10 Films Where Ballet and Horror Dance Together

When asked about what dark parts of his imagination inspired screenwriter Stephen Shields to create Abigail (2024), he responded: “I thought, you know what will scare people?… A little girl in a ballerina dress covered in blood.”

And perhaps it really is as simple as that. The vivid juxtaposition between the very vision of innocence and grossly inhumane acts. It’s an irresistible step for any storyteller wishing to pirouette around an audience’s preconceptions in the hope of leaving them vulnerable to the insidious glissade of the gruesome.

But when so many of the great ballets are based on themes of obsession, unrequited love and the never ending waltz between good and evil, it should be no surprise that the artform has been such a rich seam for filmmakers to mine right from cinema’s earliest years.

In the following Movie List from The Film Magazine are ten such films; moving pictures in which the collision between ballet and horror is absolutely, ahem… on point. These are 10 Films Where Ballet and Horror Dance Together.

1. Black Swan (2010)

It’s not often that Darren Aronofsky is described as a ‘horror director’, but the majority of his features share themes of the paranoid, claustrophobic and desperate. Requiem of a Dream, (number one in our Aronofsky Directed Films Ranked article), in particular, is unflinchingly disturbing in its drug-addicted terror.

It is perhaps the combination of starry cast (led by the Oscar-winning Natalie Portman), mantelpieces full of awards, and its enduringly emotional ending that make us forget how Black Swan carries all the tropes we’d expect from a standard horror flick: mysterious figures lurking in the shadows, gory self-mutilation, paintings not behaving how they should. It’s all there in Nina’s destructive obsession to dance Tchaikovsky’s “White Swan”.

While Aronofsky invites us to reflect on the lengths we may go to fulfil our dreams, it’s the unforgettable physicality of the skin-peeling, bone-crunching metamorphosis that plays as an analogy for the degradation of Nina’s fragile confidence and spiralling mental health.

2. Suspiria (1977 & 2018)

It’s a bit of a cheat to have both of Dario Argento and Luca Guadagnino’s iterations of Suspiria on this list, but the two versions step in time to compliment each other quite perfectly. They each follow an American ingénue who is inducted into a prestigious German dance academy, only to find that it is run by an ancient order of witches.

The original is the tighter, more terrifying film and includes one of the top 10 best horror movie moments of the 1970s. Between Argento’s vision and Goblin’s unsettling score, it earns its place on countless charts of cinema’s scariest and most inspirational horrors.

While the original limits its ballet-based scenes to develop plot rather than to petrify, the 2018 version leans much further into the exploration of dance (albeit of a more modern variety) as a source of scares. The grace and poise usually attributed to the medium is replaced by the uncanny jerkiness we’ve become used to from ghoulish antagonists in the likes of Ringu or The Grudge.

Or, as we put it in our full Suspiria (2018) review: “the dancing is juxtaposed with the horrors of the school, forcing us to swiftly switch between cringing at the horror and pain of one situation to then appreciating the beauty of the art in front of us – a truly sadistic style of filmmaking.”

Recommended for you: 2nd Cut Podcast: Luca Guadagnino

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Leave a Comment