Stage Fright film review
Stage Fright (2014)
Allie MacDonald, Meat Loaf, Douglas Smith, Minnie Driver, Kent Nolan, Melanie Leishman, Brandon Uranowitz
Entertainment One/Magnet Releasing
CRITIC’S RATING: ** 1/2 stars (out of 4 stars)
The horror genre has not exactly been a steady and stable movie-going experience for freshness or originality as of late. Nevertheless, the persistence to include any distinctive gimmick or angle just to distinguish these faceless frightfests from one another is indeed appreciated. In writer-director Jerome Sable’s Canadian creeper Stage Fright one can actually both cheerfully sing and scream for their supper in this entertaining off-kilter morbid musical of mayhem. Sable’s impishly dire slasher stage production does conjure up an interesting take on how to “kill a live audience”…or at least try not to be killed in front of this very same audience. No, the final curtain call for Stage Fright does not involve any of the obligatory stand-by sinister venues such as haunted houses, freaky hairy monsters’ hideaways or even a summer camp housing horny teenagers. It does, however, refreshingly feature some colorful carnage taking place at a musical drama theater camp (okay, it is still not a traditional summer camp and the teens are not as hormonal so let’s get this clear). Go ahead and try being a demanding actress on this particular Stage then you will know the real meaning behind “drop dead diva”.
Intriguingly, Stage Fright looks to pander to those that have a passing appreciation (if not a strong palatable fixation) for a strange combination concerning camping activities and a flair for off-Broadway sing-a-longs. More important, Stage Fright naughtily taps into the nostalgic feel of low-budget and shoddy-looking slash-and-dash flicks of the 80’s that invites a sense of cheap thrills thus giving these kinds of horror showcases a distinctive, off-base appeal. This demented dress rehearsal whodunnit will not make anyone forget heralded horror musicals such as Little shop of Horrors or The Rocky Horror Picture Show any time soon. Plus, the only two well-known names in this goosebump vehicle are a couple of actors/singers in the engaging Minnie Driver and the legendary rocker Meat Loaf. Still, one should take a bow to Stage Fright for its low-rent ode to good ole blood and guts in the name of cutthroat artistry.
The story revolves around a bunch of high school kids with dramatic aspirations that gather at a theater camp in anticipation of putting on a grand musical show entitled “The Haunting at the Opera”. Hopefully, this elaborate musical production will garner the financial support it needs to save the beloved theater camp from bankruptcy. One must note that there is a past tragedy connected to “The Haunting at the Opera” that took place ten years ago when leading lady Kylie Swanson (Driver) performed her coveted role and was brutally murdered afterwards in her dressing room by an unknown assailant. Thus, the current-day youngsters at Center Stage camp must re-stage this musical as they put their best foot forward.
When Kylie died a gruesome death a decade ago she left behind her offspring in Camillia and Buddy (Allie MacDonald and Douglas Smith). Both Swanson siblings now work as camp cooks for Center Stage. Camillia wants to try out for her late mother’s part in the musical production as she possesses a capable songbird voice. Buddy, on the other hand, wants no connection with the stage show whatsoever. Predictably, Camillia’s audition is successful and she finally realizes her dream of being a star in the notable shadow of her dearly departed mother Kylie’s center-stage greatness. Soon, Camillia will inherit another thing from her mother’s stage presence–the return of the murderous misfit (if he/she is in fact the very same one from yesteryear) and the numerous killings that are being hatched at Center Stage camp by the hands of this twisted lunatic.
The convenient connection from yesterday’s “The Haunting at the Opera” is producer Roger McCall (Meat Loaf) who’s on board to fund the musical project for the modern-day showing of “Haunting”. Of course the suspicions are thrown against the wall as to who the crafty killer is given that there are too many attached memories to both the ten year-old “Haunting of the Opera” musical from its heyday and the musical’s deceased songstress whose surviving kids and old producer is back in the fold. So is there something to the random slayings that bind any of these people or is it just some nutcase theater critic on the rampage because “Haunting” is not his/her agreeable cup of tea?
Certainly in many ways Stage Fright is numbing and conventional as it revisits the familiar formula of its campy cautionary confines. Some may even reject the “business as usual” set-up involving masked/hooded killing creeps, babe-in-the-woods heroines echoing tormenting damsels in distress and the serving of arbitrary grisly endings that were probably better staged three decades ago in a knockoff Friday the 13th sequel. Maybe Stage Fright is best served as a low-key satirical riff on monotonous musicals and messy murder mysteries? Whatever the case Sable’s slasher entry delivers a devilish wink and is surprisingly spirited in its gruesome gumption. How can one go wrong throwing some wacky shade at self-important iconic musicals such as Phantom of the Opera while simultaneously developing a tongue-in-cheek approach to cheesy factory-made fear fables? The theatrical music featured in this doom-and-gloom drama is quite infectious to boot.
Thankfully, one’s nerves are subjected to this considerable case of Stage Fright because after all the blood-cuddling show must go on.
NOTE: Focus of New York Magazine film critic Frank Ochieng is a member of: