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Dead List: A Nearly Comprehensive Ranking of Horror Movie Musicals


Care to do the Time Warp (again)? We have researched and ranked the rarest of the sub-genre, the oddball unicorn film that is the Horror Musical. Stylized, emotionally amplified, and often bafflingly strange, we have rounded (almost) all of the available horror musical titles we could find and ranked them! Sing for me! Sing my Angel of music!

Perhaps the pinnacle of cult moviedom, the horror musical is a rare breed that only shows up every few years, searching for a loyal audience. The goal with any musical is to use song to elevate the dialogue to a much more impassioned voice. There’s a reason why these films are rare. As Joss Wheedon would note, making musicals is HARD. Can your actors sing? Can your singers act?

Layering songs on top of a script and weaving in some choreography? Super tricky. And, trying to get the musical themes and the horror themes to mesh can be awkward. Getting fear elevated through music can be clearly heard through soundtracks and scores, but there is a special thread that needs to be pulled in order to elevate fear, without drawing the audience out of the moment. A jump scare with singing? Not likely. In horror musicals, the songs are often the prelude to the violence and the malevolence and are not actually used during moments of terror. (Repo: The Genetic Opera would be an exception.)

Humor, however, translates very well in a song within the moment of performance, and so most all horror musicals are also comedies. And those heightened sensations help make the more successful horror musicals cult classics. These movies manage to find a devoted and loyal fan base over time, with unbreakable emotional ties. How many other movies do you know that can have showings every Saturday night for the past 40 YEARS, with people in full cosplay? You know the movie.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show, love it or hate it, is a cultural institution.

But… it is not the #1 selection, despite its lofty fame and reputation.

Since this is a small pool of films, I endeavored to try and find them ALL. Rather than a top 10 list, I decided to try and rate all of them. So, you will see some real dregs towards the bottom of this list. Because of the unique nature of this strange movie hybrid, I also decided to split apart the horror and musical elements and rate those components individually, and to also consider an “X-Factor” which would encompass the significance of the movie, outstanding performances, art direction, or sheer audacity.

Something else I had to do was to determine what would qualify the movie to be both horror and musical. The easiest metric would be if IMdB says that it is. That’s a good start. But I also am only considering movies that use songs as a narrative tool. Almost all movies have a musical score or soundtrack, but only a few horror movies embrace the tradition of stage musicals or opera to sing the story to you as you watch.

I also am requiring more than one musical number. One great song does not a musical make. Concert performances can be part of a musical, but just playing musical instruments in a band isn’t a musical (Sorry Deathgasm and Uncle Peckerhead… I would love to have included you.) For the purposes of this list, I am also limiting this to feature films. Otherwise, Michael Jackson’s Thriller video would be near the top, plus more metal videos than you could shake a guitar at.

So, that’s the criteria! What made the list? Well, we start with one of my favorite movies, regardless of the genre…

1. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

Horror Thematics ★★★★
Musical Performances ★★★★★
X-Factor: ★★★★★
Best Song: Take your pick – “Feed Me (Git it)”, “Suddenly Seymour”, “Dentist” or “Prologue (Little Shop of Horrors)

OK… how do I rank Little Shop of Horrors as #1 over Rocky Horror? It’s a better story. It is more of a horror movie, and it is simply an amazing and wholly entertaining film from front to back and is one of the best horror movies regardless of it being a musical. It is also one of the greatest musicals ever and is a top-flight comedy on top of all that. It certainly helped that the Broadway stage production was masterful in its concept and that, yes, this is not wholly original because the stage show came first (and before that, the Roger Corman movie from 1960). As fun as campy as Corman’s film is, the musical aspect of the 1986 movie is essential watching.

So many of the songs are iconic and memorable. Rick Moranis is lovable and pathetic as Seymour. Steve Martin and Bill Murray on the screen at the same time? PLEASE! The mind-blowing puppetry of Audrey2? WOW! Could any other director but Frank Oz pull this off? Simply put, this movie is satisfying on so many levels. The one thing that could have made this better for horror fans, but would have certainly cost it at the box office was Frank Oz and Howard Ashman’s desire to have an apocalyptic ending where Audrey2 eats Seymour and Audrey, but the producer David Geffen scratched that in favor of the happy ending we get in the theatrical cut. Release the Oz cut!

I don’t need to sell you this movie. It’s the horror musical G.O.A.T. And, of course, it is also on one of our most popular deadlists: Arbor Day Horror.

2. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) ★★★★1/2

Horror Thematics ★★★
Musical Performances ★★★★★
X-Factor: ★★★★★
Best Song: “The Time Warp” (Full stop)

My first encounter with the Rocky Horror Picture show was in college, and I had been drinking Old English Malt liquor from a 40 oz bottle, and I am a total alcohol lightweight. As a result, I had passed out sometime after they did the time-warp, and I don’t have a strong recollection of the experience, except for a horrible hangover. I also found myself entertained at all the boundless energy and rebellious spirit of the film (and the audience), but rather confused by the story.

It is not really a musical that has much of a logical throughline. It also isn’t much of a horror movie, though it does bathe itself in the trappings and accouterment of the classic Universal films (particularly, of course, Frankenstein.) The weird, glam, drag showcase that is Rocky that burst out of 1975 during the New Wave movement managed to last well beyond the expiration date of the actual New Wave movement itself.

Our Clinton Street theater in Portland has been playing it for Goths and Hipsters alike for the past 40 years, three times a month, without fail. (Though the pandemic has put a dent in the official record… the cinema has barely survived the plague days.) There are similar situations in cities throughout the US, because this film, unlike almost any other, has built a cult following that connects from generation to generation.

3. Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2006)

Horror Thematics ★★★
Musical Performances ★★★★★
X-Factor ★★★★
Best Songs: “Pretty Women”, “My Friends”, “Not While I’m Around”

Sweeny Todd is a classic from the stage. My wonderfully subversive librarian grandmother took me to a stage production of Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street in San Jose when I was a teenager and I LOVED it. I loved the music. I loved the story. I loved the characters. It opened my eyes to live musical theater and I was hooked. |

This story, for those not in the know, is a musical by Stephen Sondheim, based on a book by Hugh Wheeler. This was a classic “penny dreadful” tale of a Victorian-era London exiled barber who upon his return takes to murdering those who have wronged him, and has them served up as meat pies by his friendly neighborhood pie-maker. There is a shortage of fresh meat in London, you know! It’s a wonderful tale of jealousy, treachery, love, and secrets.

