Horror-comedy is a genre I am particularly fond of. The blending of the two seemingly opposite genres can create a perfectly dark comedy, using comedy to highlight the silliness of the horror, and using horror to add pathos to the comedy. Unfortunately, it is a genre that doesn’t appear on television as often as the genres do separately. Ever rarer is the well done horror comedy. However, if you are in the mood for dark humour, genuine scares and big laughs, I have some suggestions;
Air Date: 2016
Country of Origin: UK
Genre: Horror, Thriller, Comedy
Premise: Stag tells the story of a bachelor party hunting trip in the Scottish Highlands gone horribly wrong. The protagonist, Ian, finds himself reluctantly joining his future brother in law’s bachelor party, having to attempt to socialise with the groom-to-be’s insufferable friends. Things take a further turn for the worst when the group begins being targeted by a mysterious figure, and taken out one by one.
Why it works for this category: I was excited for Stag from the moment I saw the trailers on TV, and it did not disappoint. The miniseries, with just three episodes, blends the tense moments very well with relatively dark humour. Ian’s frustration with and separation from the ridiculously insufferable boys club of the bachelor party creates a lot of funny moments. However, it is a testament to the actors and writers that I never wished the characters would die, and still felt tense when they were in danger, despite many of them being flawed, cruel and often unpleasant. The threat and mystery of the killer is very well done and remains engaging throughout the entire run time. While not as much a comedy as the other shows on this list, I was impressed with the blending of the genres and would happily recommend this to anyone who wants horror/thriller with a little twist of humour.
Related shows: Human Remains (dark humour, extremely flawed characters)
The Smoking Room (similar ensemble humour with a group of clashing personalities)
Harper’s Island (slasher plot with characters getting picked off one by one)
The League of Gentlemen
Air Date: 1999 – 2002
Country of Origin: UK
Genre: Horror, Sketch Show, Comedy
Premise: The League of Gentlemen began as a sketch group, consisting of Jeremy Dyson, Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton, and Reece Shearsmith. Following a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival they created a radio show which followed the bizarre inhabitants of a fictional town. This TV show is a successor to that radio show. Set in the same fictional town and featuring many of the same characters, the TV show follows a sketch show format but with ongoing plot lines. The members of The League of Gentlemen, except Jeremy Dyson, play almost all of the characters in the show.
Why it works for this category: The League of Gentlemen’s four writers are massive fans of horror, with extensive knowledge of the genre, and it shows. This is a show that masterfully blends the brilliant comedic talents of its cast and crew with their fantastic knowledge and understanding of the horror genre and its tropes. The humour is often very dark, though some characters are of a sillier nature, and the horror is both creepy fun and at times downright scary (particularly in the Christmas special). If you love horror, particularly classic horror, and enjoy darker humour, then you are bound to enjoy this show.
Note: The humour is often very dark, so if you generally prefer light-hearted and positive humour then you may not like this show. The first episode should give you an idea if you would like it.
Related shows: Psychoville (half of the same writing team, similar very dark humour, bizarre characters, horror-comedy)
Nighty Night (extremely dark comedy, bizarre and psychopathic characters)
American Horror Story (bizarre characters and situations, lots of references to famous works in the horror genre)
Air Date: 2009 – 2011
Country of Origin: UK
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Comedy
Premise: Brainchild of Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, half of The League of Gentlemen, Psychoville retains much of the brilliantly dark humour of their previous show, while adding an element of mystery to the horror-comedy. The series begins centred around a blind toy collector, a childlike man obsessed with serial killers, a bitter children’s entertainer, a woman who believes a doll is her child and a panto dwarf who believes he is telekinetic. They all begin to receive letters from a mysterious source stating ‘I know what you did’.
Why it works for this category: Taking things often to even darker places than The League of Gentlemen, Psychoville is a very enjoyable ride through a complex, hilarious and sinister story. The series manages to balance the darker elements of the story perfectly with the comedy, mostly combining the two rather than alternating between. It’s impressive how well these different elements are juggled, to create something uniquely bizarre. Of particular highlight, and awe, is an episode which plays homage to Rope, taking place entirely in one room with very few cuts. If you like your TV comedy as dark as it’s likely to be allowed, and enjoy some mystery alongside your horror, then this show will likely be for you.
Note: The humour at times is very dark and could be considered offensive, so if you generally enjoy light humour and prefer to avoid controversial topics then you may not like this show. The first episode should give you an idea if you would like it.
