10 Films Where Ballet and Horror Dance Together

9. The Marsupials: The Howling III (1987)

The majority of the films featured in this list have ballet at their very heart, but dance is only tangential to the straight-to-video third instalment of this 80s werewolf series. While Joe Dante’s original The Howling still stands up as a straight horror (released in 1981 – the same year as An American Werewolf in London), the Gremlins director moved on to bigger things and, by the time the third film in the series landed, it had descended into camp parody.

Despite its rather ungenerous IMDB rating, The Marsupials: The Howling III was relatively well received at the time – or, at least, critics for the likes of The New York Times certainly didn’t sink their teeth in.

The plot is… unimportant – this is a comedy werewolf film. And it’s hard to quite distinguish a reason why one of the lycanthropes also happens to be a prima ballerina. But it does give the opportunity for the director to put together one of the film’s more eye-catching set pieces, as an afflicted Russian dancer rehearses “Swan Lake”. She certainly transforms herself for the part, but exchanges a beak and feathers for fangs and fur as her very literal metamorphosis plays out on stage to the terror of the troop.

10. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)

A generation of Baby Boomers will forever have the image of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s Child Catcher branded into the darkest recesses of their hippocampi. He is the prancing pied piper, whose promises of free lollipops, treacle tarts and cream puffs lure the children of Vulgaria into his barred carriage.

It’s one of cinema’s less obscure morsels of trivia that Robert Helpmann – who so sinisterly embodied the Child Catcher – was already a ballet veteran of 40 years, having trained under the great Anna Pavlova in his teens. And, on screen, he played roles as a dancer in the likes of Powell and Pressburger’s The Tales of Hoffmann and, yep, The Red Shoes.

It may not be as overtly horrifying as a little girl in a ballerina dress covered in blood, but Helpmann’s mastery converts the potentially camp into the predatorily creepy. Showing once again that horror can be just as effective when it’s subtly preying on the innate fears of its viewer, as it is about jump scares and Cronenbergian body horror.

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The audience numbers flocking to see Abigail is yet another demonstration of the perfectly poised pas de deux that exists between ballet and horror. Are there any movies or moments that are notably absent from this list? Or any we’ve included that aren’t fit to lace the ballet pumps of the others? Tell us your thoughts in the comments, and be sure to follow @thefilmagazine on Facebook and X (Twitter) for more insightful movie lists.

Written by Adam Marshall

You can support Adam Marshall at adammarshallonline.com.

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