This genre-bending theatrical experience brings horror movies to life on stage
There are only limited tickets available for the Sydney Opera House season of Horror, but good seats for the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre season, from September 5 to 8. Book tickets here.
What is it that draws audiences to horror movies? Why have we, across a century of cinema, consistently sought out experiences that make our skin crawl, make us jump in fright, and make it more difficult for us to get a decent night’s sleep? Are we all just masochists, or is there something more profound going on?
Swedish theatre director Jakop Ahlbom has long been a fan of horror, from the more serious, classic, critically acclaimed fare to the schlocky B-grade flicks that mightn’t have won quite so many awards but hold a place close to the hearts of plenty of cinema nuts. So a few years ago he decided to see if he could create the experience of a horror film live on stage.
The resulting show, called simply Horror, is a Frankenstein’s monster of sorts, stitching together tropes from all different subgenres, ranging from Poe-esque gothic horror through to zombie flicks, creature features and supernatural spooks.
All of this emerges from a fairly simple story about a young woman returning to the creepy house where she grew up. She had extraordinarily stern parents and a sister who struggled under their brutal reign. Now the ghosts of the past have re-emerged – alongside a creepy bride and some inexplicable aliens – to force the young woman to confront all that happened in her childhood.
This story allows Ahlbom to shock and surprise his audience with all kinds of brilliant special effects – people appear out of thin air, a woman magically levitates, a disembodied hand scuttles across the stage. There are plenty of references to films, including The Shining, The Ring and The Exorcist (so yes, there is a spinning head), and it all ends with a thrilling fight scene.
There’s no dialogue in the performance, but it’s pretty easy to follow exactly what’s happening. The design is so striking, and it moves from scene to scene so quickly that there’s not time to consider how all the different subgenres and styles fit together – at least not while you’re watching it. When you’re heading home from the theatre, you might start asking what it all adds up to. The answer will probably be, “not much”.
But there’s no denying the technical achievement of all the illusions, and there’s enough in here for thrillseekers. The choreographic elements can sometimes seem a little daggy, but they’re executed well enough, and there’s tension pretty much the entire way through thanks to Wim Conradi and Bauke Moerman’s unsettling sound design.
The appeal of horror is not just the visceral thrill of an adrenaline rush, but in the way that it brings us face to face with our fears and forces unexpected revelations. Horror is a unique chance to see your worst nightmares brought to life before your very eyes. Just don’t expect it to get deep enough under your skin to cause any sleepless nights.