Johnny Depp is excellently cast as Sweeny Todd here, and he has a lovely singing voice. Alan Rickman is a formidable foil for Todd as the lascivious Judge Turpin who has grievously wronged him. Helena Bonham Carter is also wonderful as the duplicitous pie maker Mrs. Lovett. This may be Tim Burton’s darkest and certainly goriest movie. As a straight-up horror movie, it actually succeeds in building toe-curling tension. The beauty of Sweeny Todd is that people allow him to approach their necks with a very sharp razor, and there is constantly a will-he or won’t-he heightened atmosphere. If lacerations make you nervous, this movie will send you running.

Interestingly, the movie did not use perhaps the centerpiece song from the stage musical “The Ballad of Sweeny Todd” which gets multiple reprises in the stage production. Tim Burton decided to go away from having a Greek chorus, and the film doesn’t feel like it needed it. The movie scored an Oscar nomination for Depp, and it had wide critical acclaim and was reasonably successful at the box office, netting over $153,000,000 worldwide.

4. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Horror Thematics ★★
Musical Performances ★★★★★
X-Factor ★★★★★
Best Song: “What’s This?”

Danny Elfman had to be on this list somewhere, right? Some twenty years after its creation and The Nightmare Before Christmas still feels magical. It’s a fantastic concept stemming from a Tim Burton poem, written while he was a Disney Animator, and when he pitched it to Disney in 1990 they green-lit the claymation project, and Henry Selick was brought on to direct it.

The charming story of Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon) the ruler of Halloween Town stumbles into Christmas Town and is obsessed with improving that holiday by taking over the neighboring town and running it Halloween creepy style, which necessitates the kidnapping of Santa Claus. Jack’s rival Oogie Boogie (Ken Page) intercepts Santa and also captures Jacks’ girlfriend Sally (Catherine O’Hara), and Jack has to reconsider his motivations.

This is a wonderful blend of stop-motion animation and the dark mischievous songs of Danny Elfman. It’s safe enough for kids, but it employs the scary elements of a child’s Halloween fantasy. The Oogie Boogie puppet is particularly creepy and cute at the same time, and the same could be said of the whole movie. The music has stood the test of time, and the film itself is a timeless classic.

5. Anna and The Apocalypse (2017)

Horror Thematics ★★★★
Musical Performances ★★★★
X-Factor ★★★★
Best Song: “Hollywood Ending”

A new Christmas favorite film for many Horror fans is Anna and the Apocalypse, a little underground Scottish production that became an instant hit on the festival circuit. This is a coming-of-age musical mashup with a zombie apocalypse and a Christmas special. Did I mention how outlandish and odd the concept of a horror musical was? Well, this one fits that description to a tee.

However, in its component parts, it’s quite satisfying on each measure. It’s a terrific little zombie film, that utilizes all the Romero-ish tropes, for both horror and comic use. The musical numbers are instantly ear-worm worthy, and the young charismatic cast pours everything they have into it. Add to that a tale of Anna (Ella Hunt), a teenage girl who longs to get out in the world and escape the sleepy town she lives in only to realize how important this place and the ones she loves are once the living dead rise from the ground.

This film better than most on the list manages to really balance horror movie with musical, and the songs do a great job of establishing character and plot structure. All of the musical pieces serve a purpose, and they are each terrific and catchy mood-setters. It’s gory, but not so gross that you couldn’t play this at a family holiday gathering. Pair this up with Gremlins and Rare Exports and you’ll have a fun holiday horror marathon for the whole family to enjoy!

This film also ended up on our Episode 83: Holiday Horrors and Episode 114: Ho Ho Horrors!

6. Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

Horror Thematics ★★★
Musical Performances ★★★★
X-Factor ★★★★
Best Song: “Old Souls”

The great Brian DePalma did a musical! And it’s a movie worthy of his significant legacy. Phantom of the Paradise arrived a year earlier than The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the two films both latching on to the glam rock movement of the mid-1970s. Of the two films, both were colorful, campy, and loaded with great musical numbers, but Phantom would have to be considered the superior film. It too has a sizeable cult fan following, but it never achieved the landmark recognition as Rocky did.

Phantom is something of a musical mashup of the European Gothic tales The Picture of Dorian Gray, Faust, and of course, The Phantom of the Opera. In classic operatic form, this is a tale of treachery and unrequited love, and most of all sweet revenge set to a thumping soundtrack created by Paul Williams, who also stars as the devilish tycoon Swan. William Finley plays the gullible and tragic composer Winslow Leach, who is betrayed by Swan and transforms into the vengeful Phantom. Jessica Harper makes a spunky first impression as Phoenix, the muse and object of both Swan and Winslow’s affection.

This movie delivers much of what you expect from a Brian DePalma movie. Side-by-side montages. (A precursor to what we’ll see in Carrie) Shocking violence. (William Finley almost got his head crushed in the scene that turns Winslow into the Phantom). And gorgeous cinematography. That said, DePalma has not done anything nearly as wacky as this early outing in his extensive catalog.

7. Buffy The Vampire Slayer: S6 E7 “Once More with Feeling (2001)

Horror Thematics ★★★
Musical Performances ★★★★★
X-Factor ★★★★
Best Song: “Walk Through the Fire”

Among Buffy fans, “Once More with Feeling” is a favorite. This episode’s premise revolves around a demon (Hinton Battle) who compels the people of Sunnydale to break into song at random moments to express hidden truths, allowing not only the cast to show their singing and dancing chops, but also to elevate some fun key plot devices to the surface.

