Musicals can be pigeonholed very easily and often become as calcified as any genre. And yet they are not, and never have been, bound by the clichés many people associate with them. Horror-themed musicals, in particular, have popped up often enough to form a seasonal quorum for anyone who loves a little song and dancing with their ghouls and goblins. Horror fans looking for a change of pace can find great options within their ranks, as can non-horror fans who still want something seasonal to properly celebrate Halloween. A list of some of the best is below, listed alphabetically by title.
Corpse Bride is Tim Burton at his most gothic
Although it did not gain the wide following of The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse bride is a more overtly gothic tale that can be a perfect substitute for households looking for a change of pace. His love triangle from beyond the grave carries a proper sense of the macabre, and with animator Mike Johnson co-directing with famed Tim Burton, the charming stop-motion characters are a joy to watch. Burton mainstay Danny Elfman provides the music and songs, while giving voice to a very different type of skeleton than his own. Nightmare Before Christmas protagonist.
Little Shop of Horrors is an early masterpiece from two Disney legends
Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman were two of the main creative forces behind Disney’s animated revival of the late 1980s: writing the songs for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin before Ashman’s untimely death in 1991. Before that, however, they created a horror musical for the ages of Little Shop of Horrors, based on a Roger Corman D-list horror film about a florist salesman raising a giant carnivorous plant. Frank Oz directed the film version in 1986 which strikes an ideal balance between satirical and horrifying, gory and sweet. It could be the perfect musical horror movie, with something for everyone wrapped up in one toe-tapping package.
The Nightmare Before Christmas Halloween Musicals Practically Set
It’s the obvious choice, but it’s just not possible for a list like this to be complete without The Nightmare Before Christmas. Henry Selick’s beloved stop-motion classic has outperformed the animated Rankin-Bass specials it was originally created for. Its crossover holiday plot – in which Jack Skellington and his Halloweentown friends decide to take Christmas back for a year – extends its life well beyond October 31, leaving room on the calendar for less wintry entries. But it’s still a Halloween movie at heart, and even diehard horror fans can usually find room for a screening this time of year.
The Phantom of the Opera is lush and explosive
For all its rich history, The Phantom of the Opera has always struggled a bit on the big screen. Even the famous 1925 silent version is a flawed affair, redeemed in large part by Lon Chaney’s immortal performances as The Phantom. Joel Schumacher’s 2004 musical version – based on the long-running 1986 stage production – is far from perfect, but it features a lavish visual palate and faithful devotion to the individual songs. The inexplicable casting of Gerard Butler in the title role is well balanced by Emmy Rossum and Patrick Wilson, who both do stellar jobs as the Ghost’s lover Christine and romantic rival Raoul, respectively. And its musical comedy roots make it a solid option for those who like their Broadway monsters style.
The princess and the frog are full of family scares
Musicals have become synonymous with Disney animation ever since. The little Mermaid launched the company’s famous revival in 1989. And while they’re never less than family-run, they have their unsettling side. The princess and the Frog certainly doesn’t shy away from showing it, especially with its deeply underrated villain Dr. Facilier and his sinister “friends on the other side.” He meets his fate when those same friends come to retrieve a broken deal, dragging him into the underworld and leaving behind a tombstone etched with his screaming face. Families with young children can find seasonal thrills with their carols here.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show is more subversive than ever
For all the sweetest Halloween musicals, some of the biggest ones are decidedly not for kids. The Rocky Horror Picture Show remains one of the most unique films ever made, arriving in 1975 and practically inventing the midnight movie scene in the process. Nearly 50 years later, it’s still the longest-running movie of all time — even playing in a deserted theater in Portland, OR, during the COVID lockdown, according to an article by The Oregonian — and its subversive satire old B-movies haven’t aged a day.
Sweeney Todd is a beautiful version of the famous musical
Burton has proven a bumper crop in this department, and one of his best is also an ideal musical for those in the mood to shed R-rated blood. Steven Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s famous story of a barber who cuts up his clients and serves them in the neighbor’s meat pies finds the right director at the perfect time in his career. Johnny Depp was never as hellish as Todd, with Helena Bonham Carter putting her own stamp on Ms. Lovett (a role for which the late Angela Lansbury won a Tony on stage). Darker and bloodier than anything Burton has done, Sweeney Todd is arguably the scariest movie on this list.