Is it fair to hold the horror musical to the same standards as the dastardly horror film remakes that seem to be happening in droves? I don't think I can help it. Few horror musicals have been born from an original idea which leaves me with the same funny feeling. I'm well aware that remakes have been happening since the dawn of time but this kind of remake is worse. When you add the word 'musical' to anything it evokes a horrible visceral reaction within many people. Adding it to the word horror just seems like a bastardized and shrieking kind of wrong.
Isn't the comical genius of Young Frankenstein and Evil Dead perfect as is? Young Frankenstein was a parody. So, is a mugging Dr. Frankenstein belting out a song called Transylvania Mania anything other than pointless and silly? The film Cannibal! The Musical, another intentional parody by beloved low-budget Troma Entertainment, has more class by comparison. Even Cronenberg's The Fly has been made into an opera, but they don't have me fooled. Adding the smooth vowel-ridden word to the title doesn't soften the blow. In fact, it's almost more cruel. However, Repo! The Genetic Opera would probably disagree with me.
Before Darren Lynn Bousman transformed it into a film, Repo! the stage production was one of the few aforementioned original ideas to hit the horror musical theater scene. Aside from the smaller, indie productions that sadly often go unnoticed, Rocky Horror is the only other original story I can think of at the moment. That's kind of pitiful considering the first stage show premiered in 1973. Though its origins were not on stage, Joss Whedon's 2001 musical episode from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Once More, With Feeling, was praised for its beautiful and dark lyrics as well as its strong character development. The episode became a fast favorite among fans which led to the Buffy Musical Big Screen Extravaganza tour--an audience interactive, live sing-along screening of the episode. After touring for a year Fox shut the show down in 2007 due to rights issues. I can imagine that Buffy might have grown into a successful stage production. Despite my ambivalence, I'm hard-pressed to believe that it's impossible to create an entertaining and successful horror musical given these examples.
Furthermore, to say that horror musicals are supposed to be schlocky is a cop out. While all horror isn't meant to be taken seriously, the genre struggles for respect among its cinematic peers. Fact is, most horror musicals are loaded with enough ironic sneering to put Williamsburg hipsters to shame. The makers of these musical catastrophes lack respect for the source material. Their treatment of the songs often feels like an afterthought and isn't that the whole point of a musical? Look at Carrie, for example. The 1988 New York Times theater review of Carrie says, "The only laughs in the text of this ''Carrie'' are the whopping cliches in Dean Pitchford's lax, pseudo-''Bye Bye Birdie'' lyrics. ''Was it his voice? Was it his smile? I haven't felt so wonderful in quite a while,'' sings the lovesick heroine." There's a difference between horror-comedy and stupid.
Even though I think they're hokey, I respect musical theater productions like Little Shop of Horrors and Phantom of the Opera. They succeed because their songs are memorable and the show makes a connection with its audience. People feel the music rather than feel like they're being mocked--that's the difference. While these productions owe a debt to their original sources, both have transformed the story into a performance that is strong enough to stand on its own. As Hollywood cannibalizes itself for lack of ideas, here's hoping horror audiences will demand better quality entertainment no matter what form it takes and be able to savor a few original ideas along the way.
Cannibal Hollywood. Now there's a musical idea...