By mere chance when I fell in love with horror cinema I also happened to be introduced to the Broadway musical, two types of entertainment that couldn’t feel more distinctly different but at the same time cut from a similar artistic cloth. Both horror and the musical are art forms meant to have staying power long after the audience have left the theatre, be that in our nightmares or the ear-worm that we hum on the way home.
There’s even a striking similarity in structures. For each opening scare, there is an equal and opposite opening song. When you are so overcome with emotion you have nothing left but a musical number, so too in horror when you’re overcome with fear you have nothing left but screams!
So when these two genres collide it’s a discordant match made in heaven. Or maybe in hell. But either way, it’s impossible to resist these ten best horror musicals as voted on by Chris Coffel, Kieran Fisher, Brad Gullickson, Meg Shields, Rob Hunter, and myself!
10. Anna and the Apocalypse (2018)
The zombie sub-genre has been declared dead hundreds of times, but its come roaring back to life again and again with creative juices flowing as freely as the blood. The latest blast of undead mayhem is also one of the best, and while it delivers on the expected gore and violence it also succeeds brilliantly as… a musical? A mother-flipping zom-com musical from Scotland! The songs and dance numbers are toe-tapping gems that propel the story and leave you craving the soundtrack once the movie’s over, but don’t mistake the fun, songs, and comedy as meaning the film cuts corners on the horror front. It’s a bloody, brutal, and surprising ride that also happens to be sweet as hell. – Rob Hunter
9. The Lure (2015)
I don’t know what we did to deserve a campy post-soviet horror musical about man-eating mermaids, but we got one, and it fucks. Sorry bout it The Shape of Water. A fearlessly perverse genre-mash up with style to spare, The Lure follows two sirens who come ashore to break into the Warsaw club scene. Naturally, it’s crammed to the gills with banger after banger (written by Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska of the Polish band Ballady i Romanse). A delicious cocktail of electronica, disco, and rock and roll, The Lure is sure to draw you in. I mean there’s a reason this film already has a Criterion release. – Meg Shields
8. Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)
One thing that separates Repo: The Genetic Opera from other horror musicals is its utter commitment to its genre demographic. Tailor-made for its horror audience, Darren Lynn Bousman‘s film is unapologetically crass, loud, and imaginatively exuberant. And thankfully rather than opting for style over substance, Repo has an artistic richness that rivals Richard O’Brien. The operatic story of an organ repo man fighting for his family in the face of a celebrity conglomerate capitalizing on the genetic transaction. I mean – WHAT!? Capping it off is a slate of actors, from Broadway vets to celebrity heiress’ to genre heavyweights, who are not only game for the wackiness of Terrance Zdunich’s plotting but have knock-out voices to boot, a rarity for film musicals. Repo: The Genetic Opera rightfully earns its place as a midnight musical cult classic. – Jacob Trussell
7. Cannibal! The Musical (1993)
Before Matt Stone and Trey Parker found fame with South Park, they were film students who made musicals about cannibalism that got picked up by Troma. Loosely based on the true story of Alfred Packer and his trip from Utah to Colorado which saw his party left dead and eaten, Cannibal! The Musical contains all the demented humor, naughty words, and catchy musical numbers that Parker and Stone’s projects are synonymous with. Throw in some cannibalism and snowmen and what you have is the cinematic equivalent of fast food – cheap, delicious, and bad for your health in all the right ways. – Kieran Fisher
6. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Tim Burton’s take on everyone’s favorite barber will always hold a special place in my heart because it provided me with a pick me up on Christmas in 2007. That particular Christmas started with me seeing my beloved Phoenix Suns play host to the dreaded San Antonio Spurs. The Suns lost on a buzzer beater and I was devastated. But then I saw Sweeney Todd and the holiday was saved! Nostalgia aside, Sweeney Todd works because it’s peak Burton with prime, pre-public monster Johnny Depp delivering the best performance of his career. It’s dark and gloomy but told via song and contains Monty Python and the Holy Grail levels of bright, sort of orange, blood that take the brutal throat slashings so far over the top that this macabre tale manages to somehow be whimsical. Oh, and it features Alan Arkin and Sacha Baron Cohen and they both rule. – Chris Coffel
5. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
When I was a kid my mom and aunts were obsessed with this movie but I couldn’t get over the fact that there were these huge, bright red lips on the cover. What odd VHS artwork, I thought to myself, probably. As I got older I learned that movie to be The Rocky Horror Picture Show and realized it’s sort of a big deal. Lovingly inspired by early sci-fi & horror films, the film as a whole being a play on the mad scientist sub-genre, Rocky Horror offers a bit of something for everyone and that’s precisely what turned it into the cult phenom that it continues to be to this day. The movie created a safe place for all those deemed by society as freaks and weirdos to come together and have a good time with like-minded individuals. It helped break down barriers for the LGBTQ community – though we still have a long ways to go – by being as sex-positive as it is campy. As Frank-N-Furter would say, don’t dream it, be it. – Chris Coffel
4. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
After a lifetime spent toiling in the land of Halloween, The Pumpkin King Jack Skellington catches a glimpse of the holly-jolly life he did not know existed. The revelation rocks him to his core and plummets him into momentary despair before he decides to hijack the Santa Clause lifestyle. We’ve all been there. What’s the point? Sometimes we have to jump ship on the life we’re sailing on before we understand how that purpose kept us from drowning in an aimless whirlpool. The Nightmare Before Christmas is a sumptuous entertainment resulting from the collaborative genius of producer Tim Burton, director Henry Selick, screenwriter Caroline Thompson, and composer Danny Elfman. The film is a rare holiday confection that serves two masters, Oogie Boogie and St. Nick. Pop it on for either season and get lost in your decorative minutia. Is there a better soundtrack on the planet? No. On the off chance that you tire of the tunes, you can crank up the 2006 special edition release featuring covers by Marilyn Manson, Fiona Apple, Panic! at the Disco, and Fall Out Boy. – Brad Gullickson
3. Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
Ever wondered what a Faust meets Picture of Dorian Gray meets Phantom of the Opera rock opera directed by Brian de Palma would look like? Good news: Phantom of the Paradise exists, and it is glorious. Unabashedly strange, stylish, and silly, Phantom tells the tragedy of hapless composer Winslow Leach, who loses everything after making an ill-fated deal with a satanic record producer played by Paul Williams. Williams penned the film’s Academy Award nominated soundtrack, which features everything from surf rock, to rock power ballads, to soulful piano odes. What can we say? Satanic deals and music belong together. – Meg Shields
2. The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)
Takashi Miike is best-known for films focused on brutality (Ichi the Killer), perversion (Visitor Q), Samurai warriors (Blade of the Immortal), and madness (Audition), but with a hundred plus films to his credit the variety is fairly stunning. This 2001 feature, a remake of the South Korean movie The Quiet Family (1998), is as affectionate a family film as you’re likely to find as it follows four generations of Katakuris working together on a family business cursed with bad luck. Quirky songs, stop-motion action scenes, dancing zombies, numerous deaths, an impending volcanic eruption, and a whole lot of heart. Seriously. The ending is simultaneously ridiculous and uplifting, and the film is pure and absurd perfection. – Rob Hunter
1. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Frank Oz’s adaptation of the hit Off-Broadway musical, itself based on the 1960’s film by B-Movie impresario Roger Corman, succeeds where so many movie musicals fail: in capturing the essence and charm of live theatre. By filming on a soundstage, with a fully designed downtown set, the artifice transports us to another world. One that’s a little green, but a whole lotta mean. Characters are eaten, chopped up, shot, gassed to death. Even the original ending had the plant monster Audrey II invading towns across the globe, potentially even your own as it bursts through the screen. Corman, eat your heart out. Featuring a pulsating score, ranging from doo-wop to rock, by future Disney veterans Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, the film sparkles in its precision casting. From the original Audrey (Ellen Green) to the perfect Seymour (Rick Moranis) to the rogue’s gallery of cameos from Christopher Guest and John Candy to the irascible Bill Murray as the masochistic patient who meets his match in Steve Martin’s sadist dentist. Little Shop of Horrors is the perfect synthesis of horror cinema and musical theatre. – Jacob