Horror comedies more frightening than the return to campus after break

Jan. 20, 2023, 12:11 a.m.

Welcome to “What to Watch,” a column dedicated to movie recommendations generated specifically for each week of the quarter. Each week of the quarter has a distinct feeling, from the adjustment period of Week 1 to the chaos of Week 10. This column seeks to explore those sentiments and to provide well-timed movie recommendations to push you through the quarter and past the Finals Week finish line.

Many of us may have heard of the term “Sunday scaries.” It describes the feeling of fear evoked by the last day of a weekend and the acute awareness of five long and painful days of work ahead.

As students at Stanford, we have the privilege of Thanksgiving, winter and spring breaks. Weeks like these to rest, reflect and take a step away from work are not always granted in a typical full-time job. Unfortunately, these breaks come with a cost: the recurring post-break dread of returning to ten more weeks of work; a feeling like the “Sunday scaries” but intensified to a spine-chilling degree.

With consistent dark and stormy nights this month and the fright of the impending winter quarter grind, the most suitable movie genre for this week can only be horror. However, this article specifically focuses on horror comedies. After all, the return to campus may be frightening but it does involve cheerful reunions with friends and lighthearted retellings of winter break adventures. As such, the following thrillers can evoke both screams of terror and bouts of laughter.

This week’s column features three movies that are even more sinister than an assignment being due Monday of Week 1 but just as funny as the realization that everyone else in the class also did not do said assignment. With a tasteful combination of gore, humor and adventure, these movies are sure to replace your distress about winter quarter with a much more thrilling and entertaining kind of fear.

“Little Monsters” (Abe Forsythe, 2019)

“Little Monsters” has a plot seemingly generated by a game of Mad Libs in which someone selected the nouns “kindergarteners” and “zombies.” Set in Australia, the film stars Lupita Nyong’o as Miss Caroline, a kindergarten teacher, and Alexander England as Dave, a washed-up musician coping with a recent breakup.

Living with his sister, Dave is tasked with taking his nephew Felix to school. Dave becomes enamored by Miss Caroline and volunteers as a chaperone for a class field trip to a farm located as far from the rest of humanity as GovCo. Little do they know, a hoard of zombies from a nearby top-secret facility is making its way to the farm.

In a strange combination of “Zombieland” meets “Life is Beautiful,” Dave and Miss Caroline must make a cheerful game out of their survival to shelter the children from the mental horrors of the undead.

There is nothing quite like watching a group of kindergarteners with Australian accents fighting their way through a group of zombies equipped with only their teddy bears and a positive attitude. “Little Monsters” is ridiculous, gory, sardonic and the only film where you can watch Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o play “Shake It Off” on an ukulele to a group of five year olds.

“Spree” (Eugene Kotlyarenko, 2020)

In 2020, during the particularly intense “browse the Internet for hours at a time” age of the early pandemic, Kotlyarenko’s “Spree” was released. Starring “Stranger Things” cast member Joe Keery, “Spree” is centered on social media obsessed rideshare driver Kurt Kunkle. Kurt livestreams a day in his life picking up riders and within minutes, the stream (entitled “The Lesson”) grows deeply alarming.

“Spree” opens with a seemingly innocent YouTube video posted by Kurt. The video follows the once-viral YouTube trend of “Draw My Life” through which the socially awkward Kurt recounts his life events in an uncannily cheery fashion. The rest of the film is shot in a similarly internet-focused manner. Kotlyarenko focuses the audience’s gaze through online digital mediums ranging from Instagram Lives captured on cellphone cameras to livestreamed dash cam footage from Kurt’s car.

While the lead in this satirical film is a caricature of an individual, the film does offer some interesting commentary on the influencer age and the role an average viewer plays in this culture. Throughout the film, it isn’t necessarily Kurt’s violent actions toward his passengers that are horrifying but rather the audience’s reception to those actions.

“Spree” will make you think twice about both influencer culture and the impact of social media platforms that give its users access to a type of harmful anonymity. If anything, know that if you watch “Spree,” your inclination to opt for taking the Marguerite over using a rideshare app will notably increase.

“Ready or Not” (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, 2019)

With a production budget of only $6 million (the average cost to produce a major studio movie has been around $65 million), “Ready or Not” places its focus on plot and characters rather than big-budget effects or locations.

The film takes place almost exclusively within the le Domas manor, where Grace (Samara Weaving) has her wedding ceremony and marries Alex le Domas (Mark O’Brien). Grace meets the many bizarre members of the le Domas family and begins to sense that something is awry.

The le Domas family forces Grace to randomly choose a game to play with them at midnight on the day of her wedding as a “family tradition.” Grace draws Hide and Seek and soon discovers that losing this particular game has much higher stakes than she could have ever anticipated.

“Ready or Not” is a film that plays on exaggeration. The silliness, intensity and fierceness of the film are each dialed all the way up to create an explosion of entertainment. Clad in a wedding dress for the entirety of the film, Samara Weaving plays a marvelous action heroine, stealing the show with her motivation, cynicism and iconic costume (nothing beats the combination of a bloodied white wedding gown, a bandolier and tattered sneakers).

The way Grace unwillingly drags herself through the events of the night but remains resolute  throughout is an inspirational ordeal to watch as we all begin our own trudges through the next ten weeks. Grace’s efforts are a reminder that everything from dreadful in-laws to an intimidating quarter can be overcome with enough determination, perseverance and moxie.

While the first few weeks of the quarter can be scary, these three horror comedies show that with the right approach, even the most horrifying plot can be pervaded with a great deal of light-heartedness.

Honorable Mentions

“What We Do in the Shadows” (Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, 2014)

“Jennifer’s Body” (Karyn Kusama, 2009)

“Zombieland” (Ruben Fleischer, 2009)

“The Cabin in the Woods” (Drew Goddard, 2012)

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