Campy horror movies have a bad reputation which is somewhat unwarranted. With rare exceptions, critics tend to universally disregard them, and audiences are often turned away from the lack of high budget special effects or named actors. But many young filmmakers cut their teeth on exactly these kinds of projects. Director Sam Raimi famously made his name in the domain of campy horror, and elements of his past work continue to make their way into his films to this day.
For those willing to give them a chance, there are hidden gems to be found within the campy horror subgenre. While elevated horror was no doubt the dominant horror genre of the 2010s, sometimes, audiences just want something they can have fun with, where they aren’t forced to think too hard about what’s going on. Here are 10 campy horror movies that are so easy to fall in love with.
11 Bride of Chucky
No one can make the claim that the Child’s Play franchise has ever been a purely serious affair, but the first film did have an eerie sheen of mystery and dread that became more and more faded in subsequent entries.
Bride of Chuckythrew just about any sense of subtlety right out the window, and managed to give the franchise a much-needed shot in the arm in the process. The always hilarious Jennifer Tilly co-stars as the titular bride, a role she continues to embody to this day in the popular SyFy series, Chucky.
The surprisingly grounded story is propped up in suberb fashion by over the top kill scenes and the Chucky’s iconic back-talk (dutifully brought to life, as always, by Brad Dourrif), and it all rockets towards a finale that’s as cinematic and epic as it is surprisingly poignant.
10 The Slumber Party Massacre II
The Slumber Party Massacre II is undeniably a product of its time, and almost needs to be watched to be believed. Where the first entry was essentially a ripoff of Halloween and Black Christmas (a popular approach to horror at the time), the sequel turned its killer (the aptly named “Driller Killer”) into a homicidal Bugs Bunny analogue, complete with fourth-wall breaks and even a musical number.
The first and the second film technically share characters and continuity, but all of the actors have been replaced, and style of the two films could not be more at odds, so viewing of the original Slumber Party Massacre is only really necessary for completionists.
9 Happy Death Day
Happy Death Day disguises itself as a by-the-numbers slasher with a characteristically unlikeable lead, but quickly reveals its true colors as a spiritual remake of Groundhog Day drenched in a bloody horror subplot.
Jessica Rothe’s performance as Tree is both increasingly unhinged and heartfelt as she relives the worst day of her life over and over again, each time ending in her own gruesome and painful death (sometimes by the killer, sometimes self-inflicted). There’s even a fun sci-fi aspect to it all that gets further expansion in the sequel.
While the franchise’s small but dedicated fanbase has been hoping for a confirmed third entry, things are not looking good.
8 Jennifer’s Body
For whatever reason, Meghan Fox seems to be regularly excluded from conversations about truly gifted actors. Any watch through Jennifer’s Body should definitively correct that for any doubters. The rest of the cast is nothing to scoff at either, with Adam Brody, Amanda Seyfried, and JK Simmons throwing even more a-list star power into the mix.
There’s all kinds of symbolism and deeper meaning to be found for anyone willing to scratch the surface of this criminally underrated possession classic, but even if taken just at surface level, the special effects and monster designs are so original and effective that it’s hard not to be drawn in.
7 Gremlins 2: The New Batch
The first Gremlins movie is a loveable camp-fest in its own right, but Gremlins 2: The New Batch goes completely off the rails in the best possible way. While it initially disappointed audiences who were looking for a more traditional followup, director Joe Dante’s proverbial middle finger to the very concept of horror sequels has rightfully earned a strong cult following in the years since its release.
For those unfamiliar with the story, the basic gist is that Dante initially declined to direct a sequel, believing that Gremlins functioned perfectly as a standalone film. The studio, not wanting to give up on the highly lucrative critters so easily, shopped the idea around to various other filmmakers before returning to Dante hat in hand and offering him full creative control. The result is something truly unique – and deserves to be seen and appreciated by not just horror fans, but anyone who believes thta filmmakers are always at their best when they’re allowed to make their own decisions.
