Music plays an integral role in the horror genre. The soundtrack assists in setting the tone. The suspension of disbelief regarding characters bursting out into song can be a stretch when trying to illicit fear from an audience. However, when done correctly, this staple of the musical genre can add to the experience for fans of horror. An infusion of comedy within the kitschier moments of favorite films or an extra layer of emotion to heighten the tragedy. The following list of films and stage shows are worth a look due to their contribution to the horror genre.
Carrie: The Musical
An infamous history accompanies the musical adaptation of Stephen King’s 1974 novel. A troubled and delayed production led to the notorious flop of the 1988 Broadway production. This incarnation of the show sharply divided audiences. Betty Buckley was notably a member of the cast as Margaret White in this production as she played the gym teacher in the film. Despite the tainted 1980s version, Carrie: The Musical gained interest in the late 2000s.
With positive receptions, revivals in 2012 and 2015 have begun to remove the “curse” of this show. Rightfully so, as the lead roles of Carrie and Margaret White have always received critical acclaim. The music and performances, particularly in a number like “And Eve was Weak,” have a unique and emotional impact to those familiar with the story. The 2012 revival was the first to release a cast recording of the show and utilizes narrative cues from the 1976 film. Ultimately, the musical version of the story of a doomed prom queen manages to uncover extra layers of sympathy among the tragic pieces of the story.
This musical feature clearly tried its hardest to merge showtunes with the slasher genre. Unfortunately, this film fails to achieve a high level of fear. The saving grace occurs with many sequences that will please horror audiences. Keeping in theme with the choice to be a slasher film, the gore is gratuitous. The main obstacle for Stage Fright to overcome is the lack of realism needed for a slasher film to work.
Using a musical format works well in certain instances of horror. The sub-genre of a slasher film is a different story. There is a sincere attempt made in Stage Fright. Unfortunately, the kind of experience the audience expects from fear in a slasher is not easily reproduced in a musical format. This musical is worth a look for an appreciation of gory sequences and atmosphere. Musical buffs enjoying the resurgence of slasher films from the late 1990s will find moments to enjoy.
Silence! The Musical
Starting out as an Internet musical, Silence! is based on the film, Silence of the Lambs. The film is one of the most acclaimed works to come out of the horror genre. A movie full of intense suspense and disturbing images. The musical takes a different approach. There are few fans of the horror genre that have not watched Silence of the Lambs. As scary as the film is at times, the repeat viewer is prone to recognize the occasional comedic sequence that resonates from the film.
The musical interpretation comes alive based on those moments. The show relies on the comedic with songs such as “Put the F**king Lotion in the Basket.” A hilarious adaptation that works mainly for fans of the film, Silence! The Musical takes horror comedy to another level.
Little Shop of Horrors
This off-Broadway hit was based off the 1960 black comedy film of the same name. Nice guy Seymour falls in love with his co-worker, Audrey. She is unfortunately involved with a sadistic dentist while Seymour becomes the life support to a meat-eating plant named Audrey II. As the plant’s appetite grows, Seymour becomes manipulated in feeding Audrey II the human food it craves. The plant grows larger with each victim it consumes and becomes seemingly insatiable. The musical maintains the dark comedy tone of the original film. The show makes humorous references to 1950s B-Horror films.
A 1986 feature was made starring Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene. This version was released theatrically with an upbeat ending. The off-Broadway show had a sinister finale. A director’s cut was released with the intended diabolical ending preserved. Full of memorable songs and gleefully horrific death sequences.
Repo! The Genetic Opera
Terrance Zdunich and Darren Smith conceived this rock opera. Surprisingly stylish, yet occasionally tedious this musical feature is worth a viewing. This film is a futuristic look at organ transplants used to save lives. At a price. Once some individual falls behind on his or her payments, Repo Men are called upon to retrieve those organs.
