The 13th Floor

The Hills Have Eyes With The Sound of Music: Horror Musicals On Stage & On Screen

Filled with a plethora of subgenres and genre benders, the continued success of the Horror genre is the necessity to convey the macabre to new generations. The scariest thought of any cinephile is that there is a film out there specifically made for them, and they just haven’t found it yet. Some folks are die-hard slasher fans while others crave something darker, and that’s where something beautiful is ripped out of the colon of cinema; that something is the Horror Musical.  Sure, maybe Horror Musicals are only beloved by a niche market and a smaller fan base than some of the other subgenres, but it’s that rabid and passionate fanbase that has left us with decades of singing and dancing, dripping with blood off the silver screen.

Phantom Of The Paradise
PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (1974) 20th Century Fox

HOLD THAT GHOST, an Abbott & Costello horror comedy flick, included musical numbers. PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE developed a cult following in 1974. But it was the 1975 emergence of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW that threw horror musicals into the mainstream. Multinational midnight screenings, multi-generational audience participation, and its wildly provocative themes were memorable enough to inspire generations. Those themes ring quite true especially in today’s political climate. RHPS allowed people to bond together like a family through the shared love of something that the “normal” audiences wouldn’t give a passing glance. And now you can see more than ever that it was always meant to bring people together.


Horror movie musicals may feel a bit like an oxymoron, but strangely enough, the combination of horror and musical theatre works extremely well. In fact, some of the most memorable musicals have horror elements to them.  The evil witch in SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARVES, the threat of Nazis in THE SOUND OF MUSIC, or that damn tunnel sequence in WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY are all horrific sequences in an otherwise classic musical. We may remember it as an animated film first and foremost, but A NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS is one of horror fans’ most beloved gateway films. Music is arguably one of the most important aspects of a film, and horror musicals weave that importance into the narrative.


The film world has adapted an abundance of Broadway’s darker shows, turning LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, SWEENEY TODD, and PHANTOM OF THE OPERA into the eye of the mainstream, but plenty of horror musicals exist as standalone pictures. TEEN WITCH is a teen horror musical tame enough for even the littlest of fans, while REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA can satisfy even the most brutal of gorehounds. Fans of low-budget gross-outs will be satisfied with POULTRYGEIST: NIGHT OF THE CHICKEN DEAD and those craving slashers can kick back with STAGE FRIGHT. DEAD AND BREAKFAST to MEET THE FEEBLES, there’s a horror musical for everyone. In the same way that cinema has been borrowing from the stage, there has been a recent explosion of Broadway musicals adapted from horror films.  EVIL DEAD, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, AMERICAN PSYCHO, CARRIE, HEATHERS, THE TOXIC AVENGER, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, RE-ANIMATOR, and THE ADDAMS FAMILY have all gotten the musical theatre treatment.  The kicker? They’re all extremely well crafted and entertaining musicals. Perhaps it’s the campy nature of both of the genres reaching perfect harmony, or the balance that occurs when combining the most cheerful genre with the most horrific.  Regardless, if this combination weren’t marketable and profitable, we wouldn’t continue seeing horror movie musicals pop up every year. Right? Isn’t that what Hollywood keeps telling us?

The unfortunate reality is that unless a show has made the jump to the screen, some of the most incredible horror musicals go unnoticed by the non-theatre geek public. There’re Theater Geeks and there’re the Geeks of the Theatre Geeks – you ready to watch the stuff that creeps them out? Shows like THRILL ME: THE LEOPOLD & LOEB STORY or BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL have all the ingredients of a classic horror musical, but will remain unappreciated by the masses.  Maybe that’s a tad bit overacting, but that’s how these type of films make us feel – there aren’t enough people that know this joy and sorrow at the same time. Horror movies and musicals seem so opposite ended that it can be difficult to explain how the two can coexist in harmony, and it can be even more difficult to explain why a fan likes them both at the same time. This is where you’re reminded to shut off your cell phones and your mouth.

Some people fast forward through the musical numbers in THE DEAD INSIDE, and some people cite “One More With Feeling” as their favorite episode of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, but there’s no denying that the musical subgenre of horror is one booming with creativity and passion.