6 Freddy vs. Jason
Let’s get one thing out of the way real quick: Freddy vs. Jason is way better than it has any right to be. Frankly, by the time this film materialized, wider audiences had largely written off both characters as one-trick ponies from ever-more monotonous (and silly) franchises. And while the one-trick pony accusation might be valid, it’s easy to forget just how well Freddy and Jason perform that trick. Freddy vs. Jason is a reminder of that.
The movie brings the two franchises together in a way that never feels forced, and the final payoff of the title fight between these two horror juggernauts gets far more screen time and choreography than certain other big fictional mashups from recent memory which shall remain nameless.
5 From Dusk Till Dawn
Part vampire gore-fest, part western shoot-em-up, all awesome, From Dusk till Dawn is a brilliant collaboration between writer Quentin Tarantino and director Robert Rodriguez. This absolutely bonkers story features kidnapping, bankrobbing, and even more extreme depictions of crime and depravity, and this is all roughly in the first 20 minutes, before the absolutely horrifying monsters (played by legends like Salma Hayak and Danny Trejo) are even revealed.
The violence and subject matter in From Dusk till Dawn are undeniably over the top and definitely not for the feint of heart, but for those able to endure it, the final, fiery, bloodsoaked showdown between the unlikely crew of survivors and the vampiric, snake-like creatures that haunt the Titty Twister strip club is not to be missed.
Underworld is not a critical darling by any stretch of the imagination. Still, somehow, against all odds, this apparently maligned vampire action flick has managed to score not one, two, or even three, but four sequels. That likely has a lot to do with the detailed world-building around the war between the vampires and the lycans (and its initial similarities to The Matrix probably didn’t hurt either).
It’s not a particularly deep movie, but the Romeo and Juliet style romance between Kate Beckinsale’s death dealer, Selene, and Scott Speedman’s hybrid monster, Michael, is well performed and perfectly believable. Plus, the action and costumes are just so stylish.
3 Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
History buffs need not give Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter the time of day, but for those looking for a well executed, stylish action flick that treats its decidedly silly premise with a surprising amount of respect, there is plenty to enjoy in this underrated Tim Burton produced adventure fantasy.
The story spans Lincoln’s full life and political career in highly general terms, while painting a fantastical picture of a secret existence as a vampire hunter who never goes anywhere without his trusty axe. For those worried about having divisive political ideas shoved down their throats, the film largely steers clear of such concepts, unless one considers its historical retcon that the civil war was won because Lincoln defeated the vampires of the confederacy to be some sort of coded message.
Anthony Mackie co-stars in a role that probably didn’t hurt his chances when auditioning for the role of Sam Wilson in the MCU.
2 Attack of the Killer Tomatoes
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes has one joke that it never lets up on, which, depending on who you ask, is either brilliant or nauseating. Conceived as a spoof of so bad they’re good B-movies, its non-existant budget and amateur presentation landed it squarely in that box itself, whether intentionally or not. Critics overwhelmingly hated it, and it’s often mistakenly referred to as a serious attempt at horror that misfired.
All that aside, there is plenty to enjoy about this oddball horror comedy. The theme song alone is worth the price of admission. Plus, the franchise is more important to film history than you might think, with the sequel being one of the first times the world saw Hollywood megastar George Clooney in a leading role.
1 Army of Darkness
The original Evil Dead, while admittedly displaying certain comedic tendencies, was firmly planted in the realm of gory, unrelenting horror. The sequel took steps to broaden that palette, with heavy slapstick elements painted over Bruce Campbell’s much more zany portrayal of Ash Williams. Still, Ash remains largely alone and terrified in Evil Dead II (save for the deadites trying to tear him to pieces), with very few opportunities to engage in the banter he would become known for (although he did receive his iconic chainsaw arm).
But it was in Army of Darkness that the character truly came into his own camp. Catapulted back into a fictional past full of magic and mystery, Ash must undertake a quest in order to defeat an army of deadites and return home. Hilarity and one-liners ensue. Sam Raimi’s camerawork and quirks are on full display, and Bruce Campbell shines as the signature dumb hero who just can’t seem to get out of his own way.