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Oh, The Horror!: Terrifyingly Terrible Musicals That Couldn’t (And Maybe Shouldn’t) Hit Broadway

Does camp horror have a future in the bright lights of Broadway? Paul Marx unleashes his terrifyingly glitzy visions of the stage on us.

By Entertainment, Featured

Illustration by Anna Cai.

Oh, The Horror! is a column in which Paul Marx (BFA 2024) subjects his readers to extreme tests of mental endurance (and sometimes hand-eye coordination if the vibe is right), for a shared love of dark humor, campy horror movies, and a misplaced lust for things that go bump in the night. To quote the great statesman Abraham Lincoln, “Reader beware, you’re in for a scare!”

Something I love to do when I feel like traversing the astral plane — more commonly known as “not paying attention” or “zoning out” — is to imagine horror movies as big flashy Broadway musicals. I mean, come on! The image of someone having their entrails forcibly removed by a masked serial killer while line dancers in the background do high kicks in black unitards adorned with bedazzled blood splatters is pretty comedic. The stark contrast between the content and the presentation is the slam dunk of absurdity I live and die for, even if I have to manufacture it myself. So, I’ve compiled a list of a few horror movies that I think would be funny as stage musicals. Now, I do not go into the creation of these aiming for quality; I go into these looking for ways to expose and augment the campiness and ridiculousness of the original films. 

Note: There will be spoilers for the movies ahead, so read at your own risk.

 

“The Birds”

To make a long story short, Alfred Hitchcock made this movie based on a story of the same title that’s about a town that gets attacked by — you guessed it — the local bird population. It’s bloody, has lots of screaming, and is filled to the brim with a sense of fear and dread, just like my last marriage. Tippi Hedren plays Melanie, a champagne socialite who falls for a random guy and hangs out with him in his town while they get besieged by birds that suddenly want to kill people. Talk about romance, am I right?

In my mind’s eye, the birds would all be played by people in full-body seagull costumes. Think “The Lion King” but worse, because it’s seagulls, and seagulls are horrible sky rats. Now imagine these people in seagull costumes circling the main actress while on roller skates — because how else are you supposed to show flying on stage? It’s always roller skates, baby! 

The centerpiece of the musical would be the iconic scene in which an old lady just starts grabbing at her face and yelling about how Melanie brought all the evil birds with her when she came to town. In fact, she has her own song, and yes I wrote a section of it:

Why are they doing this?

What do you know?

She’s evil I tell you,

and she’s got to go!

She’s evil! Evil!!!!”

But the accompanying music would be dreamy and romantic, to offset the whole being pecked to death thing. Think “The Sound of Music,” but with the occasional jarring atonal violin to keep the audience on their toes.

Last but not least, what would a stage adaptation of a movie be without a somewhat bizarre twist? Mine would be that Melanie did summon the birds, because her family had a curse placed upon them that should they leave their home for love, the forces of nature would tear the foreign town apart. Then, in the final act of the musical, Melanie and her irrelevant boy toy would be desperately trying to go back to her hometown that’s literally across the bay. Wouldn’t that be ironic? I’m cackling as I type this.

 

“Mommie Dearest”

I feel like I’m the only person who’s seen this movie sometimes — I swear no one my age knows what I’m talking about when I talk about beating children with hangers. Now, this movie isn’t technically horror, but I think of it as such because of how much intense and terrifying violence occurs throughout the movie. “Mommie Dearest” is a semi-autobiographical film about the actress Joan Crawford and her daughter Christina. Joan was notoriously difficult to work with on set and known to verbally and physically assault her assistants and abuse her children. The “gaslight gatekeep girlboss” blueprint, truly.

With such a snappy boastful villain like Joan, of course, this show is going to be centered around jazz music. Now, I know that no producer would make this show in good faith because child abuse is such a delicate subject. However, in the theatre of my mind, this musical would feature original songs such as “No Wire Hangers (Ever)”, and “I Will Always Beat You,” which gets a reprise in the show’s final act from Christina as Christina and her brother finally grow fed up with their abusive mother and agree to kill her.

Yes, in this adaptation the abused children get revenge by killing their adopted mother. Call me crazy, but that sounds like a happy ending to me; sometimes murder is the right answer. In the original, Joan dies of natural causes, and, in a final act of motherly bitchiness, she leaves her children nothing in the will. That sucks complete ass. Revenge is a dish best served laced with cyanide. I want to see those two kids do a tap routine on the stairs while singing out “I will always beat you/ cheat you and mistreat you/ dirt in your teeth to make you learn how to chew/ nobody said life is fair.” Their horrible mother grasping for their heels, right before they kick her down the stairs. The curtains close while Christian and Christina do the charleston at each other and their mother dies at the foot of the steps. A happy ending to end all happy endings in my opinion.