It proved the value of being a long-running show, that you could alter the format of the program to do a fun one-off, and the results were borderline genius. The soundtrack is now moved from the background to the foreground and showrunner Joss Whedon channeled his inner Steven Sondheim and wrote and composed the songs, which ran the gamut from bright and silly to do dark and brooding and heroic fanfares. Well known for his witty scripts, he had never written songs before, and surprisingly there were many great numbers, including “Where Do We Go from Here” (whole cast), “Under Your Spell” (Willow and Tara), “I’ll Never Tell” (Xander and Anya), and particularly the West Side Story inspired “Walk through the Fire” (Whole Cast). The songs are fairly simple but thematically strong, and very catchy.

This wouldn’t have worked if Sara Michelle Gellar didn’t deliver, and though not a trained singer she soldiered through a number of emotionally charged songs. But, she admitted, was a terrifying experience. Of the cast, the standouts are the natural musical performers, Spike (rock musician James Marsters) and Giles (Anthony Head) a trained stage singer who also played a lead in “Repo: The Genetic Opera“. Head’s tenor anchors many of the group numbers. For some additional fun background check out our 2019 interview with Nicholas Brendon (Xander) who was kind enough to sing a few bars from “I’ll Never Tell”.

8. The Wicker Man (1974)

Horror Thematics: ★★★
Musical Performance: ★★★
X-Factor: ★★★★★
Best Song: “Willow’s Song”

“A musical?” you ask? Why yes. There is a significant portion of the 1973 Wicker Man that is told through verse. The villagers of Summerisle are full of mirth, song, dance, and frivolity: quite a contrast to the uptight and pious Sargeant Howie (Edward Woodward). Listen carefully. All the songs are sexually charged, even the children’s “Maypole” song which both needles and seduces the puritanical (and virginal) Sgt. Howie.

No song leaves quite as explicit an impact as Willow’s (Britt Eklund) seductive “Willow’s Song” (sung by Annie Ross) which she uses to tempt Howie from between their boarding rooms at the Inn. Even though Howie can not see the spectacularly naked Willow on the other side, he can feel her presence through her sultry song.

Perhaps the only song that is not sexually suggestive is the final pagan chorus of “Summer is Icumen In” which is an old Gaelic harvest celebratory song. Not coincidentally, the villagers are joyfully singing this while the Wicker Man burns with its sacrificial offering inside. As a movie, it is one of the iconic Folklore horror movies, and like the more recent Midsommar, serves the druidic rituals as dark but oddly charming at the same time, with blood sacrifice.

WILLOW’S SONG

Heigh, ho Who is there?
No one but me my dear.
Please come, say how do,
The things I’ll give to you.

By stroke as gentle as a feather.
I’ll catch a rainbow from the sky
and tie the ends together.

Heigh, ho I am here.
Am I not young and fair?
The things I’ll show to you.

Would you have a wondrous sight?
The midday sun At midnight.
Fair maid, white and red.
Come you smooth and stroke your head.

How can a maid milk a bull!
And every stroke a bucketful.

I saw a maid milk a bull,
Well done liar
I saw a maid milk a bull
Every stroke a bucketful.
Isn’t that a comical thing to be true?

Performed by Britt Eklund and Magnet

9. The Dead Inside (2011)

Horror Thematics ★★★
Musical Performances ★★★★
X-Factor ★★★★
Best Song: “The Zombie Apocalypse Would be Good for you and I”

The Dead Inside is a two-actor showcase about two struggling artists, a zombie fiction author, Fi (Sarah Lassez) and her wedding photographer boyfriend, Wes (Dustin Fasching). They are burning out, lost in their professional frustrations. But when Fi finds her muse lurking in her memories is a malevolent being, she is overpowered by it and is possessed by a spirit who is looking for redemption, and Wes is caught trying to figure out how to get his girlfriend back.

Most horror musicals are also comedies. You will note that many of the movies in this list attempt and comedy don’t even draw a smile. But Dead Inside lands the comedy early.

Female Zombie (Harper): BRAAAAIIIIIINS!
Male Zombie (Max): I thought we talked about that.
Harper: I like saying that. It strikes fear.
Max: All you are doing is turning us into a cliche. You don’t even like brains. You’re more of a large intestine girl. Why don’t you say that?
Harper: Because moaning large intestines doesn’t even have the same ring to it!
Max: Have you even tried it?
Harper: Oh, Jesus… LAAAAARGE INTESTINE!
Max: Yeah, you know that does sound stupid.
Harper: Thank You.
Max: Let me go see if there’s any beer.

From The Dead Inside

What you realize is that the humor is tied to the books that Fi is writing. The movie slips into a more maudlin tale of people, living and dead, who struggle to get control of their fates. It morphs from comedy to drama, and though it takes a while to take hold, the dramatic story also resonates by its wincingly appropriate conclusion.

This 2011 film is criminally underseen, but you can find it on Vimeo at https://www.drexelbox.com/the-dead-inside. The music is also pretty terrific, and the cinematography is eye-catching and the zombie prosthetics look great. How did this get past us? The movie cleaned up on the festival circuit, and yet, it didn’t leave much of a mark. It’s my hope that this place on the list will help people go look for this film.

10. Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)

Horror Thematics ★★★★
Musical Performances ★★★★
X-Factor ★★★★
Best Song: “Everyone’s a Composer”


Darren Lyn Bousman pulled out all the stops for his Rock Opera Repo! The Genetic Opera. It is indeed quite operatic, with high melodrama involving the double-cross of old friends who are some of the most powerful men in a dystopian future that… a conflict involving a woman they both love, and the daughter she bore on her death bed. The world has fallen into the habit of chop-shop surgeries and the repossession of organs for those who default on their payments for said surgeries.

The Opera is garish and gory, full of fully saturated hues and over-the-top vocal performances, particularly by diva Sarah Brightman (Excellent), Anthony Head (from Buffy TVS), and Paul Sorvino (who knew?). Unfortunately, none of the songs really stand out as they are buried under multiple tracks of singing (as popularized by Les Miserables) but without the careful orchestrations of Les Miz. Also, it is hampered that one of the leads (Alexa PenaVega) is only a fair-to-middling singer, and she needs to carry a good portion of the movie.

