With the release of Orion’s Anna and the Apocalypse in limited theaters this weekend, allow me two proclamations. First, SEE ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE. Not only does John McPhail’s showstopper fulfill Christmas Horror promises, but it does so as a dynamite Scottish zombie musical. Second, y’all don’t watch enough horror musicals. Maybe you – specifically – do, the reader who comments “Where’s Repo! The Genetic Opera on this list!” (Not underrated, relax.) The mainstream remainder? Too many times my excitement over horror musicals falls on unknowing ears, but fret not! Might I recommend a few titles that might help interest swell?
In the spirit of Christmas gratuity, I’ve gone ahead and wrangled some of my favorite underappreciated horror musicals. Some pulpy 70s schlock, some festival discoveries, and others just good ol’ monster mashes. Mixing your midnight massacres with foot-tappin’ Sondheim sophistication is ok. Here’s hoping you dig these gallows grooves.
P.S. If anyone can find a copy of Midnight Ballad For Ghost Theater in the US, hit a horror musical lover up! My interwebs investigating ended in disappointment minus that one guy on the Dark Web who wanted three of my toes in return.
If you’re a fan of Jerome Sable and Eli Batalion’s musical campfire short The Legend of Beaver Dam, you’ll *love* their theatrical sing-along slasher Stage Fright. (For the record, not a remake of 1987’s owl-headed hack-em-up.) The SXSW Midnight sensation tells of future stage divas who are perfecting their summer camp’s yearly production. The play? A kabuki variation on The Haunting Of The Opera (direct The Phantom Of The Opera riff). The problem? A black-leather figure who wears their Phantom’s new mask starts chopping performers and crew to bits while screeching 80s metal threats.
Horror musicals sometimes showcase imbalance when kill sequences are weakened by too committed a focus on musical interludes or vice versa – but that’s not Stage Fright. From Minnie Driver’s backstory cameo that ends in tragedy (a setup for her children years later) and onward, Sable’s out to soak his symphony pit in splattery gore. Then you mix in Batalion’s original compositions – from cheery counselor spirit builders to epic Iron Maiden howls – and a cast that sells every slice of egotistical backstage drama? We’re talking infectious entertainment so good I’m *just* getting around to namedropping Meatloaf as Center Stage producer Roger McCall. Or lead starlet Allie MacDonald. Or Todd & The Book Of Pure Evil veteran Melanie Leishman. You catch my drift.
Suck is a 2009 rock n’ roll fantasy kissed by vampire lips that’s written, directed by and starring Rob Stefaniuk. All the fun of a 2000s era rise from dingy punk clubs to legendary status packed full of rockstar cameos from Moby as carnivorous Secretaries of Steak frontman Beef Bellows to Alex Lifeson as a border officer to Alice Cooper’s demigod bartender. As fictional band The Winners rises in fame due to their vampire conversion, Eddie Van Helsing’s pursuit intensifies (none other than Malcolm McDowell). Suck has every right to be the tone-deaf VOD skip it sounds but plucks catchy horror musical notes with a seductive on-the-road bite.
Iggy Pop, Henry Rollins, Dimitri Coats – Suck could program one memorable weekend festival from its cast alone. Better yet, it doesn’t solely rely on recognizable rockstars to earn points. Jessica Paré stands out as the band’s sultry first convert (after a night with dreamboat vamp Queenie), then her friends turn one-by-one. Their need to feed is followed by hangovers and roadie Hugo’s (Chris Ratz) unenviable new duty as clean-up crew. Nothing astounding or new on the vampirism front, but as a sucker for goth club crowds and catchy, crunchy riffs, Suck’s my kind of pop-sexy bloodlustin’ playlist. Miss Paré, my emo-hypnotic Queen Of The Damned.
Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead
Fact: Troma’s most accomplished satire is about a fast food restaurant built atop an ancient Native American burial ground. Slaughtered chickens demand revenge, customers/employees start transforming into zombified alien cluckers, and environmental commentaries fueled by corporate greed come in musical packages. Character names all reference famous in-and-out burger joints (Wendy and Arbie). Bodies sizzle in hot fryer oil or churn through a meat grinder as the uncooked poultry of American Chicken Bunker make use of any and all available kitchen machinery. Oh yeah, this is full-on Troma campiness doused in finger-lickin’ vats of gooey goodness.
Skimming Wikipedia’s plot synopsis of Poultrygeist: Night Of The Chicken Dead is a literary delight, full of boggling winners like this sentence: “They run out of beer and are saved by Hummus (who is still alive, despite having exploded a few minutes earlier).” Logic dissipates whenever Troma is involved, but Poultrygeist is a special kind of “no fucks given.” Coarse rhetoric hides not from political incorrectness, but Troma surprisingly stays fixated on crudely boxed messages while getting sewer-grade sloppy. Everything from businessmen crapping out mutant chicken eggs to inerts being pulled straight out of body cavities. An immediate failing grade from any health department, but horror fan reactions detail their passing acceptance. Who doesn’t love a heartwarming, gory musical that amplifies the most Tromafied lyrics imaginable, unafraid to mutilate without mercy (and serve it up fresh)?
