It’s pretty easy to find a creepy movie to enjoy every night leading up to Halloween. There are so many scary movies made each year that there is an entire movie subscription service dedicated just to the genre (called “Shudder”, naturally). Even after seeing most of the classics and many of the contemporary horror films, many aficionados have yet to enjoy the many creeptastic musicals out there.
Some horror fans may even scoff at the possibility of enjoying a musical to satisfy their screen-limited blood lust, but theater has a long, cold history of villainy and mayhem. In some ways, theater extends beyond the reach of the movies, utilizing a deft subtlety and under-emphasized horror that speaks to our imagination, leaving the seasoned horror lover who might mock at an over-bright, bloody scene in a film to only whisper, “My god…” after being swept into subtleties that warp and bend the mind. That could be the fate of anyone who experiences the 15 Creepiest Musicals Of All Time.
15. Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas
Boys and girls of every age are drawn to Tim Burton’s cult classic musical, The Nightmare Before Christmas. While it may be suitable for the entire family, there are some inherently creepy things about the film that are too eerie to pass off as kid’s stuff. Between a kidnapped, nearly-murdered Saint Nick, dead things given as gifts, and the complete usurping of Christmas by Halloweentown, the film is literally an ode to children’s nightmares.
The hauntingly beautiful yet macabre score includes lyrics like, “Trick or treat till the neighbors gonna die of fright” and “I am the one hiding under your bed/ Teeth ground sharp and eyes glowing red.” The songs are so scary that not only has Marilyn Manson himself recorded a version of “This is Halloween”, but haunted houses and Six Flags Fright Fest also use them as part of their horror festivals. While fans argue whether the musical should be enjoyed during Halloween or Christmas (the correct answer is both), it doesn’t change the fact that it’s one of the creepiest, most delightful pieces of media ever created.
14. The Apple
Think Stranger Things proves that the 1980s were a time of happy childhoods and plenty of pizza? Try an actual piece of media from 1980 and guess again. One bite from Menahem Golan’s The Apple (also known as Star Rock) and you’ll be wishing for the sweet caress of the Demogorgon. To be fair, the rock opera is set in a 1994 dystopia, and some critics call it the worst film to ever be made, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t keep you up at night.
The premise is simple: a couple of Canadian youths, Alphie and Bibi, set out to become rock stars. Along the way, their lives are destroyed, they face pure evil, and have a child as hippies before being rescued in the end by none other than God, who apparently flies a car around. The satirical take on the evils of the music industry is incredibly creepy, with its glam-rock version of Hell, over-the-top vampire, carnival acts, dancing nuns, and other randomness. Napoleon is even featured in one of the dance numbers. While The Apple is a failed attempt to cash in on The Rocky Horror Picture Show, it does provide a totally legal and drug-free acid trip for its viewers.
13. The Happiness of Katakuris
Anyone who makes the decision to watch the horror comedy The Happiness of Katakuris should consider its possible side effects: extreme confusion, madness, and incoherent babbling. Look, everyone knows how disturbing Japanese horror is already. The Western world is constantly stealing Japanese art and attempting to recreate it only to fail miserably in terms of the scare factor. Look no further than The Ring (originally simply called Ring) or The Grudge (originally Ju-On: The Grudge) to see how their original films achieved much more successful scares.
When it comes to The Happiness of Katakuris, however, it is so disturbingly weird that most studios are probably wary to remake it. Describing it as “wacky” or “quirky” is simply an understatement of criminal proportions. Between the weirdest family-run inn filled with murders, zombies, campy karaoke, and the most soul-sucking claymation scenes you will ever see, it is one of the most demented musicals of all time.
12. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Roald Dahl’s classic book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is one of the most enjoyable pieces of children’s literature ever written and beloved by both kids and adults. Maybe launching children into garbage chutes and altering their bodies beyond recognition is a little weird. But the musical really deranged things. Whether you pick the Gene Wilder or Johnny Depp version, both have some pretty creepy moments.
Many people argue that the psychedelic nightmare boat ride sequence in the classic version of the film is the most disturbing scene in the Wonkaverse, and they may be right. Aside from the weird eyeball, chicken getting its head sliced off, and other decidedly not candy related imagery, there are these lyrics, which are even creepier in the magnificent Gene Wilder’s voice:
“Not a speck of light is showing
So the danger must be growing
Are the fires of Hell a-glowing
Is the grisly reaper mowing?”
But there are plenty of other scenes to choose from. From the stoic Oompa-Loompas casually touching, shoving and removing children to the flaming puppets that “welcome” the kids to the factory in the Tim Burton remake, both musicals feel closer to Brothers Grimm entertainment than modern Disney tales, which, to plenty of parents, is really a good thing.