The movie, when it avoids the cheap CGI of the overall City has a very effective stylized look to it. The gore effects are fantastic, and the stagecraft, costumes, and sets are well done. The exaggerated art direction suits the fantastical nature of the story and the operatic feel. Repo! also utilizes a clever comic-book narrative treatment, as illustrated by songwriter and performer Terrance Zdunich (who also plays the gravedigger), and here does triple duty with some effective illustrations, which help greatly when exposition and transitions are required.

Repo! has been developing a legion of fans of its own, that grows every year, as it, like its inspiration, Rocky Horror, really gets into the camp and flair of the story. If the songbook was stronger, this could have been a top 5 horror musical. Liz had picked Repo!: The Genetic Opera for one of her selections in Episode 70: ADA horror for Blind Mag’s visual impairment.

11. The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)

Horror Thematics: ★★
Musical Performances: ★★★
X-Factor: ★★★★
Best Song: No song titles found…

From Takashi Miike, the man who brought you some of J-Horror’s all-time greats like Audition, Ichi the Killer, and Three… Extremes comes a surreal music horror-comedy! What? Really? This is a wholly unique experience in film watching, not only for the provenance of the director and the bizarre mash-up of movie genres, but also for the fact that it has a karaoke sing-along in the second act, intercut clay animation sequences, and a toxic zombie interlude. It is, you could say, very different. And oddly, it works! Mostly.

The Katakuris are a four-generation family of cheerful losers in life, who have banked everything they have on the success of a remote rural bed and breakfast, “The White Lover’s Inn” that they hope will benefit from a future new big road. But the big road seems a long way off, and the family gets no guests. When the guests finally start arriving, one by one, they end up dying before morning.

Not the best way to earn a reputation for a new business. So, the family takes to burying the bodies near a toxic waste dump site nearby. Handy that. And all the while, the mountain that serves as what would be the major draw for the Inn is actually an active volcano. Each of the family members, except the youngest, Yurie who is but a little girl, has their own ethical or guilt issues to work through… in song and dance!

The Happiness of the Katakuris is one of those “when bad things happen to good people” merges with a “hide the bodies” trope. Plus, you mix in a colorful supporting cast including a skeevy charlatan pretending to be a Royal Navy pilot, an escaped knife-wielding psychopath, a lusty sumo wrestler, and an oblivious cop and you get a narrative stew the perhaps only a musical could justify.

The musical bits are short and often quite festive, and serve the narrative well, though nothing really stands out. (also no song titles were listed in English… if you know where I could find it, please send us a message.) The comedy in it doesn’t always hit, but it will put a smile on your face. Surprisingly, and perhaps thankfully, the extreme gore that Miike is famous for does not show up in this movie, though there are some disturbing elements, mostly in claymation form. Miike pulls together a bizarro one-of-a-kind foray the likes of which you might not see again.

12. The Devil’s Carnival (2012)

Horror Thematics: ★★★
Musical Performances: ★★★
X-Factor: ★★★
Best Song: “Trust Me”

The Devil’s Carnival is the second horror musical offering from Darren Lyn Bousman and Terrance Zdunich, after first producing Repo!: The Genetic Opera. Both films were labors of love, designed to tap into the “Shadow Casting” fan interactions that Rocky Horror devotees would perform in front of the screen. This effort was a non-studio effort, and in its relative restraint is a more comprehensible effort.

It lacks the virtuosity of Sarah Brightman, but it also delivers cleaner visuals and simpler song structures, which actually makes it easier to get into. The Devil’s Carnival was treated like a concert, or perhaps more accurately like the circus coming to town. It eschewed a big box office haul (unlikely for a cult film anyhow) in exchange for an event atmosphere with hard-core fans in attendance. And it worked for what it wanted to do.

The plot is something of an anthology, using the plot device of the journey of the recently deceased through the gates of hell, with the devil entertaining the new arrivals with fables in the form of song, illustrating the folly of their own destruction. The morality tales reconstructed are Aesop’s fables:

“The Dog and Her Reflection” = song: “Beautiful Stranger”.
“The Scorpion and the Frog” = song: “Trust Me”
“The Devil and his Due” = song “Grief”

This is a little underdog film that knew what it wanted to achieve and hit all of its marks. The songs aren’t quite Broadway ready, but the spirit and the sheer fun that the cast is having shines through, and each story is a dark fun ride. It was enough of a success that a follow-up Alleluiah! The Devil’s Carnival was produced in 2016 and inverted the story to be from the heavenly perspective instead.

The most difficult part of The Devil’s Carnival is that it is incredibly hard to find streaming, and as such suffers on the X-Factor.

13. Suck (2009)

Horror Thematics ★★★★
Musical Performances ★★★
X-Factor ★★★
Best Song: “So Close it Hurts”

The Canadian Vampire film Suck involves a struggling rock band whose beautiful bassist, Jennifer (Jessica Pare) becomes a vampire right before their road tour that will hopefully get them noticed by a record producer. The struggling band finds that they are attracting bigger crowds, but then it becomes clear that JENNIFER is literally attracting them to their gigs. Great, right? Well, not really. Jennifer spends her late nights snacking on the locals as the band travels from town to town as they head to NYC.

Actor/Director Rob Stefaniuk also wrote the songs that the band plays, and they are quite catchy… if a bit short. It gets a fair bit of legitimacy by featuring the acting talents of Rock legends Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, Alex Lifeson, Moby, and Henry Rollins. Also, keep an eye out for representations of iconic album covers Electric Warrior (T-Rex), The Kids are Alright (The Who), Abbey Road (The Beatles), and Born in the USA (Bruce Springsteen). The whole movie is filled with fun little easter eggs. It isn’t as much of a musical as some of the others in this list, but it does qualify, as the music is integral to the narrative.

Suck was one of Mike’s picks for Episode 120: Heavy Metal Horror

14. The Phantom of the Opera (2004)

Horror Thematics ★★
Musical Performances ★★★★
X-Factor ★★★
Best Song: “The Phantom of the Opera” Yes, it’s all about that high E6!

OK, so it’s not much of a horror movie at all, but it is based upon one of the great horror characters of all time, in Lon Chaney’s famous portrayal of the Phantom. There is no denying, however, the quality of the musical performances in the production. If broadway musicals are your thing, the Phantom is on your playlist, and you’ve probably shelled out well over $100 to see it live on stage. It’s worth it alone for the title song and “Music of the Night.”