 

“Hellraiser”

Hellraiser is extremely iconic for its star villain Pinhead alone. An extremely pale man(?) — Cenobite — with pins sticking out of his face dressed in black vinyl looking for a good time involving whips, chains, and flaying flesh sounds like an ideal Saturday night to me, but maybe I’m an outlier here. If you’re being picky and want to know what the movie’s actually about, the story follows Frank Cotton, his wife Julia, and their daughter Kirsty, and also the revived corpse of Frank’s brother Larry. Julia has the hots for the ooey-gooey reanimated corpse, who steals the life force from other guys so he can get his flesh back on. Honestly, the plot is secondary to the wicked gore and practical effects that made this movie the absolute gem it is. So what better style of music to go with this heavy torture and BDSM pain and pleasure-filled romp through interdimensional hell than disco?

I can’t explain why this works, but it just does. I think it’s the inherently queer vibes of disco and BDSM rampant throughout the film that compels me to imagine Pinhead made of pins, sparkling like a disco ball. I want the sultry tones of a choir with a funky beat to be played over a man getting his skin removed:

Pleasure and pain

Baby make it rain

String me up with interdimensional chains!

I also envision the Cenobites with horrible jet-black porn staches and aviator sunglasses. The ultimate leather daddies? Absolutely, sign me up.

I’m making the executive decision to lean into the queer undertones and make them overtones now. My twist is that someone in the family is gay, and the Cenobites are there to help them come to terms with their sexuality, hence the BDSM and the whole coming out of a puzzle box from hell thing — emphasis on coming out. That’s right, this musical is now about internalized homophobia, headed up by an original song that I can already see winning multiple Emmys, “We Have Such Sights to Show You,” the Cenobites go into excruciating detail about the pleasures (anal sex) and pains (anal sex) of being an interdimensional queer to Kirsty and Larry.

In the final act of the musical, Larry comes to terms with his sexuality and sheds the skin suit of other people to join the Cenobites in their infernal disco at the further reaches of human experience. I’m getting emotional just thinking about it. Take that, “Brokeback Mountain!”

 

“Hereditary”

Take a shot every time you hear “Hereditary” is one of the best horror movies of the decade — you’d be passed out cold in no time, but it’s true. “Hereditary” focuses on the Graham family and the recent passing of their eccentric grandmother, and the complete shitshow that follows soon after. Between the Graham daughter Charlie (who contains the neutered version of the demon Paimon, who can only come to full power in a male body), and the now-dead matriarch being revealed as a satanic cult leader, it’s a wild ride filled with dread you’ll be feeling for a while after, especially in the neck region — hint hint.

My spin on this family drama nightmare would be to turn it into a black comedy. To add to this, Charlie will be giving her internal monologue throughout the whole thing, even after her gruesome decapitation. An ideal musical score to go along with “Hereditary: The Musical” would be a 70’s Scooby-Doo type sound — I really want to lean into the sleuthing and discoveries everyone makes throughout the film while juxtaposing the soundtrack with the content — the content being finding your family members’ decapitated bodies posed around a satanic altar. 

Going directly into the songs for this show, the image of Annie opening the show by giving her mother’s eulogy that morphs into talking about how weird she was won’t leave my head:

My mother was private,

and by private I mean quiet,

and by quiet I mean odd,

and when I say odd I really mean kooky,

not kooky as in spooky, what I mean is strange,

and when I say strange, I mean to say deranged,

there, I said it! She was deranged,

and said all our fates had been arranged—

She was… eccentric.

For the grand finale of the show, the culmination of the cult’s efforts to rehouse the demon Paimon in a vulnerable male vessel will end the full ensemble singing their praises of one of the kings of hell:

Hail Paimon!

He knows it all!

Hail Paimon!

We looked to the Northwest and heard his call!

The stage then rises up in tiers; Peter is bathed in red light only showing his silhouette, and finally, the spotlight hits him, dressed in full sleazy car dealer drag. I’m talking bedazzled pinstripe suit, 301 eyelashes; the works. I am a firm believer in the classic gay shyster demon trope, and I would just love to see this horrible flashy man shimmy down the tiered stage while showing off his secret knowledge that varies between horrible stage magic and revealing the exact date of someone’s death, all in the same performance. What a wonderful way to end a wonderful play. *insert tongue pop here.*

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