10 Films Where Ballet and Horror Dance Together

6. Specter of the Rose (1946)

In the same year he would be garlanded with a sixth Oscar nomination for the screenplay he penned for Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious, Ben Hecht wrote and directed Specter of the Rose – a picture that, in Hitchcock’s hands, would surely have transcended the somewhat dismissive notices it received upon release.

With more than a passing resemblance to the plotline of another Hitchcock classic, Rebecca (1940), Hecht’s film immediately loses some credibility for naming its male lead and possible murdering psychopath Andre Sanine – yep, that surname is an anagram of ‘insane’. Sanine is a preeminent ballet dancer whose star is tarnished when he stands suspected of murdering his first wife. The widower charms an impressionable young member of the company, whom he marries faster than you can say plié. And it isn’t long before she begins to fear the same fate.

Beleaguered by an unoriginal plot and a largely suspense-free execution, Specter of the Rose isn’t devoid of flourish. The very opening shot of a shadow ascending the stairs is an immediate allusion to Nosferatu, which was released only 24 years earlier. In addition, Sanine – played by danseur Ivan Kirov in his only screen role – is a dead spit of Anthony Perkins and so, to a modern audience, lends an air of menace that his limited acting skills may not have had at the time.

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7. Passion (2012)

There is little danger of 2012’s limply written, ripely performed Passion ever making it onto a list of Brian de Palma’s finest films. The pretender to Hitchock’s ‘Master of Suspense’ crown, the hackneyed thriller is a far cry from the sensually creepy heights realised in his Sisters, Obsession, Carrie and Body Double.

Noomi Rapace and Rachel McAdams are scarcely believable as underling Isabelle and high-powered boss Christine at a caricature of a sleek ads agency. They share ideas, men, underlying sexual attraction (and some laughably clunky dialogue), before the overly-ambitious protegee is humiliated by her mentor in front of her colleagues. So when the Hitchcock-blonde Christine is – you guessed it – bloodily slain, Isabelle is the prime suspect.

Responsible for some of celluloid’s most enduring tableaux (Carrie’s on-stage gunging, Scarface’s shower chainsaws, that tracking shot in Snake Eyes), it’s a testament to de Palma’s artistic ingenuity that he’s able to weave in yet another unforgettable moment of theatre in this otherwise ham-fisted film.

An hour in, the screen literally splits in two – on the left is a serene performance of Debussy’s ballet “Afternoon of a Faun” as watched by Isabelle; juxtaposed on the right, Christine is silently stalked around her flat by her eventual killer. The result is a master class of horrific suspense of which even Hitchcock would have been proud.

8. Ballet (1989)

But for a mesmeric performance from a teenage Jennifer Connelly at its heart, Ballet (originally released as Etoile) would by rights be even more forgotten than it already is. Director Peter Del Monte – coming off the back of Julia and Julia – casts Connelly as the virginal Claire, who heads to Budapest with dreams of furthering her ballet career at a prestigious company. Nervous at first, she becomes possessed by the spirit of a prima ballerina who died tragically many years before, and is then bedeviled with the drive to dance the lead in “Swan Lake”.

Tonally, the film is patchy (a comedic secondary plot relating to antique clock trading certainly does it no favours), it feels every minute of its 101-minute running time, and there’s a climactic encounter that will bring Rod Hull to mind for those of a certain vintage.

But the denouement successfully channels the dramatic, traumatic power of Tchaikovsky’s most famous ballet – sage enough to know that when the composer has so perfectly stuck the landing, there’s no more sincere flattery that can be paid than imitation.

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