The staging and production values are at a high level, as this was a major studio release, with the benefit of a famous story and stage reputation. The movie is sumptuous at times, and the performers are appropriately beautiful as well. But something is lacking, however, in the transition from the stage to the screen, and there are times where the plot feels stiff and… well… staged. The romance is there but it doesn’t put its hooks into you. And it lacks an overall visceral punch.

I have not seen a stage performance of this, and from the fans of musical theater that I know, the Broadway production has more of the musical punch that you would expect. If you are a bigger fan of musicals than you are of horror movies, then this would probably suit you well. If it is the other way around, there are better horror-themed films for you to enjoy.

Phantom’s massive success on Broadway has led to other horror productions, with Jekyll and Hyde, Evil Dead: The Musical, Carrie, Beetlejuice, American Psycho, The Exorcist, and Young Frankenstein all getting theatrical stage musical adaptations. I would love it if they would do a version of John Carpenter’s The Thing as a musical. Songs could include “You’ve got to be fucking kidding!” and “I’m all right now, I can come inside.” Please, Broadway, hear my plea!

15. Cannibal! The Musical (1993)

Horror Thematics ★★★
Musical Performances ★★★★
X-Factor ★★★
Best Song: “Shpadoinkle Day” and “Hang the Bastard”


Before South Park, and before Book of Mormon, Trey Parker directed a clever and funny low-budget Cannibal! The Musical. This is a very early indication of Parker’s talents, as he also stars as the lead protagonist Alfred Packer, an unfortunate young pioneer who is on trial for cannibalism. He was trying to lead a band of miners from Utah to Colorado but got lost, forcing the group to eat their own dead. The songs come straight out of the Paint Your Wagon and Oklahoma playbook and are really entertaining. It’s irreverent and silly, and though there are some very goofy gore effects, it isn’t scary in the least.

Unfortunately, the only copy out there is a fairly grainy and low-res version. The film was shot on location out in the Mountain West, and like all westerns, it could have really benefitted from quality film stock and panoramic vistas. Here’s hoping that Trey Parker returns with a bigger budget to redo this film with better production values. He wouldn’t have to change the plot or music as they were both great.

Hang the bastard, hang him high!
Hoist his body to the sky.
It’s as nice as a day can be.
Won’t you come to the hanging with me?

Hang the bastard, hang him well!
Send his sorry soul to hell.
When his neckbone snaps we’ll know.
When the cannibal won’t be killing anymore!

From: “Hang the Bastard” in Cannibal! The Musical
Trey Parker
16. K-12 (2019)

Horror Thematics ★
Musical Performances ★★★
X-Factor ★★★★

Bathed in pastel pink and blue hues, the surreal oddity that is K-12 doesn’t make much sense in a traditional narrative. This is an indictment of the culture of the Kindergarten through High School experience. And it does so by mashing the children into a non-age specific or to be more precise all-age specific cast. The cast progresses from kindergarteners on a bus all the way through the senior prom, but with a cast of young adults playing the roles throughout the experience… it’s a little disorienting. The kids are dressed up like dolls and they exhibit a mashed-up mix of behaviors from all levels of the childhood experience.

The central figure is director/actress/electronica pop-star Melanie Martinez a.k.a. Crybaby who plays herself in a fantasy role as a telekinetic girl and her similarly telekinetic bestie Angelita (Emma Harvey) as they tackle the combined horrors of playground bullying, cruel teachers, peer pressure, menstruation, the drama club, teacher’s pets, body image, and the school sick ward.

It may sound weird but the baroque meets vocoder waking nightmare vibe remains remarkably consistent throughout the movie. The choreography is remarkably good, and the musical numbers build the narrative, making this feel like a music video album. The horror elements are there, with some body horror and occasional dismemberments, but they arrive to apply some shock value to the fantasy, and the horror theming is not central to the concept.

Watch this back to back with #18 If I Can’t Have Love I Want Power, as they are similar exercises of what you can do as a musical artist with artistic film ambitions.

17. Spidarlings (2017)

Horror Thematics: ★★
Musical Performance: ★★
X-Factor: ★★★
Best Song:

Spidarlings is an LGBTQ horror punk musical comedy, which adds yet another wrinkle of uniqueness to a very niche genre to begin with. Matilda and Eden are two Londoners who are struggling to make ends meet, where they take to dancing in “Juicy Girls”, a strip club, to pay the bills. A serial killer is on the loose, and has taken to hunting his prey in the strip club. On top of that, Eden goes out and buys a tarantula, which causes all sorts of chaos. If that doesn’t make much sense, neither does the movie, but it has much more heart than you would expect from this micro-budget exploitation film.

This is a Troma film but is a London-based film rather than a New Jersey production. And, dare I say, actually has some heart to it, that most Troma films lack. It also does not go for the mawkish cartoony comedy that often gets attached to a Troma film. The film channels a lot of John Waters’s drag queen sensibilities and is clearly heavily influenced by The Rocky Horror Picture show. It is colorful and benefits from being shot digitally, so the images are very clean for a zero-budget indie film.

The music is surprisingly good, and it belies the minuscule resources for the film. It’s a mix of punk, techno, and burlesque, blending in successfully with the plot in tone and tempo. The songs eschew the tendency for goofy farce that Troma usually goes for, and it benefits greatly from this. Not that Spidarlings doesn’t try for laughs, it just doesn’t force it as much. The acting is still rough, and the story hop-scotches all over the place, but has rightfully earned a place near the top of the Troma Collection.

18. The Lure (2015)

Horror Thematics ★★★★
Musical Performances ★★
X-Factor ★★★★
Best Spmg: “You Were the Beat of My Heart”

In a sub-genre full of oddities, this may be the oddest of them all. The Lure is a Polish horror musical that features two mermaids, Silver (Marta Mazurek), and Golden (Michalina Olszanka ), who have become backup singers and strippers in an underground Warsaw nightclub in the iron-curtain era 1980s. And, unlike the Little Mermaid of popular Disney fiction, these are true man-eating sirens, who given the opportunity will feast on the flesh of unwary clubbers.