Related shows: Human Remains (similarly very dark humour, bizarre and flawed characters)
The League of Gentlemen (written by the same people, similarly dark humour, bizarre characters)
Catterick (stars Reece Shearsmith, dark and surreal humour, bizarre characters, mystery elements)
Dr. Terrible’s House of Horrible
Air Date: 2001
Country of Origin: UK
Genre: Anthology, Horror, Spoof, Comedy
Premise: Co-written by and starring Steve Coogan, this series presents a spoof of a different classic British horror film in each episode. Steve Coogan appears as Dr. Terrible, who introduces each episode, and as various characters throughout the show. Guest stars also include Mark Gatiss, Simon Pegg, Ronni Ancona, and Warwick Davis, plus British horror actors spoofing their original performances.
Why it works for this category: This is much sillier than the other entries on the list, as each episode is an outright spoof of horror. There are no actual scares to be had here as the show mocks the horror tropes it presents mercilessly, showing how silly horror can be. While knowledge of the original films being spoofed will likely increase the humour for you, it isn’t strictly necessary and you will still be able to enjoy the jokes. If you have enjoyed any of Steve Coogan’s other comedic work then you will likely enjoy this. Likewise if you are a fan of spoofs and sillier humour then this will probably suit you more than the other entries on this list. The humour and tone of this show is much less dark than my other suggestions.
Related shows: A Touch of Cloth (spoof of cop shows, similar silly humour to mock the common tropes)
Coogan’s Run (also starring and written by Steve Coogan, anthology show, similar comedy, tiny elements of horror in certain episodes)
Tales of the Unexpected (anthology, elements of horror and thriller, camp tone)
Inside No. 9
Air Date: 2014 – Present
Country of Origin: UK
Genre: Anthology, Horror, Drama, Comedy
Premise: Another show from the minds of Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, Inside No. 9 keeps up that tradition of great quality writing, brilliant scares, and originality. Each episode presents its own story taking place inside a building marked as No. 9.
Why it works for this category: There is a lot of variety in the episodes of Inside No. 9, with some episodes purely comedic, some more of a comedy-drama, and some episodes much more horror than comedic. Whichever tone you prefer there is an episode to suit it. I can’t recommend this show highly enough, particularly to anyone who enjoys Shearsmith and Pemberton’s other work. The episodes are so fantastically written, acted and directed, it’s a joy to watch each one. When the show wants to be funny it manages tight, clever writing. When it wants to be surprising it does so with minimal cliché. When it wants to deal with horror it pulls off genuine scares. I have recommended episodes which particularly embrace both comedy and horror below.
Particularly recommended episodes: The Harrowing, The Trial of Elizabeth Gadge, Séance Time
Note: I believe the show is said to be an acquired taste, but each episode is so different I would suggest trying a few with premises that interest you to see if it suits you.
Related shows: Black Mirror (anthology, deals with elements of horror, dark tone)
Psychoville (the same writers, bizarre characters, dark humour, plays with the horror genre)
The Twilight Zone (anthology, bizarre stories, mixture of different genres)
Air Date: 2008
Country of Origin: UK
Genre: Horror, Zombie, Comedy
Premise: Dead Set has a simple but brilliant premise: the zombie apocalypse happens during the recording of the reality show Big Brother, unbeknownst to the contestants.
Why it works for this category: Written by Charlie Brooker, this series contains much of his signature acerbic wit. The horror elements are brilliantly done, with the zombies being perfectly frightening and the episodes effectively ratcheting up the tension as they go. The tone is more horror than comedy, but there are elements of comedy and the show functions as effective satire of reality TV and the culture obsessed with it. There are particularly fun moments for anyone familiar with the UK Big Brother, likely more than I picked up on having not watched Big Brother, with people related to the show making cameos. However, you do not need to be familiar with Big Brother, beyond the basic concept, to enjoy the show and understand its message. If you enjoy zombies, satire, tense horror, and Charlie Brooker’s writing then you will love this. If you don’t normally enjoy zombies I would still recommend giving this one a try as there is depth that is worth exploring and plenty of unique and unpredictable elements.
Note: The show can be quite gory, particularly in one especially gruesome scene. Though this isn’t the focus of the story so even if gore normally isn’t your thing I would still recommend giving this a shot.
Related shows: Black Mirror (also written by Charlie Brooker, similar dark and bleak tone, deals with horror elements)
The Walking Dead (zombies, bleak tone)
Unreal (dark tone, deeply flawed characters, unforgiving behind the scenes look at reality TV)