11. American Psycho: The Musical
Before people heard Christian Bale sound like a psycho going off on someone in an on-set audio recording, he played an actual yuppie psycho who somehow managed to combine Holden Caulfield of The Catcher in the Rye with A Clockwork Orange’s Alex DeLarge. Audiences loved Bale as Patrick Bateman, the character from Bret Easton Ellis’s 1991 American Psycho novel, so much that it’s no wonder that the 2013 musical, with music and lyrics by Duncan Sheik, was also a hit, moving on to be performed on Broadway in 2016.
Violent sex, a beheading scene (followed by the dissolving of a body), and the taunting and murder of a homeless man are some of the musical’s highlights, but despite them all and the string of murders that follow, the most terrifying moment may be when the audience realizes that Bateman’s murders were all neatly covered up and meaningless, which in turn horrifies Bateman since it means that his would-be notoriety will never come to fruition.
10. Phantom of the Paradise
Building on Phantom of the Opera, Phantom of the Paradise also takes pages from Faust and The Picture of Dorian Gray, creating a chilling horror musical that should have been more meaningful with that kind of parentage. Unfortunately, it missed the mark, flopping at the box office as well as among critics. Still, it’s a very creepy musical that deserves mentioning. Between a satanic record producer, one of the grossest dental extractions ever recorded, burning, disfigurement, an electrocution, and a lot of stabbing, it is one of the most disturbing musicals ever made, even if it is wrapped up with a glittery bow. The movie has a decent cult following due to its bizarre imagery and music.
While the film itself fell flat, its soundtrack is one to remember, earning the movie both Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations. Even without a great plot, its visuals alone remain fodder for bad dreams.
9. Little Shop of Horrors
The tale of a killer plant isn’t a guaranteed home run. Look no further than M. Night Shyamalan’s worst film to see that plants as antagonists can lead to failure, derision, and weeping for it to “just be over, for the love of God”. Make that killer plant a bloodthirsty man-eater that looks a lot like a Venus flytrap and give it a few do-wop numbers, and maybe you’ll get something as successful as Little Shop of Horrors.
Some might argue that Little Shop of Horrors is just too much fun to be creepy, but it is full of shiver-inducing scenes. Audrey’s boyfriend Orin is a sadist who gives dentists a bad name (or, depending on who you talk to, embodies the general DDS spirit), Audrey II’s unquenchable lust for human flesh and the plant’s evil alien plan all make it one of the best B-movies ever made. The stage version, in which Audrey and Seymour are consumed by the plant, treats audiences to a much bleaker outcome, but both the theatrical and film adaptations leave people with that unforgettable image of the victims’ faces emerging from the plant.
8. The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T
Ask anyone to identify their favorite Dr. Seuss work and The Cat in the Hat, Horton Hears a Who, or How the Grinch Stole Christmas may be mentioned. Most people won’t mention the loosely-dubbed musical fantasy film, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, either because they’ve never heard of it– or because they are still reeling from ever experiencing the thing in the first place. Theodor Seuss Geisel himself regretted the production, refusing to attach his name to it after it was made. To be fair, that was after the musical was heavily slashed by Columbia Pictures.
The premise seems straightforward enough. The protagonist in the musical, Bart, loathes his piano teacher, Dr. Terwilliker, and has a nightmare about being trapped with the teacher’s slave boys who are forced to practice on a giant piano. Okay, it sounds a bit weird, but it gets much weirder. There’s a dungeon ballet scene filled with strange imagery, mannequins and a guy with antlers on his head. There’s a weird dungeon elevator operator who sings scary songs. There are sexual innuendos, songs about underwear, and psychedelic imagery that’s just technicolor enough to convince you that it’s a hot mess and not a high you are experiencing. Sure, there are some creepy scenes in Seuss’s other works, but nothing to this level.
7. The Wicker Man
Before Nicholas Cage and company ruined its name for the next generation, the original The Wicker Man (1973) was a terrifying musical, and remains beloved by its fans to this day. Based on the 1967 novel Ritual written by David Pinner, the movie stars Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, and a host of English talent that helped it win the 1978 Saturn Award for Best Horror Film.
Being burned alive is horrifying no matter if it takes place in Merlin or American Horror Story, but in The Wicker Man, the scene is so intense and captivating that it was dubbed number 45 on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments. But what makes The Wicker Man really stand out is not weird mutilation or buckets of blood, but the creeping dread in the performance that drives Woodward’s character nearly into madness. Some fans say that witnessing the missing child gleefully turn from him, revealing his true role in the story, is the most haunting moment after all.