The Devil’s Carnival/Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival
From the creators of Repo! The Genetic Opera comes a carnivalesque war between Heaven and Hell serenaded by sad clowns, angelic protectors, even Lucifer himself. Darren Lynn Bousman directs both unholy operas, each penned by Terrance Zdunich who doubles as The Devil’s vessel. Wait, “both” films? I’m cheating because the indies listed above play back-to-back (unfortunately trilogy plans don’t seem likely to reanimate). Admittedly, The Devil’s Carnival hits upon my oddest intersecting interests between horror musicals, big-top damnation, and, yes, Hell represented as a three-ring freakshow of deviants. Heaven’s a lot glitzier in Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival, but not without blasphemous depictions of corruptions upstairs.
Performers range from motormouth rappers to German megastars to classical goth-punk icons. Paul Sorvino as an illustrious God, Ivan Moody a somber hobo storyteller, Emilie Autumn, David Hasselhoff, Tech N9ne, Marc Senter, Zdunich’s bellowing broiler of a voice, and many more lend their chords to a sometimes Vaudevillian, exquisitely deranged biblical sideshow. Sean Patrick Flanery, Bill Moseley, Barry Bostwick, Briana Evigan, Jessica Lowndes, Kristina Klebe – noteworthy genre talents you’ve seen before, doo-wopping and lamenting to a chorus of eternal judgment. Underseen, underrated, and in need of a closing third act!
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!
John De Bello’s 1978 weaponization of plump garden produce is, to this day, one of the strangest exercises in late-night camp. Barely a horror movie, minimally a musical, but this “Hitchcockian” riff by way of David Zucker spoofs is too unconventional to ignore. If birds can be scary, why can’t tomatoes? Cue scene after scene of increasing-with-size tomato props rolling after their victims like beach balls in the wind. Chaos and calamity in the form of scale city models burning while street riot footage intercuts live action. There’s a *real* helicopter crash left edited in – no injuries – so some realistic destruction flashes even for a split-second, but “attacks” aren’t ever more vicious than tomatoes stop-motion rolling over deceased grocery store patrons.
Surprise: that’s the charm of Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes!
Understand that De Bello’s execution never replicates Airplane! or The Naked Gun, nor does it recreate The Birds in vegetative form. What does it do, then? Cobble together a deceptively entertaining threat against humanity on the thinnest of budgets and premise. Gags like “master of disguise” Sam Smith – introduced wearing novelty glasses with a fake nose – who’s seen sitting around an enemy campfire in a full tomato suit. An ongoing theme of selling marketing space starts in the credits – “This Space For Sale” instead of a title card – and continues in song form. “Hammy” doesn’t even begin to describe the slapstick yucks De Bello and company strive for (cut to one official calling another a “wiener” as actual dialogue), but that’s what makes this scrappy underdog such an underestimated horror comedy musical (if you’re willing to laugh at Olympic swimmers batting away lobbed-from-off-screen tomato balls).
Proceed with caution those in need of structure, unnoticeable ADR, sharp scripts, challenging content, and everything else you might expect from a more serious endeavor. That’s not this juicy, not-quite-ripe hilarity. For the better.
Dead & Breakfast
Matthew Leutwyler’s Dead & Breakfast comes with a caveat because it isn’t a traditional musical. The film’s only performer is Zach Selwyn’s narrator/gas station attendant Randall Keith Randall. As six friends – including Jeremy Sisto, Oz Perkins, and Gina Philips – stop off in Lovelock for the night, Mr. Randall’s country twang ensemble sing about the zombie possession outbreak that unfolds. Storytelling through All-American pickin’ until Randall Keith Randall himself becomes zombified, then his style turns straight “hick-hop.”
Did I mention this movie randomly includes Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the town sheriff? David Carradine as “creepy bed and breakfast owner with secrets?” Portia de Rossi? Diedrich Bader? Beheadings, graveyard bone rituals and lots of squeamish practical zombie carnage? An entire undead line dance as Randall raps “We’re Comin’ To Kill Ya” before an all-out genre onslaught? Dead & Breakfast is a goofball horror-musical-comedy that serves it up greasy and chicken fried. Maybe not everyone’s speed, but Leutwyler’s recipe is my kind of junky genre comfort dish. Major stress on the “comedy” classification amidst gruesomeness, calling back to Peter Jackson’s early work.