Proudly being marketed as a cross between “Glee” and “Scream”, “Stage Fright” is the (surprisingly) much hyped feature debut from director Jerome Sable. Similar to this film, Sable’s short film “The Legend Of Beaver Dam” is a hybrid of the horror and musical genres and is loved by all that have seen it. “Beaver Dam” was staged around a campfire ghost story that somehow awakens an evil spirit that terrifies the campers. Having great success with the short film, it is perhaps no surprise that Sable has chosen another musical / horror film for his debut, this time a riff on 80’s slasher films. Did Sable succeed in proving that lightning can indeed strike twice?
“Stage Fright” begins ten years prior to when the bulk of the film takes place, as we are witness to Kylie Swanson, mother of twins Camilla and Buddy, being brutally murdered just as she was on the brink of stardom. Kylie is killed by a masked bandit; the same mask which happens to be worn by her co-star in the play she is acting in, “The Haunting Of The Opera”. Leaving her kids orphaned, Roger McCall (the theatre’s artistic director and producer) takes up the position of guardian and raises and brings up Kylie’s children. Cut to ten years later and McCall’s career is basically dead in the water with him now running a musical theatre camp where the twins work as both cook and cleaner. McCall sees one final chance to revive his former glory by producing a new version of “The Haunting Of The Opera” (a play that has not been performed since the brutal murder) and impressing an important theatre critic. Casting of the project begins immediately and surprisingly Camilla shows an interest in reprising the role that would have made her mother famous. Against McCall’s better wishes, he agrees to let Camilla audition, who succeeds in being one of two actresses groomed for the main role. However, while the girls compete with each other to get the coveted opening night performance, a much more serious issue is affecting the camp. A serial killer who despises musical theatre is offing camp members at an alarming rate, but with all his hopes and dreams (not to mention money too) attached to this production, McCall is reticent to call the whole thing off. However, by the time opening night comes around, will anyone be left to perform in the play?
The combination of comedy, horror and music must be a hard thing to get right and yet surprisingly there are a number of great examples of it coming together perfectly. Films such as “Phantom Of The Paradise”, “Sweeney Todd” and “Repo! The Genetic Opera” are all examples of the horror musical working at the peak of its powers. Sadly, “Stage Fright” is an example of the opposite. The problem with the film is that Sable has failed to get the balance right between the horror and musical elements. It is much more successful with the musical elements, with the scenes of horror falling very flat. They are very bloody and I appreciate that the majority of the gore effects were practical, but there was no set up or build up for each gore gag. With little or no suspense, it feels as if people just suddenly die. Also there is a surprising number of off-screen killings where we only see the aftermath of the mayhem, which is a little disappointing.
Another big issue I had with “Stage Fright” was the decision by Sable to make the killer’s identity a mystery because it is anything but. It is very easy to work out just who the killer is because it can really only be one person. Once the mask is removed and we see who it is, it is like “Well, duh”. Even the design of the “metal killer” has been handled poorly, with the dark variation of the kabuki mask looking rather ridiculous, and those lame songs that he randomly belts out………do not get me started.
As I mentioned though, as a musical “Stage Fright” is much more successful with a number of the songs (particularly early on) being very catchy and filled with some quite clever lyrics; in fact the opening half an hour of “Stage Fright” is when the film is at its most enjoyable, even though most of its comedy falls embarrassingly flat. The film’s hyper-colourful style also seems most appropriate during these early scenes too.
In terms of acting, no one really impresses although I enjoyed seeing Minnie Driver on-screen again (what did happen to her career?), even though it was far too short, and I thought Meat Loaf did his best with his underwritten role (and at least he impressed lyrically). In fact that is a problem with all of the characters; there is nothing to any of them and they are totally interchangeable, making it hard for us, the audience, to care for them and for an actor to inject any personality or emotional honesty in their roles. The person who struggles the most though is poor Allie MacDonald who plays our lead Camilla. She is just terrible, giving a flat and lifeless performance. Even musically she sounds shocking, making it hard to believe she would ever legitimately get the type of role she does here.
So did I like anything about “Stage Fright”? Sadly, the answer is not much, although I thought the casting couch antics of the director and his two stars were slightly amusing. The other thing I liked was the film’s amazing retro poster that captures the 80’s spirit perfectly; something the film was unable to achieve. Also while I initially liked the trailer for “Stage Fright”, after seeing the movie now, I can say it gives away too much of the film leaving no surprises.
Overall, I wanted to like “Stage Fright” so badly, but in the end I just couldn’t. The film suffers due to a lack of balance between the horror and musical scenes and the mystery of who the killer is, is anything but. Sadly my recommendation in regards to “Stage Fright” is don’t believe the hype; there is nothing special to see here.