There’s something special ‘bout films set in the world of theatre, musical and opera. The stage itself lends itself to a certain magic, the labyrinth corridors behind it, the secret passageways above and under. I guess most of it goes back to The Phantom of the Opera, but even later productions like Terror at the Opera, Clown at Midnight, The Flesh and Blood Show, Michele Soavi’s Stage Fright, Theater of Blood, Phantom of the Opera (the one with Robert Englund), Phantom of the Paradise, Nightmares etc etc is good example how to make entertaining horror and thrillers set in the darkness of theaters and opera houses.
I learned of Jerome Sable’s Stage Fright by mistake actually. Someone on Letterboxed wrote a write of what I thought was Michele Soavi’s Stage Fright and I kinda agreed with it. Until something felt wrong and I started to read the rest of the information and found it was a new film, starring - among others - Meat Loaf and Minnie Driver. What the hell? So I had to see it, especially because it also seemed gay-friendly and was something as odd as a mix of slasher and musical! My relationship with musicals has always been strained. There’s a few I truly LOVE; The Happiness of the Kataturis, Singing in the Rain and Rocky Horror Picture Show are a few examples, but the rest...I don’t know. They always feels a bit too contrived to entertain me. I don’t like forced emotions, which I think musicals have plenty of.
In this Stage Fright we begin like all good slashers/giallos/mysteries - ten years ago during the premiere of The Haunting of the Opera. Diva and mother Kylie Swanson is brutally (very giallo-style, with a dash of Psycho 2!) stabbed to death after the brilliant first performance by an unknown assailant. She leaves her two kids alone in the world, but they’re taken care of by the producer Roger (Meat Loaf) who since then never been able to produce anything. Instead he’s having a musical camp for kids where the two motherless kids now are slightly depressed teenagers and works in the kitchen. The daughter, Camilla (Allie MacDonald) really wants to sing and fakes herself into the auditions… and now the leading part, the one her mother played in the original performances, stand between her and one other girl. This could be a nice, but eventful, summer vacation… if it wasn’t for the goth killer, wearing a Kabuki mask (or Bukkake as the closeted gay lead singer calls it), planning to kill everyone involved in the performance!
Stage Fright really starts off brilliantly. It perfectly hits the eighties feeling without being a boring retro-pastiche like everyone else do it. The violence is graphic and the style is very cinematic. It feels like we’re watching a mix between a slasher and a giallo - and when the movie goes forward to the present, it’s like we’re in Sleepaway Camp-land once again. The opening song- and dance-number is fun, with witty references to everything from Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber, capturing both the silliness that the genre has - but still keeps it real. The characters who’s established fast and effective are all wonderful, both the writing and acting. It’s that great, nostalgic, feel-good atmosphere coming back to the audience.
Then it actually goes down a notch. It’s bad, it’s just that it’s loses some of its wits. The actors (both the grown-ups and the kiddies) are still awesome and there’s some fun scenes from time to time, but the energy is almost gone during the middle. It’s focusing more on the drama between Camilla and the director… and the other girl who wants the part, cut to scenes where Meat Loaf is being worried about getting the camps economy together. It’s all very well-made, but belongs in something else. Thank heavens, the energy is back during the last third - when the big premiere is suppose to happen. There the killer strikes again, as usual in brutal ways, leading to charming and cute David (Thomas Alderson, who turns in a great comedic performance - I hope to see him in more stuff soon!), the stage manager, trying to keep the performance together while people are getting killed backstage. It’s fun and over-the-top and often very painful to watch. Stage Fright also turns a bit more serious at the end, which contradicts the easy-going first part. This is both good and bad, but I’d love them to keep it like they did it in the start.
I’ve been whining here, but Stage Fright is a damn entertaining and sometimes gory slasher-musical with an atmosphere which is hard to beat. Lots of love and passion, cute guys, nice girls, Meat Loaf with a moustache - what more do you need?