The movie is filled with strange Music Video-like performances where sisters perform with the house band in Euro New Wavy productions. Sadly, these musical interludes can feel cringey, like low-budget not ready for MTV back catalog material. The mermaids however are spectacularly rendered and are truthfully a little unnerving to look at. Partly beautiful, but also eel-like and unsettling to the eye. The iron curtain era atmospheric felt appropriately grimy and heavy, and the art direction was Worth a watch, but you might find yourself fast-forwarding through the musical bits.

This movie was one of Liz’s selections for Episode 134: Cryptid Horror.

19. If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power (2021)

Horror Thematics ★
Musical Performances ★★★★
X-Factor ★★★
Best Song: “I am not a Woman, I’m a God”

The stunning visual example of a pop diva at the height of her power.

Singer/Songwriter Halsey created an ambitious concept video album of her latest album release If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power, which plays heavily on the joys and horrors of her pregnancy and childbearing of the child she carried during the recording and production of this album. The video was produced by Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor, and the whole film has exceptional production values.

Your enjoyment out of the film will probably have a lot to do with how much you like Halsey and her music. The pulsing indie techno-pop is several cuts above most of the other musical productions you will see in this list. But for all its concepts, the interpretation of the narrative depends on your ability to suss out the meaning of the lyrics. The imagery is pretty powerful, but the story moves in a way that is wholly suggestive and not explicit enough for you to get an idea of the narrative structure. Ghosts, voodoo priestesses, and witches are woven into the imagery, and there are a few moments where she uses horror to showcase her emotional condition.

“I am not a woman, I’m a god/ I am not a martyr, I’m a problem/ I am not a legend, I’m a fraud” 

“I am Not a Woman, I’m a God” – Halsey

There is something Madonna-like in Halsey’s pop diva hubris. She is beautiful and she knows it. She isn’t afraid to show herself off, even in her most visibly pregnant condition, and at times it feels like a narcissistic showcase, but have no doubt, she commands the center of attention. Halsey is magnetic, and you do get the sense of what a roller coaster it was for her to have this child.

I applaud the release of an album-length video, and it harkens back to the prog-rock concepts of decades ago and brought to the 21st century. Is this a musical though? Though Halsey is the featured actress here, and it is her singing, she is not actually singing in the film, it is a soundtrack. I give it the benefit of the doubt since it is almost entirely told through song. You can see the R-Rated video on HBO Max.

Horror Thematics ★★★
Musical Performances ★★★
X-Factor ★★★
Best Song: “Ghost of Chicken Past”, “Zombie Chicken from Tromaville”

If you are going to see one Troma musical, watch this one. It is everything that you would come to expect, profane, crass, raunchy, poorly acted, but incredibly silly. Poultrygeist takes on a definitive Punk attitude and has a take-no-shit, don’t give a damn aesthetic that is pervasive in Troma productions. We covered this film as one of Mike’s selections for Episode 112: Edible Horror.

The plot, as it were, is about chickens coming back from the dead to exact some bloody revenge on the fast-food workers at the Chicken Bunker. This is a satire through and through, an indictment on America’s bad eating habits and using the blunt force trauma of chainsaws and music to get the point across. The characters are all named after fast-food joints: Arbie, Denny, Carl Jr., Wendy, Jose Paco Bell, and well… Humus.

As is true for all Troma films, prepare to be insulted. But don’t worry. Everyone gets insulted. It’s an equal opportunity smack song talk story. Some of the songs are laugh-out-loud ridiculous, with titles like “Revenge is a Dish Best Served Fried”, “Rock Hard Caulk”, “Drop Kick the Punks”, and “Milk Milk Lemonade”. An essential watch for Troma fans. And I say this also because there are two other Troma musicals that are downright unwatchable. (See the bottom of the list.)

21. Stage Fright (2014)

Horror Thematics ★★★
Musical Performances ★★
X-Factor ★★
Best Song: “Where We Belong”

Frankly, a little disappointing. This movie tries to mash-up Summer Camp horror with Phantom of the Opera, and perhaps a little of Fame, and doesn’t really do justice to either musicals or horror movies. It is a celebration of the life of young musical theater thespians who have been picked on and ostracized at school.

If it had stuck with that, it probably would have been a more successful outing, but it pushes tropes to the point of cliche, and the desire to fast forward through sections was tantalizing. The promise of a movie featuring Minnie Driver (who is only in the movie briefly) and Meat Loaf (who is awful) falls by the wayside.

What you get are some bad stereotypes of a sleazy director and his casting couch desires (In a kid’s musical camp! Ewww!) A poorly conceived slasher villain, who you can identify probably in the first third of the movie. A red herring suspect janitor. Some gay drama queens who are neither sympathetic nor amusing… and make it feel awkward.

It tried. It wasn’t awful. Some of the horror bits worked well. The first kill, and probably the most notable one, was well executed. But the plot, the music, and the acting were all probably C- grade. Not to be confused with the

22. I Kissed a Vampire (2010)

Horror Thematics: ★★
Musical Performances: ★★★
X-Factor: ★★
Best Song: “Justa Drop”

Coming at the confluence of two popular teen trends in 2010, the High School musical show Glee, and the Twilight franchise of broody teenage vampires, I Kissed a Vampire sought to capitalize on the two hot trends. It barely made a dent in the public consciousness, if any. It had a very limited run in the theaters but managed to eke out a cult status on iTunes.

Lucas Grabeel is Dylan, bitten by a bat who happens to be the transmogrified form of a foreign exchange student. As Dylan starts to become a vampire, he starts to worry about important things… like popularity, and whether Sara (Adrian Slade), the girl next door who he has a crush on, will taste good. Fight the urge, buddy!

The production is actually not bad. The songs are competently performed, Lucas Grabeel has a fine voice, and the songs are innocuously entertaining if not particularly memorable. Out of context, it resembles the Buffy “Once More with Feeling” episode, but it is ALL about context. This movie seems like a pre-fabricated production void of any characters you care about or have any association with. Whereas, in Buffy, you’ve had years to know the characters, and a lot of the fun is seeing the cast you know so well stretch their artistic talents.

