9 Horror Musicals to Jazz Up Your Halloween
Maybe you’re tired of the same selection of classic slasher movies being presented as ‘essential viewing’ every year. Perhaps you’re fed up with video essays about the ‘scariest found footage movie you’ve never seen’ (although The Poughkeepsie Tapes would be my recommendation). One way or another, you’re looking for something with a beat, something you can sing along to. Let’s find a tune and enjoy some off-kilter musicals!
REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA
Appearing 2 years before the similarly names and themed sci-fi actioner Repo Men, this oddball offering is primarily about a company who will sell you replacement organs…but repossess them if you can’t pay. What lands this rock opera early on the list is the kitchen sink approach to storytelling. The dystopian landscape features stories about entrapped girls with blood disease and surgical addiction. It is elevated by the inclusion of Anthony Head of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame.
SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET
Whilst we don’t believe that Tim Burton’s highly stylised cinematic adaptation quite sticks the landing, there’s enough of the Broadway musical classic to make it worthwhile. The nightmarish story concerns the deranged Benjamin Barker taking on the identity of Sweeney Todd in a bid to avenge the death of his wife. As a barber Todd lures his victims into his chair so he can slip their throats and dumps their bodies into his neighbours pie shop where they’re chopped up for meat. It’s heavy on the spilled blood but has a striking fantasy aesthetic and impassioned performances.
THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS
Trust Japan to turn in something utterly unique, horrifying and delightful all at once. The underdog family of the Katakuris try to turn their luck around by opening a bed-and-breakfast at the base of Mount Fuji and on the site on a garbage dump. Their bad luck continues when their guests keep turning up dead. Attempts to cover up the carnage snowball into more problems including rumbling volcanoes, nightmare claymation encounters and weirdly upbeat musical numbers.
LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS
The late, great Howard Ashman, who penned songs The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and more launched his career skywards with his off-broadway musical adaption of a Roger Corman schlock horror. Focusing on characters who yearned for a simple, comfortable and normal life opened up the sci-fi horror musical to a wide audience, with the Frank Oz big screen version perfectly capturing the camp delight. The nervous Seymour happens across an alien plant they could be his ticket to life on easy street and capture the attention of shy co-worker Audrey. If only the plant didn’t need fresh, human blood to thrive. Fortunately for Seymour, Audrey’s abusive boyfriend might be looking like plant food. Camp, fun and colourful and always wonderful.
This is an oddity for the list, as it’s less blood-and-guts and more Lynch-esque psychological nightmare of murder, celebrity and weird wooden babies. From cult pop-art musicians Sparks, the subject of recent Edgar Wright documentary The Sparks Brothers, their musical debut Annette is not anything you expected to see. This could be the musical numbers being interspersed through scenes of sweaty Adam Driver oral sex, childbirth, obscene stand-up comedy and tragic death. With Sparks providing the music, it’s certainly catchy…and weirdly unsettling.
THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW
You knew this would be on the list. I knew this would be on the list. Let’s put it on the list.
The first thing that comes to mind when people talk about horror themed musicals, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is the textbook cult favourite. When the wholesome and newly engaged all-American couple Brad and Janet break down in the middle of nowhere they seek assistance from the creepy house on the hill. They find it populated by transvestite aliens indulging in decadent parties, drawing Brad and Janet into a night that will challenge their perceptions of sex, gender and themselves. The songs are undeniably catchy and it’s a glorious celebration of B-grade sci-fi movies of decades past.
It’s a musical. It’s horrifying.
THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS and CORPSE BRIDE
If you need something more family friendly, either one of these Henry Selick or Tim Burton claymation classics is perfect. They’re similar in style and aesthetic, as all the characters were created by Burton, and feature songs penned by Danny Elfman. Each has their own special moments, and while A Nightmare Before Christmas is certainly the strongest of the two they’re both worth dimming the lights and enjoying the colourful underworlds and their oddball characters.
PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
This is kinda here because it’s expected…it may reflect some of the shine from the Broadway Musical on which it is based, but it is not a good movie. Casting a singer in the title role would have been a good start, instead we get Gerard Butler shouting lyrics at us. No, skip the 2004 movie and go straight to the source. Find a copy of the original cast and just watch that.