6. Evil Dead: The Musical
Based on the horror film series of the same name, Evil Dead: The Musical differs from many other creepy musicals by simply being a hit. Following its Toronto debut in 2003, the musical has been produced nearly every year since on nearly every continent and continues to draw in audiences with its campy horror and humor. What isn’t there to love about a quintet of college coeds dancing and singing with demons in the woods? The traditional gore, demon-chopping, and Ash humor that carry over from the film series are what make it both creepy and cherished among fans.
While purist fans of The Evil Dead may not appreciate the musical due to its loose interpretation of the original with skewed-together characters and plot lines, it remains one of the most popular horror musicals, touring in the United States and running as a beloved Ultimate 4-D Experience in Las Vegas.
5. Repo! The Genetic Opera
Described as “Rocky Horror meets Blade Runner“, Repo! The Genetic Opera is a comedy horror musical that, like many other productions on this list, flopped big time at the box office but was met with open arms by horde of cult film enthusiasts. Even without Paris Hilton’s Razzie award-winning performance, Repo! The Genetic Opera is nothing short of twisted.
Built around the premise of a dystopian future where people can have their organ transplants repossessed after defaulting on payments, the musical is an obvious choice based on its murder and mayhem alone. But it gets even more screwed up: the dead bodies of the future aren’t even immune to human depravity. Instead, they are ground up to create Zydrate, a powerful painkiller. Although a fan-favorite scene involving an opera singer’s face falling off, surgical enhancements, poisonings, contracts written in blood, and a pretty epic impalement scene also help make the musical memorably disgusting.
4. The Phantom of the Opera
It could be called a love triangle most foul… if it were a true triangle, but the obsessed titular character in The Phantom of the Opera suffers from a pretty bad case of the unrequited love blues. That’s okay; he can just mysteriously pop in and out of the musical, maiming and murdering people as he pleases– because that’s how grownups deal with heartbreak.
Seriously, though, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, which was intended to be his big romantic masterpiece, is so popular because of its creep factor. Kidnapping, stalking, and threatening do not a romance make (except for Twilight fans). A disfigured man lurking about a theater with his trusty noose just waiting to hang people is not a typical ingredient in romantic media. As horrifying as the Phantom himself and his actions are, the audience often flips its wig the most over that weird mannequin that he makes of Christine, and later, of her in its wedding dress.
3. Carrie, The Musical
“They’re all gonna laugh at you!” Who couldn’t sympathize with Carrie White, the naive protagonist from Stephen King’s debut novel and subsequent film? As much as the book Carrie mesmerized readers and the film, starring the brilliant Sissy Spacek, became a horror classic, the musical version didn’t do so hot. In fact, the entire thing was unfortunately considered a big, fat failure, leading to not only the book Not Since Carrie: 40 Years of Broadway Flops but also several spoofs, such as Scarrie! The Musical.
That said, it cannot be denied that the musical was quite creepy in both its original 1988 and latest 2012 production. There are more fun moments where Carrie enacts smaller moments of revenge, like knocking Billy off his skateboard, and shows off her powers to her mother at dinner, and there are still the famous moments the audience is waiting for, like Carrie’s prom humiliation and her ultimate revenge on the town.
2. The Rocky Horror Picture Show
“Brad! Janet! Dr. Scott! Rocky!” Perhaps the most beloved weird musical of all time, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a cult classic that comes to life regularly as small towns across the nation enjoy both film and live showings of the musical, during which audiences not only sing along, but dress up for the occasion. Why audiences would go this gaga over a parodied Frankenstein developing a human sex toy, some of the strangest musical numbers ever written, fishnet stockings, and transvestism is… well, actually, it’s not very surprising at all.
While Rocky Horror has plenty of creepy moments (the big reveal of Eddie as dinner comes to mind), the musical has served to unite the freaks, geeks, and generally out of place social misfits in celebrating their differences since its first production in 1973. New generations that have the Internet to gather round and find their tribes can never fully appreciate what Rocky Horror did for generations before, but they can enjoy the fun tribute to weirdness, B-movies and science fiction both live and on DVD.
1. Sweeney Todd
From its premise to its soundtrack, its memorable characters to that final repulsive catharsis that remains with you years after witnessing it, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is without a doubt the creepiest musical ever written. Hugh Wheeler and Stephen Sondheim’s gruesome masterpiece includes most horrors known to humankind: murder, cannibalism, rape, and deception. With lyrics that speak of adding human remains to the “worst pies in London” so cavalierly that the cast may as well be singing “A Spoonful of Sugar”, some of the best costume design in the history of musical theater, and no real hero to speak of, Sweeney Todd is at once chilling and delightful.
Both the film and stage versions are nightmare-inducing, but several scenes in the stage version (including one of the final moments, when a disturbed Toby begins running the meat grinder after slitting Todd’s neck) are more intense than their counterparts in the Tim Burton movie.
Have you seen any of these creepy musical live on stage? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!