Intermingling genres can be a risky move — just ask the makers of 1964’s kiddie/sci-fi film “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians,” which IMDB users voted as one of the worst movies of all time. (I’ve seen it; it makes Ed Wood looks like Stanley Kubrick.)
Sometimes, however, the mixing-and-matching really pays off.
Look no further than the current box office champ, “Guardians of the Galaxy”, a sci-fi comedy that’s received as many solid critical reviews as it has audience raves. With its success, “Guardians” joins a small but noble band of films that deliver all the conventions of a dramatic sci-fi film, while keeping its tongue planted firmly inside its green-skinned alien cheek.
If you’re one of those humanoids who loves humorous send-ups of sci-fi/fantasy staples, here are some other classic films you need to put up on your televisual communications screen pronto!
Here’s the uproarious set-up for Woody Allen’s entry into the sci-fi comedy world: a nebbish owner of a health food store gets mistakenly cryopreserved, wakes up in 22nd-century America, and finds himself caught up in a rebellion against the country’s nefarious dictator. “Sleeper” (1973) goes light on storytelling to make room for plenty of visual antics, and the movie’s low-tech approach to the sci-fi elements heightens the film’s slapstick humor — particularly the part where Allen is disguising himself as a robot house servant. The end result had critics like Roger Ebert rhapsodizing that Allen “gives us moments in ‘Sleeper’ that are as good as anything since the silent films of Buster Keaton.”
Young Frankenstein (1974)
Director Mel Brooks’s spoof of Mary Shelley’s monster tale is filmed entirely in black-and-white, but it’s teeming with colorful performances. Wild-haired and raucous Gene Wilder stars as the titular mad scientist, Marty Feldman is his fumbling hunch-backed servant, Cloris Leachman plays a forbidding housekeeper, Madeline Kahn is the Doctor’s persnickety fiancée, and Peter Boyle tackles the role of the 7 1/2 foot monster. As usual for Brooks’s films, “Young Frankenstein” is filled with broad comedy — everything from sight gags to farcical miscommunications — and it all comes together to make a hilarious genre-bending masterpiece. Highlight: Frankenstein and and his gargantuan creation breaking into an elegant dance number to Irving Berlin's “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”
The rhetorical question “Who you gonna call?” and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man hold high-profile spots in the pop culture pantheon, but the first “Ghostbusters” is a great movie overall. Filled with eye-popping special effects, the film never veers far from its sci-fi roots, but thanks to inspired performances by Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis (as well as a clever, inventive script from the latter two co-stars), “Ghostbusters” provides smart and satisfying laughs from start to finish— and it finishes big, as that marshmallow monster marches King-Kong-style through New York City. Whatcha gonna watch? Stream it now.
Director Ron Howard delivers a sci-fi comedy with a big heart in this story of a group of Florida retirees (Don Ameche, Wilford Brimley, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy) who reclaim their youth after swimming in a pool filled with mystical alien pods. The greatest joy of watching “Cocoon” is getting to see the elderly ensemble transform into revitalized youngsters— particularly Ameche (who at age 77, won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his efforts). Just watch for his mesmerizing breakdancing stunt. You’ll want to do the same thing after seeing this feel-good movie.
“Re-Animator” is yet another mad scientist movie that excels by not taking itself too seriously. Based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft, the movie tells of a student who’s obsessed with bringing dead creatures of all types and sizes back to life; he re-animates everything from a friend’s cat to a corpse in a morgue. Actor Jeffrey Combs developed a cult following based on his over-the-top performance in the lead role, and first-time director Stuart Gordon wows with his boundary-busting approach, as he commingles gory horror scenes with audacious sexual situations to create one bizarrely humorous package. It’s not high-brow by any means, but for those who are game, it’s a lot of fun. Stream it now.
It’s like "Road Warrior" meets "Sweeney Todd" meets one of those scary food documentaries you’re too afraid to watch. Set in post-apocalyptic France, where the meat-supply has dwindled, “Delicatessen” follows a butcher shop owner who restocks his shelves with the chopped up bodies of the people he murders. The premise certainly doesn’t scream “laugh riot,” but the film, which has the look and feel of a twisted comic book, serves up enough black comedy to bust your slightly-queasy gut. More fantasy/comedy than sci-fi, it deserves inclusion because more people this side of the pond should see it! Stream it now.