There’s no shaking the fact that musicals are niche. You either love them or you hate them. The same applies to horror movies. You either love horror and everything that it gives, or you can’t stand it. But horror movie musicals, crossovers between the two subgenres, is actually pretty rare. With thousands of musicals in existence, it’s not a surprise that only a handful of them have ever attempted to be horror-themed, either on stage or on screen. Horror stage musicals are usually smaller and tinier affairs that don’t get much notable traction outside of black box theaters or off-off Broadway productions. That’s how Little Shop of Horrors actually got its start, slowly working its way to Broadway where it somehow became a modest hit.
It’s weird just even talking about horror musicals since nowadays, or at least before Broadway closed its doors until May 2021, horror movies and franchises were getting stage musical adaptations like crazy. Evil Dead got one. Beetlejuice got one. Carrie has a critically acclaimed musical. Hell, even Silence of the Lambs has a stage musical (and yes it is pretty amazing, thank you for asking). But when you think of horror movie musicals, the list of actual options almost feels small… doesn’t it? We all hopefully know about The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Little Shop of Horrors, Sweeney Todd, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and if quality doesn’t matter all that much to you, you could always suffer though Joel Schumacher’s Phantom of the Opera or Tom Hooper’s Cats.
But what about the ones you don’t know? What about the horror movie musicals that are deep cut cult classics, the ones that even hardcore musical fans have rarely heard of? This Halloween, if you’re interested in something a bit more obscure in your horror movie rotation, let alone a horror movie musical, then try and give these movies a spin. They’re completely unique and original, oftentimes only being available as a movie as opposed to a stage show, and come recommended by someone who watches way too much of this stuff in the first place.
Repo! the Genetic Opera (2008)
Where to watch?: Amazon Prime, Tubi
Might as well hit the ground running with a cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic, goth rock opera! Repo! the Genetic Opera is one of the stranger movies on this list, if only for the chaotic production and the eventual failure upon release. The film was based on a stage musical called “The Nercomerchant’s Debt” that was adapted into a film by the playwright Terence Zdunich, who also stars in the film. Originally intended to be part two of a planned trilogy of films, the movie received hardly any publicity outside of the cast’s own public endorsements, it flopped hard at the box office, and even went on to win a Razzie Award for Paris Hilton’s role in the film. Despite all of that, Repo! developed an incredibly strong cult following and eventually got the praise that it most righteously deserves.
Set in a world where organ failures are a frequent occurrence, cosmetic surgery, and organ transplants are now viewed as fashion statements and happen all the time. However, if you’re unable to make your payments, the Repo Man will come and repossess your organs in a quite violent method. Sometimes he’ll disembowel you and turn your corpse into a ventriloquist dummy! But the movie mostly follows Shilo, a young girl with a disease who is mostly bedridden, who not only wants to eventually leave her overprotective father but inadvertently gets involved in a complicated web of blackmail and lies related to her deceased mother.
As a rock opera, nearly every single line of the movie is sung by the cast who all deliver a great job, including Paris Hilton. Sometimes the movie can be a bit too dense and has too much worldbuilding, like a subplot related to Zydrate, a black market drug extracted from corpses that doesn’t really go anywhere. But this is a rock opera that would fit perfectly if you want that MCR itch scratched now that their concerts have been delayed to 2021. It’s dark, it’s full of EDGE, but it delivers a really satisfying package that is thankfully getting a second glance nearly a decade later.
Best song: “Night Surgeon”
The Devil’s Carnival (2012)
Where to watch?: Amazon Prime, Tubi
Because legal rights are a fickle thing, after Repo! the Genetic Opera flopped, Zdunich and the film’s director Darren Bousmann unfortunately lost the rights to the franchise and were stuck. They had a passionate cast and crew who wanted to work on a project with the pair again, so instead of trying to make another big-budget horror musical, the two created a much smaller film tailor-made for a roadshow that can be taken around the country. This musical would be known as The Devil’s Carnival.
Comprising of cast members from Repo! as well as a cavalcade of prominent industrial rock and metal collaborators, The Devil’s Carnival features a group of people being sent to Hell, which is a giant carnival, and go through versions of Aesop’s fables related to their sins that got them in Hell in the first place. There are games, merriment, murder, and even a revolution against Heaven led by Lucifer himself!
The film itself is a far smaller affair than Repo! and definitely doesn’t sport the same scope or grandeur that it possessed, but what The Devil’s Carnival lacks in ambition it more than makes up for in focus. The soundtrack, which only barely lasts over half an hour, has very little fat on it. All of the songs are wonderful in their own unique way and offer a variety of different sounds to sample. The film was such a success that a sequel was put into production and released in 2015, called Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival, which expanded the world and set up a potential conclusion to the trilogy that has yet to be made or announced. Here’s hoping that it will happen one of these days.