I Kissed a Vampire feels like what happens if the Mickey Mouse Club decided to do a vampire musical. I was disappointed that there weren’t more songs that brought in a full chorus, as they had a lot of performers and dancers, I did enjoy Glee, for what it was, and the power of the chorus was part of its charm. I Kissed a Vampire is Rated PG and has only superficial trappings of horror, most of it involving “To bite or not to bite.” As a gateway production, this may have some appeal to teens who enjoy lightweight fluff material. It’s harmless enough.

23. The Haunted World of El Superbeasto (2009)

Horror Thematics ★★★
Musical Performances ★★
X-Factor ★★
Best Song: “Catfight”


Rob Zombie made an animated horror musical. Pause. Let that sink in. The Haunted World of Superbeasto is a feature film using a comic character he developed “Superbeasto” a superhero Lucha libre wrestler/porn star. It is about as crass and offensive as you would expect. It does retain the voice talents of Paul Giamatti, Tom Papa, Rosario Dawson, Brian Posehn, Laraine Newman, and (unfortunately) Sheri Moon Zombie.

This film may entertain your average 13-year-old boy who hasn’t figured out how to tap into porn on the computer, but it, like most Rob Zombie films, tries too hard to be clever and spends most of the time being offensive. Rob Zombie is a horror historian, and he shuffles in a number of the classic monsters here, The Fly, Jack Torrance, The Bride, The Xenomorph… and he compliments that with his own creations like Captain Spalding and Otis Firefly from the Devil’s rejects. The music is OK, and occasionally funny, as penned by AMC host Chris Hardwick.

The animation is akin to the Ren and Stimpy gonzo cartoons of the early ’90s, but it lacks the charm of that iconic cartoon, which, if we’re being honest did gross-out humor really well. The trick with Ren and Stimpy was they knew how to approach the boundary and not cross over it. Superbeasto leaps over that boundary and goes from cheeky to crass. Still if sexy naked cartoon heroes are what you are into, this will be in your wheelhouse.

24. Big Meat Eater (1983)

Horror Thematics ★★
Musical Performances ★★★
X-Factor ★
Best Song: “Big Meat Eater”

“Pleased to Meet You. Meat to Please You!”

Tagline for Big Meat Eater

Tell me if you’ve heard this story before. A butcher (Bob) hires a giant maniac former janitor/maniac named Abdullah to be the assistant butcher in his shoddy meat market, and unbeknownst to him him, Abdullah has just killed the mayor and is hiding him in the butchery freezer. And, he plans to raise the mayor from the dead to be his killer slave minion. Meanwhile, there are aliens who have determined that there is a rare element “balonium” that is being produced in the radioactive basement of the butcher shop. Yep. Plus… belly dancers! Ah, those familiar tropes.

This horror-comedy musical is, and here we go again: a unique and very strange film. The production value is completely bottom of the basement, and the available versions of this (for free on YouTube!) is decidedly lo-fidelity. It is one of those zero-budget films that knows what it is, and embraces the whole silly enterprise. Remarkably the songs are pretty well written and have the catchiness of advertising jingles.

You’ve probably never heard of this movie, and nobody would blame you for that. For many people involved in this movie, including the director Chris Windsor, it’s the only movie they ever did. The acting is pure b-movie amateur hour, but passable for the goofy satire that this is. The plot makes absolutely no sense. Turn your brain off and enjoy the gonzo and sloppy nonsense. And be ready for a million unrelated ideas to get giddily slapped together to form a rough semblance of a plot.

25. The Apple (1980)

Horror Thematics ★
Musical Performances ★★
X-Factor: ★★
Best Song: “Do the Bim”

This Israeli film tried to hitch its wagon to The Rocky Horror Picture Show but never really made an impression. Ever heard of it? There’s a reason. It’s not that good. As glam transitioned into disco, it took the flamboyance of the previous trend and adopted many of its fun and frivolous aspects. The crazy hair and makeup. The huge set dance numbers with dozens of dancers. The sexual permissiveness. The outlandish costumes. But none of it works. It doesn’t make sense, and when musicals get boring, you are in deep trouble. (YAWN)

The sets, however are impressive, big stage productions with roof for scores of dancers to perform, and the routines were choreographed by So You Think You Can Dance judge Nigel Lithgow, and even if the music doesn’t make an impression the dance routines are pretty cool. The Israeli financers and producers were enamored with the success of Broadway hits Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell, and wanted to create a Jewish musical to match, and for some odd reason figured that mashing bible stories with The Rocky Horror Picture Show and a futuristic science fiction tale made sense.

Though the film may not have hit the intended biblical heights, it proved to be prophetic, however. One core concept is that in the future of 1994, a powerful organization would rule the world. That organization? It’s called The Apple. WOW! Nostradamus is on hold on line two and would like to have a word with the director. Ah, but this Apple is played to be more of the temptation of Adam and Eve apple… not the computer or iPhone… so a lucky coincidence, then.

The Apple is a VERY underground cult favorite, as some people just can’t get enough of the campiness and the disco vibes. Be wary that you have to put up with clumsy acting and forgettable songs in order to enjoy all that camp.

26. Vampire Burt’s Serenade (2014)

Horror Thematics: ★★
Musical Performances: ★★
X-Factor: ★★
Best Song: “Predator Swing”

This cheap indie flick boasts one thing. Kevin Scott Richardson! Who? He’s a Beastie Boy! Take a closer look at the picture… it’s THAT GUY. The angular tall one, with the bad-guy goatee. Him! Do you know what it also features? A Zappa kid, playing a zombie. Diva Zappa is in the movie as a zombie stripper who vows to take down the indulgent Vampire Burt (Richardson).

The movie boasts that it is a sexy, drug-addled, ultra-violent film. Well, best leave that to Troma, they really know how to do that. Maybe minus the sexy. Vampire Burt “takes advantage” of being an indestructible immortal vampire by indulging him in all sorts of self-indulgent and usually self-destructive activities. Strip clubs and blow occupy much of his time, but it eventually catches up with him, and he becomes vampire-non-grata.

