I thought about this topic for a while and I love watching other youtube channels talk on certain topics I haven’t thought of. I jotted this idea down around the 6th of this month and wrote down a lot of movies I could think of that would fit and here we are. So today, I wanted to make a list about horror films that either take place on a stage or are around a stage. A stage can be both theatre or theater setting.
Here are the guidelines, the main guideline: in order to qualify for this list, there has to be a stage, a literal stage (or figuratively, you’ll see) that plays into the film in a large way. I’ve also tweaked it for a movie theater and again, you’ll see why when we get into the list.
Let’s get into it!
10. Repo the Genetic Opera (2008) – Underrated musical, one of the few horror musicals in general. This was a play turned into a film and crazily enough, towards the end of the film, we have our protagonist, Shiloh (played by Alexa VegaPena) on a stage, everything, her life, being broadcasted, confronting her father (played by Anthony Stewart Head) and a past that she never knew about. This ranks at number 10 because it is a focal point but not a MAJOR one.
09. Vamp (1986) – I own this fun underrated vampire film on vhs, knew of the movie because it features the legendary and iconic Grace Jones (and body paint work by Keith Haring). Two wannabe pledges decide to find some “entertainment” in the form of women and find themselves a strip club and watch Katrina (Jones) perform on stage which is both amazement and surreal. I say this inspired From Dusk till Dawn but I think because the use of a stage is very short and limited and we don’t explore it like we do with Rodriguez’s film, it would rank below it.
08. From Dusk till Dawn (1996) – This movie is lower on the list, still a great fun though the one thing that is memorable is the big climax where the characters are essentially trapped in a saloon run by vampires. And we have the beautiful Salma Hayek coming out onto the stage, dancing and entrancing the viewers with a snake and then all hell and blood breaks loose. The Titty Twister as it’s called, I feel like it takes a lot (especially these details) from number 9, Vamp, which is basically a similar vibe but less western. The difference is I believe this environment is better integrated into the movie going experience and you remember it. That location is huge in the film overall.
07. Stage Fright (1987) – An Italian slasher film that I picked on a random day to watch because of the image used along the movie. A killer is roaming around on a night of a play that is in the middle of countless rehearsals, locked inside, unknowingly locked in with said killer who escaped a mental hospital. The one thing I remember clearly is the killer, wearing an owl head costume, sitting on the stage, around the countless bodies of the cast and crew as our final girl is forced to confront and fight her way to survive. There were also a lot of feathers in the air, blood and a spotlight, very dramatic.
06. Popcorn (1991) – It’s crazy how I’ve been seeing talk about this movie being more frequent on lists lately. I love that people are talking about this. I found this little hidden 90s film on vhs at goodwill, it looked interesting from the box and now that I’ve seen it a couple of times, there are some cool things about this film. Most of the film is quite predictable but I like some of the elements. We have college film students who come together to do an all night horror movie marathon to raise money and they’re going all out with costumes, decorating, and an interesting selection of movies that are very b-movie types and sci-fi based. There’s a nod to gimmicks in movie theaters a la William Castle and of course, a killer who is hell bent on sacrificing someone on stage, making it too big of a deal and the audience is eating it up, thinking it’s a part of the show. The stage setting is a part of the lore and a part of the overall plan, I don’t want to give away what really happens in this movie AND why.
05. Demons (1985) – Possibly one of my favorite Italian horror films. One of the first ones I ever saw to be honest and it has left a lasting impact on little ole me. Directed by Lamberto Bava and produced by Dario Argento, this film is the epitome of a movie within a movie. Imagine you are invited to a movie premiere by a stranger, adamant on going and when you finally get to watch the film, bad things happen when someone cuts their face on a mask that is a “movie prop”. And then like other movies on this list, things go to hell. A movie theater is essentially a stage and the possessed and attack fall through the screen to wreak havoc on the moviegoers. The movie that is on screen and the domino effect out in the lobby are a huge part of the overall arc of the film. One wouldn’t exist without the other.
04. Dario Argento’s Opera (1987) – I saw this film last year, one of Argento’s 80s horror staples and enjoyed this movie. Warning, this movie has a lot of “eye porn” and if you are squeamish about that, you might wanna steer clear or be prepared. The plot is quite simple, we’re following a young soprano singer being stalked and subjected to watching murders taking place in and around an opera house, and is forced to watch with a row of needles taped to her eye so if she blinks, her eyes (lids) are hugely affected. This movie is centered around an upcoming performance like Stage Fright or even a later film at number one and it’s ornate, stylized, the music is beautiful. If you’re a fan of Argento or Italian horror films, this is a must watch.
03. Scream 2 (1998) – This film is what inspired this list. I was talking about Scream to a friend and I mentioned that Sidney Prescott (played by Neve Campbell) has her entire life on display. And it didn’t start in Scream 2 but it was further drawn out. A book based off the events written by Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) that is now a film called Stab, Sidney’s story isn’t her own anymore. The cold opening with Jada Pinkett’s character Maureen dying on the stage of the movie playing, the audience thinking it’s a part of the show and then Sidney’s up and down journey with her drama class, being chased around by ghostface, her boyfriend’s murder and then the big showdown all taking place on a stage. Very fitting for Sidney’s story.
02. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) – Before Repo, there was The Rocky Horror Picture Show. A show that started out in theatre, developed into the cult classic, pop culture phenomenon that it is now. I’ll acknowledge that because of the audience participation, the movie theater becomes its own stage. However, there is a section in the movie where our main couple protagonists (Brad and Janet, played by Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon), are brainwashed alongside Columbia and Rocky, participate on a stage, an actual stage, in lingerie and makeup, performing for this picture show before everything goes to hell. It goes there very quickly!
01. Suspiria (2018) – I can imagine someone seeing this remake on the list and having a conniption because the original is not here. That isn’t to say the original is great, it’s amazing. It’s THE first Italian horror film I had seen plus the first by Dario Argento. The soundtrack is great, the coloring, the cinematography, very surreal and in your face, I love the original. I do also like the remake for completely different reasons. A huge part is that this is a dance academy that we’re thrusted in for the majority of the movie and the fact that we see a) the witches and the coven in action, b) many scenes of rehearsals and c) we see a performance that showcases how warped the students are but also how powerful the witches are. You see an end result to all the rehearsals and that’s something we don’t get in the original. The students on stage represent the power of the coven, and our biggest example is the character Sara. Poor Sara, she becomes a puppet.
Did these make sense? Does anyone understand where I was going with this? I just wanted to share some films that I think have things in common but executed differently. Adding elements of a stage or location like a movie theater, a performance theatre is more frequent in horror films than you think. I also had some honorable mentions which you can also let me know what film would you add to the list! Leave a comment, let’s talk.
Here are some honorable mentions that I think are also worth checking out!
The Phantom of the Opera
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
Queen of the Damned
Fade to Black