The toe-tapping, high energy genre known as the movie musical is a wonderful addition to the world of cinema. Using the power of song to tell a story that reaches viewers is no easy task. It takes two artforms working together to create positive results. It is true when done poorly, a musical can be a disaster, but when done well, a musical can leave a huge impact. Audiences experiencing a musical can enjoy the story, design, and characters while also having numerous songs stuck in their heads for weeks maybe even years.
With the delight and grandeur that musicals can produce, here is a list of outstandingly bizarre movie musicals everyone should see.
1. Crybaby (1990)
The king of entertaining filth and irreverence works his magic again with Crybaby. In the film, a leather-wearing, greased-up drape known as Wade “Crybaby” Walker (Johnny Depp) falls for sweet and innocent square, Allison Vernon-Williams (Amy Locane).
The combination of upbeat music and John Water’s touch of camp is a wonderful sendup to the coolness and corniness of the 1950s. The music by Patrick Williams is catchy, and it uses the sounds of classic rock n’ roll and rockabilly to make every song memorable. It is clear that thought and care were put into both the original numbers like “King Crybaby” and “Please, Mr. Jailer” and existing songs such as Bull Moose Jackson’s “Nosey Joe” and Esther Phillips “I’m a Bad, Bad Girl”. Working in harmony with the music, John Water’s direction also allows Crybaby to be zany in all the best ways. Water’s fondness for teenage rebellion is obvious. He approaches the film like an over-the-top 1950’s teenage exploitation film seen from the likes of High School Hellcats or The Violent Years. This may make one assume the movie could be shallow, but Water’s knows how to make camp work with heart.
Lastly, Johnny Depp’s performance is spectacular. In this role, Depp does not hold anything back. He is having a good time displaying his acting talents while also chewing the scenery. His energy in the film can make any viewer smile. Along with his energy, his image moves from the teen heartthrob of 21 Jump Street to a character actor with stellar looks in part to this movie.
With a joy for era, Water’s is able to bring his actors and his audience into a nostalgic setting they never want to leave.
2. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Who knew one of the most brilliant ideas for a musical would be based off a B-list Roger Corman film that centers around an evil plant from beyond the stars? In 1986, the off-Broadway version of Little Shop of Horrors moved from stage to cinema. It tells the story of a shy, nerdy floral assistant, Seymour Krelborn (Rick Moranis) working at an unsuccessful flower shop with his crush, Audrey (Ellen Greene) and Mr. Mushnick (Vincent Gardenia). One day, Seymour discovers a new and strange plant that brings in business to the shop. However, Seymour soon finds out that the plant, now named Audrey II, can talk, and does not rely on water for growth.
One of the best elements of this film is the developed characterization every person, both main and supporting. No character feels like an afterthought. The longing and eventually romance between Seymour and Audrey is compelling, and with a man-eating plant on the loose, viewers constantly feel concern for them. The chorus girls, Ronette, Chiffon and Crystal (Michelle Weeks, Tisha Campbell-Martin, Tichina Arnold), act as a modern Greek chorus guiding viewers through the story. Steve Martin as Audrey’s aggressive boyfriend, Orin Scrivello, who sadistically enjoys his work a dentist provides great hilarity and when he meets his match, a masochist (Bill Murray) loving all the pain Scivello gives out, viewers will have tears in their eyes from laughing so hard. Even Audrey II, an impressive live-like puppet, feels like a real character with real emotions and motives.
The music is another aspect of this film that makes this movie wildly amusing. The numbers are a clever cross between the grandiose nature of Broadway-styled songs and 1960’s motown, swing and doowop. Like a good musical should, the songs are not just pleasant. They connect to the story and work to enhance it rather than distract from it. For example, after listening to songs like “Feed Me, Seymour” and “Green Mean Mother from Outer Space” audiences know exactly Audrey II’s sinister intentions. A song like “Skid Row” also portrays the struggles that Audrey and Seymour face and later add insight into the reason Seymour is willing to perform heinous acts for the chance at success and money.
Little Shop of Horrors may be a bit bizarre for some, but it is a remarkable viewing experience that is out of this world.
3. Cannibal: The Musical (1993)
Many fans of the dynamic duo known as Trey Parker and Matt Stone are familiar with their acclaimed projects such as South Park or The Book of Mormon. However, before the Emmy-winning TV show or the Tony-winning Broadway musical, there was Cannibal: The Musical. This film is based-off the real-life case of Alfred Packer, the only person convicted of cannibalism in America. Packer (Trey Parker) becomes the only survivor of a deadly trip to the Colorado Territory and shares his side of the story to news reporter, Polly Pry (Toddy Walters), as he awaits his execution.
The realistically sick subject matter filled hilarious song-and-dance numbers that only Parker and Stone can present has brilliant is something to truly be witnessed. With little-to-no-budget and many involved in the filmmaking still being in college, the creativity of Parker is very impressive. In fact, the low-budget quality of the film enhances the humor. Some of the highlights of Cannibal: The Musical include the use of the nonsense word “shpadoinkle” when characters are happy and the double of entendre in the ballad “When I Was on Top of You”, which describes the love Packer has for his horse. There is also humor involving seemingly “native” people and an uplifting song about building a snowman as Packer and his men freeze and starve to death.
As a definite must-watch film, Cannibal: The Musical is “All singing! All dancing! All flesh eating!”
4. Shock Treatment (1981)
While the phenomenon that was the release of The Rocky Horror Picture Show took audiences and critics by storm, it must be mentioned that its less successful follow-up, Shock Treatment, deserves a reevaluation. After the events of Rocky Horror, Shock Treatment picks up with Brad (Cliff De Young) and Janet (Jessica Harper) going through marital problems and being forced to be participants on a TV game show called “Marriage Maze” in order to save their relationship.
While the songs may not be as legendary as the ones from its predecessor or have the iconic performance of Tim Curry as Frank N. Furter, Shock Treatment should not be dismissed. Its choice for everything to take place in the town of Denton, which happens to be a TV set with an interactive live-audience, provides profound commentary on the power TV and especially reality TV that was way ahead of its time. Janet’s turn from a concerned wife to a fame-hungry celebrity who wants to tell everyone how fabulous she is is another element that fits in perfectly with its social commentary regarding the influence of TV.
The songs and writing by Richard O’Brien still contain his witty and unique voice. The plot along with songs like “Bitchin’ in the Kitchen and “Shock Treatment” are not strange for strange-sake. They are stylishly weird with a purpose and sung by many actors from The Rocky Horror Picture Show that have not lost any of their charm.
Shock Treatment is a worthy follow-up that may always live in the shadows of The Rocky Horror Picture Show but deserves to be enjoyed on its own merit.
5. Rock N’ Roll High School (1979)
Start with some tyrannical adults, add a bunch of teen rebellion, and hire the Ramones to sing, the result is an incredibly wacky yet subversive movie called Rock N’ Roll High School. The plot depicts a group of rock-music-loving students lead by P.J. Soles as they take over their school to defy its new tyrannical administration with help from the Ramones.
This movie is given a built-in audience thanks to the participation of the Ramones and their status as a staple of the punk movement. While not known for their acting talents, the Ramones are not wooden or stiff. Joey Ramone even gets fun zingers such as his line, “Things sure have changed since we got kicked out of high school”. Besides the dialogue, another major aspect that adds to the amazing silliness is the fantasticalness of the film. Normal is life dull according to Rock N’ Roll High School, so it decides to give teens and young people what they want: An oppressive regime being taken down by the power of youth and punk rock music.
Many films have depicted and still continue to depict gleeful defiance but none have done it with more glorious absurdity than Rock N’ Roll High School.