new nature, but must also unravel the mystery of her creator who may be trying to destroy her.
Resume with Monsters William Browning Spencer (1995). Philip Kenan is not only stuck in a series of dead end jobs, but Lovecraftian nightmares as well. A would-be novelist, slaving away in a soul-sucking (literally?) office, he has to save his girlfriend and the world from the dark designs of Cthulhu and his gang of Elder Gods. Or is Philip just crazy?
TickTock Dean Koontz (1996). Tommy Phan just wants to be an all American boy, but his Vietnamese past has other, horrifying plans for him. What starts off as a very scary horror novel gets progressively more and more screwball without letting go of its notes of terror.
The Goon Eric Powell (1999). Absurd, over the top, hilarious and tragic all describe this series of graphic novels. The hulking titular character must battle gangsters, zombies, mad scientists and evil robots with ultra-violence and the help of his blank-eyed sidekick, Frankie. Knife to eye!
Dead Until Dark Charlaine Harris (2001). Sookie Stackhouse is a telepathic waitress, solving murder mysteries in a world in which vampires have recently come out of hiding and the undead, werewolves, shape shifters and fairies are vying for her affections. This is the first book in the series on which the HBO show True Blood is based.
Undead and Unwed MaryJanice Davidson (2004). Betsy Taylor gets run over by a car and wakes up in a coffin, now a vampire. But Betsy is a special vampire. She doesn’t burn in sunlight. She isn’t repulsed by religious artifacts. And, she isn’t beholden to the 500-year-old lord of the undead. Does that mean she is the prophesied Queen of the Vampires?
John Dies at the End David Wong (2007). First published as web-serial starting in 2001, this is the first in a trilogy of hilariously terrifying, mind-bendingly bonkers novels, including This Book is Full of Spiders and What the Hell Did I just Read? David and his friend John ingest a bizarre drug called Soy Sauce that opens their eyes to cosmic horror.
Damned Chuck Palahnuik (2011). 13-year-old Maddy dies and goes to hell, only to find that the place is both worse than and not as bad as what she thought it would be like. Palahnuik has described it as, “…kind of like The Breakfast Club set in hell.” Sarcastic, witty and horrifying.
Horrorstor Grady Hendrix (2014). Amy works at ORSK, an IKEA-style superstore that turns out to be haunted because it was built on the site of a prison/asylum. Starts off pretty light and just goes darker and darker and darker.