A horror musical is an unusual beast in the cinematic world. It’s like the weird hippy aunt at the family party who people don’t really understand. The two genres couldn’t be further apart. One is filled with overly cheery singing orphans, jazzy dance breaks and fabulous ruby red slippers. The other is more concerned with creating new orphans, neck breaks and copious amounts of ruby red blood. But its this very dichotomy that makes the horror musical so enthralling. There’s a strange subverted pleasure you get from watching people singing a happy working song, whilst slicing the throat of innocent men in a barber shop.
Now don’t get me wrong – the scares are few and far between! But you don’t watch a horror musical for the jump scares, as much as you don’t watch it for a happy ending where a boy gets his own chocolate factory for being slightly less bratty than the other kids his age. Its more about the macabre dark and twisted stories being told in a jarring unconventional manner. Sarah Michelle Geller describes it best in the fabulous musical episode of Buffy, ‘Once more with feeling’.
“Well, I’m not exactly quaking in my stylish yet affordable boots, but there’s definitely something unnatural going on here. And that doesn’t usually lead to hugs and puppies.”
Perhaps I’m biased on my overly enthusiastic view of the horror musical. Maybe there are not that many people in the world who are camp enough to enjoy a bunch of Motown styled nuns singing hymns whilst being queer enough to appreciate the glory of a gory eye gouge, but what can I say? These are a few of my favorite things.
I can trace my interest back to an early obsession with The Nightmare Before Christmas, a film I have traditionally watched in my new pajamas every Christmas Eve since I was 8. Like a lot of other non-conventional kids my age Tim Burton was my savior growing up and as he has created 3 musical horrors in his career its easy to see why I love them so. Plus I’m always inspired by those three DIVINE witches from Salem who were fond of a song or two.
This subgenre might not appeal to the casual multiplex date night horror fans. Sweeney Todd found this out when many people walked out after some dire marketing forgot to mention it was a Stephen Sondheim musical. But then again who cares? It still won an Academy award and a few Golden Globes.
Seasoned horror fans might also struggle with this genre feeling somewhat stranded at the drive in with their genre branded a fool. But although a musical horror tends to be filled with humor it’s not meant to attack the horror genre. It’s less of a whining Adele break-up song and more of a whining Adele love song. It’s a love letter to the genre and not just one particular subgenre of horror either. Everything is covered from slashers like 2014’s “Stage fright” to a sci-fi creature feature in the classic “Little Shop Of Horrors” (1986) and even body horror in the cult 2008 film “Repo! The Genetic Opera.”
Whilst I admit its never going to appeal to everyone, a certain sweet transvestite taught us in the 70s that there’s plenty in the horror musical genre for the LGBT community to sink their teeth into. This can either be seen in subtle or even accidental campness of a male lead singing about wanting to eat the lean British Royal Marine or the unashamedly sexual liberation of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” This genre know that when in doubt one should keep it happy, keep it snappy, Keep it Gay.
So whether you are fan of campy musicals, gritty horror or maybe you’re just a sexually repressed Mormon I suggest you don’t turn it off, don’t only dream of somewhere that’s green and just give yourself over to the absolute pleasure of a horror musical.
We will be discussing these horror musicals in more detail in a future podcast so look out for that. I see you shiver with antici……….