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The Best Campy Horror Movies

And no, I don't mean summer camp.

Elvira and other characters in Elvira's Haunted Hills

People used to scoff at campy horror and dismiss it as pointless garbage. But it’s helpful to know what the term camp actually means in order to understand its value. For starters, without queer folks, the word wouldn’t even be what it is, and that’s a fact nobody can genuinely ignore. “Camp” refers to exaggerated theatrical performance (think old Hollywood) and melodrama, but it also refers to art that we enjoy because of its obvious sense of bad taste. There’s no doubt you’ve seen campy horror movies over the years. 1975’s iconic horror musical gem The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a camp classic, for instance.

A recent entry to the genre is 2023’s M3GAN, which took over TikTok before it even hit theaters. It’s also the perfect example of how to balance camp with more earnest moments, and if you’re itching for some campy horror after watching that, I don’t blame you! Here are some of the best campy horror films from the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s separated into categories. And please know that if I had included the ’70s, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Hausu (1977) are the primary examples of campy horror for that decade.

Campy ’80s horror movies

The girls in The Slumber Party Massacre
(New World Pictures)

Fright Night (1985)

Fright Night can never be left out of any conversation regarding campy horror. The movie, which follows a teen who discovers his neighbor is a vampire, has several queer actors in it, iconic performances (especially from Chris Sarandon), and is perfect if you love vampires. It’s the ultimate cult classic that delivers emotional beats, as well as all the campy outfits that Jerry Dandridge (Sarandon) wears. There’s also the fact that Jerry (William Ragsdale) is a sexy neighbor who stands out like a sore thumb, and that a TV show host is the hero. What’s not to love about this very queer ’80s gem?

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

Oingo Boingo playing as Leatherface attacks two idiot friends in a car is outrageous enough. Compared to the original, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is camp overload. The cheesiness of the premise and the over-the-top performances (which are so ridiculous they’re good) helped make this a cult classic. Not to mention the chainsaw-buying scene and the phallic nature of said chainsaw throughout the film (especially when you consider Leatherface’s problematic behavior towards Stretch). Some folks may even consider this their favorite in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise.

Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)

During a getaway with some friends, Courtney (Crystal Bernard) has bizarre dreams about the killer that basically bleed into reality. The first Slumber Party Massacre is usually mentioned when discussing campy horror, but I think the sequel deserves mentioning, too. The idea of a murderer dubbed “the driller killer” immediately gets a sticker that says camp in capital letters. There’s a girl band and musical moments (including the driller killer with his guitar weapon) throughout the film that elevate the campiness. Sure, this film has its problems, but it’s a lot of fun.

More campy ’80s horror recommendations:

  • The Evil Dead (1981)
  • The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
  • Re-Animator (1985)
  • Chopping Mall (1986)
  • Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
  • Evil Dead II (1987)
  • Night of the Demons (1988)
  • Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988)

Campy ’90s horror movies

Tiffany Valentine being a hot icon in Bride of Chucky
(Universal Pictures)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)

A film about a somewhat ditzy blonde cheerleader who slays vampires is delightfully campy. I’m not a fan of Kristy Swanson (she’s a Trump supporter, for one thing) but her performance as Buffy Summers in Buffy the Vampire Slayer is memorable. Of course the series is much better than the film, though there’s no dismissing how cheesy and enjoyable this movie is. The fashion is wild, the performances are so silly, and the vampires not being that scary just adds to the experience. It’s a notable ’90s entry and not mentioning it would’ve been a wacky move.

Scream 2 (1997)

What’s campy about this sequel to one of the most iconic horror movies? Damn near everything, if I’m being honest! Listing off all the reasons why Scream 2 is so campy would take ages. What I will say is having side characters deliver some of the best lines is campy enough. Not to mention Gale (Courteney Cox) and Dewey (David Arquette)’s banter throughout the film, Debbie Salt/Mrs. Loomis (Laurie Metcalf) as a vengeful mother, Sidney (Neve Campbell)’s Greek play, and so much more. That it was written by Kevin Williamson, a gay screenwriter, does play into how perfect the camp is, as well.

Bride of Chucky (1998)

The Child’s Play franchise scratches so many itches, and despite its original reception, Bride of Chucky delivered a level of camp that fans weren’t prepared for. Some folks to this day don’t enjoy the heightened quality and find there’s almost too many humorous moments. But to me it’s brilliant because of the introduction of Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly) and how the queerness is amped up. The idea that Chucky (voiced by Brad Dourif) gets married and has sex in his doll body is campy as hell, as is the bland straight girl needing her gay best friend to be her pretend date. Child’s Play mastermind Don Mancini being gay himself is the only way any of this is successfully pulled off.

More campy ’90s horror recommendations:

  • Death Becomes Her (1992)
  • Army of Darkness (1992)
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)
  • Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995)
  • From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
  • Scream (1996)
  • Wishmaster (1997)
  • Urban Legend (1998)

Campy 2000s horror movies

Jennifer Check being an icon in Jennifer's Body
(20th Century Fox)

Elvira’s Haunted Hills (2001)

Cassandra Peterson is a queer icon and her whole Elvira persona is the epitome of camp in the horror world. What’s not to love about her and her ditzy vibe, especially in Elvira’s Haunted Hills—a film that barely feels like it’s set in 1851. Of course, that only adds to the silliness of the premise and how Elvira uncovers myriad dangerous family secrets (none of which are her own). It’s a film that can be easily written off as frivolous and pointless, unless you’re into its personal brand of camp that only certain actors could pull off. Personally, I can’t imagine anyone else delivering the performance that Elvira does in this.

Jennifer’s Body (2009)

Jennifer’s Body was hated by many people when it was first released, but quickly began growing a cult following, especially among queer horror fans. Some elements haven’t aged all that well (it was the 2000s, what else can you expect?) and maybe that’s just part of the camp appeal. The blatant queerness and mostly bad fashion is so campy that it somewhat makes up for all those less than savory bits. Plus telling someone they give you “a wetty” automatically qualifies your film as camp.

Teeth (2007)

Two words: Vagina dentata. The folklore and concept of vagina dentata is outrageous in the best possible way. Making a horror comedy about a teen girl who has vagina dentata and uses it on boys is chef’s kiss. Of course, there are also serious themes throughout Teeth which shouldn’t be dismissed because of the humor. Let’s be honest, it’s hard not to laugh when a doctor screams the words “vagina dentata” instead of being professional. Teeth is a gem that most horror fans should check out if they can handle the subject matter.

More campy 2000s horror movie recommendations:

  • Urban Legends: Final Cut (2000)
  • Cherry Falls (2000)
  • Scream 3 (2000)
  • Slither (2006)
  • Trick ‘r Treat (2007)
  • Sorority Row (2009)
  • My Bloody Valentine (2009)

(featured image: The Elvira Movie Company)

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Vanessa Maki (she/her) is a queer Blerd and contributing writer for The Mary Sue. She first started writing for digital magazines in 2018 and her articles have appeared in Pink Advocate (defunct), The Gay Gaze (defunct), Dread Central and more. She primarily writes about movies, TV, and anime. Efforts to make her stop loving complex/villainous characters or horror as a genre will be futile.