We all have different senses of humor. Some people like deadpan or physical, and others enjoy self-deprecating or satire. Then there’s one niche that endures because it appeals to people’s curiosity about things we can’t always talk about openly: black comedy. Verboten or vulgar subject matters — including death, illness, sexuality, and violence — can be explored with humor acting as a kind of filter. Black comedy’s been a useful coping mechanism for the gloomiest times of our lives. From the works of Ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes to the films of Quentin Tarantino, dark humor endures because of our constant need to communicate and understand uncomfortable topics. Films in particular have used it to too great a degree since it’s an effective storytelling aid.
So in veneration for all things black comedy, here is a list of just ten films that fit the bill and then some. I’m sure if you’ve made it this far, you’re well aware these picks feature abhorrent acts and irredeemable characters. If not, well, you’ve been warned! Without further ado, let the debauchery begin.
10. Frankenhooker (1990)
After his fiancée is decapitated in a freak accident, a medical student uses the body parts of various prostitutes to reanimate her.
It may not seem like Frank Henenlotter’s (Basket Case) indie horror-comedy Frankenhooker belongs on this list, but looks can be deceiving. This movie is an obvious parody of Frankenstein, but it’s also a twisted depiction of seedy, big city night life. Henenlotter make some astute commentary about involuntary sex work, misogyny, and the objectification of women. It’s quite upsetting if you really think about it. The movie’s absurd execution and ebullient air, however, keeps things relatively light, all things considered. The ending is especially a wicked treat to behold.
9. Office Killer (1997)
A meek woman (Carol Kane) gets a taste for murder after her co-worker is electrocuted to death one night. Rather than calling for help, she hides the corpse in her basement. She then embarks on a killing spree at her job.
This serial killer, workplace slasher predates the better-known American Psycho by a few years. Office Killer is uncomfortable, demented, and bizarrely cathartic. The laughs won’t come in droves, but you’ll surely let a nervous chuckle out every so often.
8. Two Pigeons (2017)
Looking for revenge, a disgruntled man secretly moves into an amoral real estate agent’s apartment.
Also known as Freehold, this British dark-com is jet black through and through. It becomes so dispirited that you’re left feeling as hopeless as the main character. Once the movie gets past the basic chuckles, the film descends into an account of one man’s sudden downward spiral.
7. The Voices (2014)
A troubled, small-town factory worker who mistakenly murders his work crush looks to guidance from his cat and dog, both of whom speak to him and only him.
Ryan Reynolds was the perfect choice when casting the affable yet homicidal protagonist in The Voices; he wields every emotion at his disposal with prowess. The story is a bit familiar, but the cast — including Anna Kendrick as the sympathetic, romantic runner-up — is wonderful.
6. The Quiet Family (1998)
A family that owns a hunting lodge covers up a guest’s suicide. The patriarch assumes no one will believe the man’s death was of his own doing so the father buries the body on site. Eventually, more and more visitors at the lodge die in unusual ways. And the family continues to keep everything under wraps.
Kim Jee-woon’s The Quiet Family is a masterful execution of dry, gallows, and even slapstick humor. The characters are all well drawn and tangible; the cinematography is intimate and inviting. If anyone wants to dive into all that South Korean movies have to offer, this is a great place to start. Miike Takashi loosely remade the film in 2001 as the overtly mad horror-comedy The Happiness of the Katakuris.
5. Sightseers (2012)
A strained couple’s tour of the countryside takes a bloody turn when the pair starts to kill people they meet along the way.
Grim and ironic British humor doesn’t get anymore perfect than this. The two lead characters in the unhinged Sightseers are impeccably brought to doleful life by Steve Oram and Alice Lowe; their on-screen chemistry is sublime. As far as contentious relationships go, they don’t get any crazier than this.
4. Assassination Nation (2018)
The community of Salem is shaken by scandal when an anonymous hacker exposes everyone’s deepest, darkest secrets. And once everyone suspects the party responsible is a group of four teens, a modern day witch hunt takes place.
Sam Levinson’s followup to his directorial debut Another Happy Day — another black comedy about family dynamics at its worst — is carefully molded to fit today’s most urgent social issues. The four ostracized heroines are left to fend for themselves against aggressive transphobes and perpetrators of toxic masculinity. In spite of the thinly written characters and skewed scope, Assassination Nation is an engaging, on-the-nose melding of film genres: coming-of-age drama, home invasion horror, socio-thriller.
3. The Day of The Beast (1995)
On Christmas Eve, a priest in search of the Antichrist in Madrid enlists the help of a death metal fan and a TV psychic.
Álex de la Iglesia (The Bar) is an innovative director when it comes to subversive humor about family, love, and religion. And with his breakthrough film The Day of the Beast, de la Iglesia helped paved the way for other modern horror comedies. The movie may take some time to reach its nutty zenith, but it’s worth the wait.
2. Teeth (2007)
After meeting a boy she likes, a chaste high school student learns firsthand that the “vagina dentata” myth is true.
Ahead of its time, this feminist horror-comedy challenged the patriarchy and brought attention to sexual assault against women. Teeth gets more and more excessive as it continues, but that hyperbole is necessary to make a valid point.
1. Cheap Thrills (2013)
When a father loses his job, he and his estranged childhood friend get involved in a series of escalating bets in exchange for money.
Financial hardship drives one desperate man to do some absolutely shocking things in this depraved movie. It’s intense and harrowing, and it’s definitely not for the squeamish. Cheap Thrills will keep your peepers glued to the screen, but this taut thriller will make you question humanity after witnessing that appalling ending.