Dance in Horror

If there’s one thing I’d like to see more in horror films, it’s dance. You probably weren’t expecting that answer, but it’s true: most horror movies I’ve seen that incorporate dance as an integral aspect of the plot stuck with me.

I think the main reason comes down to the unity and control that dance symbolizes in these movies. I’ve noticed that most of the horror films incorporating dance are more psychological. In these psychological horror films, the fear and anxiety comes from watching the characters break. Watching them fall apart. There’s usually a loss of rhythm and control.

Dance on the other hand is choreographed, having precise control over each movement. This contrast, between the unity of dance and the chaotic unraveling of the horror that’s ensuing around it is compelling. You can see this in some of the following three films, all of which incorporate dance to an effective degree:

A gripping dance sequence in Climax.
A gripping dance sequence in Climax (image credit: Rectangle Productions Wild Bunch)

Climax

Last month, I wrote about how Climax was so good… but so unsettling that I won’t watch it again. This is perhaps the best example of highlighting this stark contrast between the communal tightness of the dancing, and the intrinsic mental breakdown of each character.

The film centers around a dance crew partying after their final rehearsal. They quickly find out, however, that somebody spiked their sangria with a powerful hallucinogen. What ensues is literally The Lord of the Flies on acid. And it is a wild ride.

The 2018 remake of Suspiria.
The 2018 remake of Suspiria (image credits: Frenesy Film Company)

Suspiria

Both the 1977 original and 2018 remake are the epitome of dance in horror. Even Climax, one of my personal favorites, contains subtle easter eggs to the original film. It’s that important to the genre.

While the visuals in Climax were intentionally nauseating and anxiety-inducing, both Suspiria films contain beautiful cinematography. The entirety of the films are stunning to look at, for different reasons, though; the original film was as colorful and vibrant as the dances themselves, whereas the remake was as greyscale and bleak as the supernatural horror that ensued.

Either way, the films were effective in using the world of dance as a launching point for the thrills. Even behind the scenes, things got intense. Lead actress of the remake Dakota Johnson told Elle that the production of the film “fucked me up so much that I had to go to therapy.” That’s how you know it’s a terrifying film.

A musical number in the song and dance filled Anna and the Apocalypse.
A musical number in the song and dance filled Anna and the Apocalypse (image credits: Parkhouse Pictures)

Anna and the Apocalypse

I haven’t seen Black Swan yet, so I’m opting to include Anna and the Apocalypse here instead. I don’t know if it’s “technically” a horror film, so much as it is a weird zombie comedy type of thing. Either way, it has dance in it. And music, because it’s also a musical. This film’s got everything in it, really.

Interestingly, while the other two films mentioned used dance to ground the horror, here the dance moves the story along in a way. Maybe it’s because it’s genre bending, but it really helps propel the comedic aspects of the plot, making the whole thing a weirder experience.

It may be the most lighthearted film on this list (which is more than appreciated after Climax), but it’s a fun, dance-fueled ride.

By Ben Goldman

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