Not much of a plot besides that, really. The songs are rather generic and uninspired as well. Richardson has a great falsetto, but without his other Backstreet pals, he’s not a good actor and he can’t really carry a film striving to be a musical comedy. We’re trying to be thorough here, so we stand up and recognize that this movie got made. Next!

27. Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park (1978)

Horror Thematics ★
Musical Performances ★★
X-Factor ★★★
Best Song: “Rock ‘N’ Roll All Nite”

Kiss is for kids. I will say it again. Kiss is and was for kids in the 1970s. No doubt about it, the marketing was pushed to boys in the 8-12 year range, and they were considered ROCK AND ROLL! YEAAAAAH! In hindsight, the prefabricated nature of Kiss shows up in something like Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, which is essentially a live-action Scooby-Doo episode with Kiss in the rolls of the Ghost Chasers. Though, in this movie, Peter, Ace, Paul, and Gene have POWERS… like lasers from their eyes. Yup. Kiss power! And the Scooby-Doo thing is not an exaggeration, the movie was made by… Hanna Barbera. Enjoy kiddos!

To prove its kid-friendly vibe, the park in question here is none other than Magic Mountain. WHEEEE! Apparently, Kiss was not happy with the way that it made them look. Looking at Gene’s belly in the photo above, I’d agree. He’s looked better. I think you’d call that a one-pack. Simmons would later go on to say that this movie would make a good double feature with Plan 9 from Outer Space. Maybe somebody should have tried to figure out if Kiss could act. Apparently, Peter Criss could not, and he had to be overdubbed in ADR. Keep your eyes out for an African American stunt double for Ace Frehley as well.

On the plus side, for Kiss fans, there is a Kiss concert, and this plays like a greatest hits compilation up to that time. But, be warned, this isn’t the greatest concert footage out there, and the non-concert music numbers are really awkward to watch.

“He created Kiss to destroy Kiss… and he lost.”

Calvin Richards (Carmine Caridi) in Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park.

In truth, this is more of a science-fiction musical, but it so closely took its cues from Rocky that it had to be included on this list, and it has a guy who is in Dracula garb, and an assortment of dancing demons so that has to count. Don’t bother trying to bother making sense of the script. For those curious, a 2017 Blu-Ray was released by MGM, and there is a Riff-Trax version of this out there. (Probably the way you should watch this.)

This movie may be awful, but it is an interesting watch.

There are a lot of songs in this movie, and they are all meandering indie jam-band tunes, but they all feel like a garage band mashing their way through rehearsals. In some cases, the folky tunes are innocuous enough, but the singing is all over the map, with distractingly bad harmonizations of the cast trying to join in on the music and either not knowing the lyrics well, or not understanding how harmonies work, or not being able to maintain pitch.

28. Rockula (1990)

Horror Thematics ★★
Musical Performances ★
X-Factor ★
Best Song: “The Night”

Here’s a hint to a movie director considering a horror musical as your next film. First, make sure your lead performer can sing. Second, make sure you get a songwriter who can create, at a minimum a catchy jingle if not an audio masterpiece. Rockula fails on both accounts. Failing that, make the movie scary. Or funny. And failing that, you have a failure.

Cue sad trombone.

Rockula is a horror musical failure. The story here is that Ralph (Dean Cameron) is a vampire cursed to virginity because the woman he loved got killed by a rhinestone-covered peg-leg 400 years ago, and he has been forced to live that event in rewind for eternity. As a way out, he forms a rock band in a last-ditch attempt to save his eternal beloved. However, if musical talent was key to dispelling the curse, this curse would last forever.

The music is a cheap derivative of Prince-light funk, with layers of ’80s synth on top of it. When the music ventures into rap, it becomes completely cringeworthy. And Dean Cameron is a terrible singer, with no range and no charisma. There are some interesting cameo appearances by aging new wave stars Thomas Dolby (“She Blinded Me with Science”)and Toni Basil (“Mickey”), whose song “The Night” which though repetitive is the closest thing to passable music that this unfortunate film could muster. HARD PASS.

29. Don’t Go in the Woods (2010)

Horror Thematics ★★
Musical Performances ★★
X-Factor ★
Best Song: “I’m Glad I’m Blind”

Vincent D’Onofrio (Full Metal Jacket, Daredevil) wrote and directed a woodland slasher musical. And… yeah… it doesn’t really work. A young band goes on a trip to the woods to relax, gain some inspiration, and write some tunes together. As they settle into their campsite, the band is joined by their girlfriends and their friends, which just adds more potential victims to the inevitable body count as the stereotypical unseen slasher begins taking out the group.

The film should have gotten a boost from being filmed in Woodstock, New York. Unfortunately, the historical resonance of the place failed to rub off on the production. D’Onofrio admitted that he did this movie somewhat spontaneously, and he did not hire actors to play the roles, and it shows, having hired young people down at the local coffee shop. He also seems to be aware of the camping horror tropes, but unaware of how to build any real tension or scares. Though there is plenty of slasher kills, there is an overall lack of horror atmosphere, and the kills just seem to happen with no buildup.

Almost all the music is performed around the campfire, so there is a certain sameness to the proceedings. And, having many of the kills happen during these jangly tunes absolutely disarms the potential for scares or catharsis. It’s a bit of a dead fish production. Getting to the end of this film was a chore. The concluding reveal of the killer is neither surprising nor in the least bit climactic. Splat.

30. Mr. Bricks: A Heavy Metal Murder Musical (2011)

Horror Thematics: ★★★
Musical Performance ★
X-Factor ★
Best Song: Yeah… didn’t get far enough to bother picking a song.

Full disclosure. I couldn’t finish these movies. They are really hard to watch. These are the Troma productions that you want to avoid. They have all the terrible production values and obnoxious behavior you would associate with Troma, but none of the cheeky charm and witty ironic satire that you get with the better films in their catalog. The lack of direct input from Lloyd Kaufman really limits these films. Go see Spidarlings or Poutrygeist instead, if you’re a Troma Fan.

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2 comments

  1. Holy smokes! Talk about taking one (or maybe 20+) for the team! Fantastic list!

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