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  • Writer's pictureAbby Brenker

The Intersection of Dance and Horror: The Best Dance Horror Films

Episode 138 of the Lunatics Radio Hour podcast explores the history of The Dancing Plague from 1518. In the French Town of Strasbourg, in the Summer of 1518, a bizarre and horrifying plague took as many as 400 lives. The plague started with a single woman who could not stop dancing. Almost for an entire week she danced alone until others slowly joined her. Dancing until their bodies gave out.

Dance and horror have gone hand in hand for thousands of years. Even art depicting the dance of death or Danse Macabre demonstrates this. In honor of this intersection of horror and dance, here are some of the best dance horror films.

A group of people dance wildly.

Climax (2018) Climax is a perfect example because it both explores dance and mass hysteria. It’s one of our favorite uses of dance in film, Climax creates an overwhelming sense of chaos, disorder, rhythm and color. It was one of my favorite theater experiences when it first was released, and remains a masterpiece. Written and directed by Gasper Noé, Climax will seduce you and then betray you. 

A woman dances in a pink room.

Suspiria (1977) The iconic example of a horror dance film, the original Suspiria is a trippy, freaky journey right into harm’s way. Written and directed by Dario Argento, Suspria still remains an unrivaled classic. 

People dance wearing red string costumes.

Suspiria (2018) Starring Dakota Johnson, the remakes use of body horror and visual effects during a main dance sequence is unreal. Though the finale is what really won me over. 

A man and a woman dance.

Ex Machina (2014) Though Ex Machina is obviously not a dance film, and only barely a horror film, I still have love for its strange little dance sequence. The scene is so absurd, and at the same time makes so much sense for the characters. It throws the audience for a loop but only for a moment, before we start to put the larger puzzle together. Who knew that A.I. horror would intersect with dance horror?

A girl dances in front of a fireplace.

The Sacrifice Game (2023) Jenn Wexler’s The Sacrifice Game was one of the best horror films of last year. In a lot of ways, the film has similarities with Abigail. Though I will let you uncover those on your own. The dance sequence in Sacrifice Game stands out to me. The use of movement is unsettling and endearing at the same time. 

A woman wears a ballet costume.

Black Swan (2010) Aronofsky creates a nightmare that we can’t wake up from. Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis represent two sides of the same coin. We don’t know who to root for as they dance circles around us. Black Swan is dizzying and terrifying. Set leading up to a high pressure ballet company’s debut of Black Swan, Aronofsky uses dance to personify the darkest fears and dreams of our leading ladies. 

A robot girl dances.

M3gan (2022) Any film that is both actually scary and actually funny is a win in my book. Enter M3gan, an A.I. lifesize doll meant to babysit kids, what could go wrong? Starring Allison Williams as M3gan’s creator, we watch the futuristic prototype slowly rebel. I love that M3gan, similar to Abigail, blends dance and humor within a truly horrifying plot. 

A woman dances in a spotlight.

Pearl (2022) Who says only human dances qualify? Just ask M3gan. So what if Pearl dances with a scarecrow, she still deserves to be on this list for that one scene alone. Ti West’s prequel uses this wildly bizarre scene to bring us even deeper inside the messed up mind of Pearl. 

A woman dances at a festival.

Midsommar (2019) Has anyone ever forced you to take hallucinogens and then make you dance around a maypole for hours in the sun? Ari Astor’s Midsommar is another excellent example of an organic use of dance in horror.

A young girl wears a ballerina costume with blood on her mouth.

Abigail (2024) The most recent film on this list, Abigail stars Alisha Weir as a young 12-year old ballerina. Dance and horror intersect in the best possible way in this movie; during the grittiest and bloodiest moments. It’s a film that is incredibly successful at introducing movement in an organic way. 

Listen to episode 138 of the Lunatics Radio Hour podcast for more on the Dancing Plague from 1518, and Danse Macabre. 

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