Best Song: “In All My Dreams I Drown”
Phantom of the Paradise (1973)
Where to watch?: Hulu, Amazon Prime
I’m stretching the rules here a little bit about what is technically a horror movie musical with Phantom of the Paradise. If you want to break it down technically, it isn’t really a musical because, with the exception of one or two songs, it doesn’t really follow a musical structure. All of the music is diegetic and very much grounded in reality, instead using music to establish a 70s nightclub aesthetic rather than convey character motivations and emotions. Still, it’s undeniably horror-themed and comes from Brian De Palma, plus given its high cult status, it would be a crime not talking about Phantom of the Paradise as a horror movie musical.
As the title may imply, this is an adaptation of “Phantom of the Opera,” which at this point did not have a hit Broadway musical to its name. It only had the original book and a handful of film adaptations. De Palma’s 1973 film not only served as a vehicle to tell the story of the Phantom, in this version a musician who was disfigured and betrayed by a music producer, but also tells the story of “Faust” and “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” There’s actually a lot going on here under the hood and I can appreciate a movie that twists the story of the Phantom into a more occult and demonic direction, while still giving off a vibe of 70s sleaze.
Fun fact about the film, it actually predates Rocky Horror!
Best Song: “Faust”
Shock Treatment (1981)
Where to watch?: Youtube
Depending on who you are, you either love Shock Treatment or you hate it. You may not be aware of it, but Shock Treatment is actually the canonical sequel to The Rocky Horror Picture Show with a lot of the original cast and crew returning, including director Richard O’Brien, Little Nell, Charles Grey, among several others. It tried to recapture that same magic that Rocky Horror did but failed spectacularly, flopping at the box office (the movie was only given a midnight screening on Halloween) and was critically lambasted.
The movie barely qualifies as a horror movie, instead focusing on sharp satire of celebrity culture, but it strangely accurately predicted the rise of reality TV and the ease of being indoctrinated by media. The songs are still pretty enjoyable, with the movie set in a giant TV studio called DTV. The setting is fun and the whole television aesthetic gives off a strange sensation that’s almost the polar opposite of Rocky Horror. If Rocky Horror was about letting go of your inhibitions and having fun along the way, Shock Treatment is super sanitized and extols the virtues of complacency within the system, which in turn is controlled by major corporations, a constant pawn in a much larger plan.
Special mention has to be made about O’Brein’s turn as Dr. Cosmo McKinley. O’Brein may hate talking about that performance, but man does he deliver a creepy medical practitioner. It is a shame that Susan Sarandon and Barry Botswick don’t reprise their roles as Janet (slut) and Brad (asshole), but rather we have Jessica Harper as Janet and Cliff De Young pulling double duty as Brad and the main villain, Farley Flavors. It’s not quite as good as Rocky Horror, but really what is, but it’s still a satisfying and fun film worthy of your attention.
Best Song: “Shock Treatment”
Anna and the Apocalypse (2018)
Where to watch?: Hulu, Amazon Prime, Sling TV
I’ve heard of strange combinations before, but Anna and the Apocalypse’s blend of genres shouldn’t work as well as it does. It’s a horror movie musical involving zombies that’s set during Christmas in the UK. Zombie Santas, giant candy canes used for impalement, all the while everyone is singing and dancing. How this concept got off the ground, let alone works, is beyond me, but ever since it came out it’s been in my yearly rotation. This just hits every single note for me and I can’t get enough of it.
While this movie hasn’t quite become a cult classic yet due its relative newness, I’m here to be the champion of Anna and the Apocalypse as a modern-day hidden gem. Like some of the best slashers before it, none of the extensive cast is safe. Unlike those slashers, thanks to the nature of movie musicals where characters feel the urge to belt out all of their feelings, when the deaths actually occur, they’re meaning since we do learn the character’s deep and personal desires. There’s an element of tragedy here, though you can really say that about all of the musicals on this list. Yet Anna feels more personal in its delivery. We watch our protagonists bond with one another, whether it’s through bowling in getting peed on by zombie grannies.
The songs are all generally solid too, thanks to the majority of this musical being composed by the late Ryan McHenry. They’re all relatively uplifting, though not quite as cohesive as the other musicals on this list. Whether you want to watch this as a Christmas movie or a Halloween movie, definitely give Anna and the Apocalypse a shot.
Best Song: “Turning My Life Around”
The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)
Where to watch? Amazon Prime, Tubi
Now here’s a demented movie that I’m sure none of you have heard about. What happens when you get a multi-generational family of losers who open up a hotel only to have all of their residents die in increasingly strange ways. And no, it has nothing to do with ghosts or the paranormal, the guests just start dying from sheer ineptitude and the family has to dig up holes in the background to keep burying them. Oh and there’s a volcano that’s going to blow up. And zombies. And a whole lot of singing and dancing. Plus a karaoke sing-a-long!
I don’t know why Takashi Miike of Audition, Ichi the Killer, and an ungodly amount of Yakuza films would make a movie like this, but it’s so strange that it’s oddly captivating. It’s almost mesmerizing in its absurdity and I have no idea who thought of making a film like that into a musical, but it exists. It most certainly does, and the only endorsement I can throw to it is just having you watch the trailer and make the judgment call for yourself. It’s definitely the strangest horror movie musical I’ve ever seen.
Best Song: “That’s Happiness“