Yes, horror musicals are a small but entertaining slice of the horror pie. Because why flee from the shambling horror when you can kick-ball-change your way to safety? Here’s a look at eight horror musicals that will have you hitting those high notes with your screams.
Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd. He served a dark and a vengeful god.
One of three non-genre items on our list, Sweeney Todd is one of my favorite musicals, a brutal study of revenge written by Stephen Sondheim. Todd had been sentenced to Australia by an evil judge who had designs on his wife. Fifteen years later, Todd has returned. Let’s just say that nothing stands between Todd, his quest, and his love for his razor blade.
The Tim Burton film version is a little more fanciful, with a practically colorful version of “By the Sea.” See the stage production starring George Hearn and Angela Lansbury for an authentic Sweeney experience.
Phantom of the Opera
Fear can turn to love. You’ll learn to see, to find the man behind the monster, this repulsive carcass, who seems a beast but secretly dreams of beauty secretly. Secretly.
Christine has been receiving voice lessons from an unseen maestro—a disfigured genius who lives beneath the opera house where she performs. Fixated on the ingenue, he will stop at nothing, not even murder, to forward her career. When a dashing young viscount begins to court her, it makes the Phantom even more dangerous.
As with Sweeney Todd, Phantom is a non-genre horror musical. And as with Sweeney Todd, the original stage production was superior to the 2004 movie.
Phantom of the Paradise
To work it out, I let them in, all the good guys and the bad guys that I’ve been, all the devils that disturb me and the angels that defeated them somehow, come together in me now.
In this homage to Phantom of the Opera, the phantom is Winslow, a sweetly naive songwriter who meets the singer, Phoenix, at an audition. But through a series tragedies set in motion by the evil music producer Swan, Winslow is disfigured and driven insane. Winslow becomes obsessed with Phoenix and the integrity of his music. “My music is for Phoenix. Only she can sing it. Anyone else who tries, dies.” Note: He’s serious.
1970s cult movies aren't to everybody’s tastes, but the movie is cheesy goodness. More importantly, Paradise’s songs “Old Souls,” “Faust,” and “Phantom’s Theme,” written by Paul Williams (writer of Kermit the Frog’s hit single, “The Rainbow Connection”), are sublime.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
And crawling on the planet’s face, some insects called the human race. Lost in time, and lost in space. And meaning.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which is based on the play The Rocky Horror Show, is about an innocent couple, Brad and Janet, who accidentally find themselves in the clutches of Frank-N-Furter, from the planet Transexual in the galaxy of Transylvania. And at Frank’s lovely party, he reveals his creation: a man he’s built from spare parts.
But when Frank is upstaged by the entrance of rocker Eddie, he takes his frustration out with an axe. If that doesn’t make you squeamish, keep your eyes peeled for the dinner scene.
This movie isn’t what you would call good. But if you see it in a midnight screening, I promise you you’ll have a great time. Bring rice.
(Note: Christopher Lee appears in this fan-edited video, not the movie. But wouldn't that have been awesome?)
Repo the Genetic Opera
What’s the matter, GraveRobber? Can’t get it up if the girl’s breathing?
Repo the Genetic Opera is about a world where organ failure is so common that organs are frequently replaced by transplants. But if you fall behind on payments, you can expect the Repo Man to come calling. Meanwhile, a young woman escapes her overprotective father’s watchful eye and learns he’s not the man she thought he was.
With a plot that includes addiction and organ collection, the musical has a Rocky Horror sensibility. It even stars Anthony Stewart Head, known by most as Buffy the Vampire Slayer watcher Giles but known to theater geeks as the one who originated the role of Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Show.
It’s not enough to make it a good movie — it looks as if it were filmed through a smear of Vaseline - but you may get some entertainment out of it, depending on your taste level.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
I am the “who” when you call, “Who’s there?”
I am the wind blowing through your hair.
Jack, the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, is captivated by the spirit of Christmas — so much so that he decides to infuse his land with the spirit of Christmas. But one kidnapped “Santy Claws” later, Jack soars into Christmas Town on a sled driven by a ghost dog and delivers presents that include severed heads. Despite the lurid imagery, it’s charming to its core.
As with Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Jack ultimately realizes that he can find happiness in his own backyard. And I find happiness every time I play this stop-motion horror/comedy musical. But I wish the music were a little more lyric-heavy.
The Corpse Bride
I know that I am dead. Yet the pain here that I feel. Try and tell me it’s not real. For it seems that I still have a tear to shed
Victor is terrified of his arranged marriage, but he is soon smitten by his bride to be, Victoria. However, that doesn’t stop him from accidentally marrying a corpse, Emily. And in order to seal their marriage forever, Victor has to die.
Despite the morbid topic, this musical is light as a feather and contains all sorts of happy coincidences that you find in Victorian storytelling. As with Tim Burton’s other stop-motion masterpiece, The Nightmare Before Christmas, we could use more lyrical music in this musical. But what little we get is delightful.
Little Shop of Horrors
A lot of folks deserve to die.
The flower shop that Seymour works in isn’t horrific...until he brings in a planet of unknown (read: alien) origin. The plant, which Seymour names Audrey II in honor of his unrequited crush Audrey, fails to thrive. Then Seymour feeds it blood, and Audrey II becomes sentient and starts demanding human flesh.
Also based on a Broadway musical, the Little Shop movie is even better than the original production thanks to a feel-good ending and star performances by Ellen Greene, and surprisingly, Steve Martin.
There’s no escape now,
it’s a knife for an eye.
What do you get when you mash up Phantom of the Opera, Glee, and Halloween? You get Stage Fright, a horror-musical-comedy (that's sadly non-genre). It's set in a musical theater summer camp that is financially DOA, and only a star performance can revive it. This has to come specifically from Camilla, the young singer whose mother died before performing the same musical.
Of course, bodies start dropping. And all of it connects back to Camilla.
Sidenote: Meat Loaf appears in this movie, but I had hoped his role would be meatier.