Features and Columns · Movies

Danse Macabre: How ‘The Red Shoes’ Introduced Ballet to Horror Cinema

Anyone else hear toes cracking or is it just us?
The Red Shoes Horror
Universal Pictures
By  · Published on August 23rd, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay on how Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes influenced horror cinema.


Horror fans, when I say “ballet” what springs to mind? Pained, arching feet? Maddening quests for perfection? Kinetic terror trips from the likes of Black Swan, Suspiria, and Us?

While the art form of ballet has always had a certain gestural affiliation with the macabre, its allegiance with horror cinema (as we might recognize it) began in 1948. Enter: The Red Shoes, the second post-war success story from the British directorial duo Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. The film tells of Vicky Page (Moira Shearer), an aspiring prima ballerina in the throes of an impossible choice: her unwavering dedication to her craft and her desire for real, earnest love. Torn between her imposing instructor and the charming young composer tugging on her heartstrings, Vicky begins to crack under the pressure with tragic results.

Much like Powell and Pressburger’s psychologically tortured masterpiece Black Narcissus, which premiered the previous year, The Red Shoes is not horror in the strictest sense. Rather, it walks the fine line (presumably in pointe shoes) between technicolor melodrama and something far more macabre and sinister. Establishing both a visual and a thematic blueprint for its pas de bourrée-ing successors, The Red Shoes was the first film to truly utilize ballet as a means to penetrate the queasy psychological states of intense, fragile minds. The video essay below charts the specifics by which Powell and Pressburger’s film unearthed the potential allegiance between horror and dance, and how The Red Shoes changed our perspective of ballet from something poised and elegant to something potentially sinister.

Watch “How The Red Shoes Changed Horror Cinema”:

Who made this?

This video essay on The Red Shoes‘ influence on horror comes courtesy of the fine folks at Little White Lies, a film-obsessed magazine based in the United Kingdom. Lillian Crawford wrote and edited this video, which was produced by Adam Woodward. You can follow Little White Lies on Twitter here. And you can check out their official website here. You can subscribe to their YouTube account here.

More videos like this

Related Topics: , ,

Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).