Nathan (Anthony Head) is an intelligent doctor with a dark past. His personality splits between that of obsessive father to Shiloh (Alexa Vega) and sadistic Repo Man. Their story is intertwined with the greedy GeneCo founder (Paul Sorvino) and his three demented children (Paris Hilton, Bill Mosely, Nivek Ogre). The standout performance from the film is by Sarah Brightman as Blind Mag. This feature delivers on the stylistic horror and a few decent tunes. One frustrating element is a sub-plot that fails to pay off. Overall, an entertaining musical film deserved of at least one viewing.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
A staple of midnight showings since 1975, this musical film is a rite of passage for every teen who dares to be different. Or has the courage to “don’t dream it. Be it.” Personally, I have never watched the show performed live. I am certain it is an enjoyable experience. The film is an excellent choice for those that enjoy some ghoulish fun set to memorable (and often poignant) tunes.
A tribute to B-horror science fiction films of the 1950’s, this feature stars Tim Curry as mad scientist and sweet transvestite, Dr. Frank-N-Furter. Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon) stumble upon his castle one rainy night. Once the straight-laced couple arrives, they encounter sexual temptation as well as musical murder during their stay. This cult show has many incarnations for contemporary audiences. The film will always remain the most iconic experience of the concept.
The Phantom of the Opera
A now essential piece of theatre history, this classic story focuses on the menacing presence of a disfigured opera “ghost.” The phantom, Erik, falls in love with Christine, an up and coming soprano. While he pursues his seduction of her, he manages to terrorize theatre goers with his homicidal actions. Andrew Lloyd Weber’s adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera is known for the romantic aspects. However, the elements of horror are prevalent. Stagehands are hung from the rafters. Cast members are strangled backstage.
The novel by Gaston Leroux has been adapted several times to the enjoyment of horror fans. One adaptation stars Robert Englund in the titular role, and it is a particularly gruesome experience. The musical version emphasizes the love story while never shying away from the gorier features.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Sweeney Todd utilizes a complex score by Stephen Soundheim and is a musical embedded directly in the horror genre. The plot follows a vengeful barber and his quest for maniacal justice. This justice is served by slitting the throats of people to be served in a meat pie.
An ideal conception for the genre, but the gimmick alone is not the true horror of the story. The true horror lies in the tragedy of how a wronged man’s pursuit of revenge consumes his chances for salvation. Even though he had at his fingertips all that he wanted, Todd’s revenge kept him from seeing it. The musical was adapted in 2007 as film starring Johnny Depp. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street demonstrates the acts a damaged mind is willing to commit for revenge.
Jekyll and Hyde: The Musical (aka Jekyll and Hyde: The Gothic Musical Thriller)
Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella exploring duality in human nature is one of the genre’s classic horror tales. The story of a doctor obsessed with curing mental disease through the achievement of separating one’s darker self from his or her lighter self. Adapted several times over the years in different formats, Jekyll and Hyde: The Musical began in a collaboration with Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse. This version focuses on the murderous rampage that Dr. Jekyll goes on as he emerges as Mr. Hyde. The two women in the doctor’s life bookend his tragic story. One is Emma (Lisa in early versions) his fiancée, whom is pure and chaste. The other is Lucy, the hooker with a heart of gold.
Fans consider the Original Broadway Cast as the most cohesive version while The Complete Work is a double disc that feels like listening to a radio show performance. Both versions utilize song selections from each soundtrack. An updated rock interpretation has been released as Jekyll and Hyde Resurrection. The only released film version from the show stars David Hasselhoff in the title role. Ultimately, his performance is uneven and struggles between surprisingly good then cringingly bad.
Evil Dead: The Musical
If there is a performance of Evil Dead: The Musical coming your way, go see it immediately. Every kitschy and fake blood-drenched inspired tune makes attendance worth it. With lyrics by George Reinblatt and music by Christopher Bond, Frank Cipolla, Melissa Morris, and George Reinblatt, this hilarious musical is based on the first three films in the Evil Dead film series. The first few rows are indicated as being in the “Blood Zone.” Due to the fake blood being splattered their way, theatre goers should prepare ahead of time.
This toe-tapping musical includes show-stopper numbers like “What the f**k Was That?” and “All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons.” The show uses plot elements from Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2, and Army of Darkness. In order to enhance the story in a musical format, certain plot elements are switched around. Ultimately, whether or not musicals are really your thing, this one is a must-see.