A clever premise and some appealing, sexy lead actors can’t save Stage Fright from being clunky and contrived.
When musical horror films work, they work very well. You can stand in awe of something like The Nightmare Before Christmas or even the cult hit The Rocky Horror Picture Show and admire the genre to no end. I am also fond of Tim Burton’s version of Sweeney Todd, the now-seminal Little Shop of Horrors, and even the Troma-distributed cheapie Cannibal! The Musical. The problem is, films in this genre are so few and far between, and the failures so multiple, you begin to wonder why some people even bother. Musicals, after all, frequently lend themselves to glamor and theatricality, while horror is all about panic, fear, and chaos. The two don’t typically mix well. I hate to invoke its name, but, well, Carrie: The Musical is still hanging over us all. Here’s a list. What’s your favorite?
Jerome Sable’s Stage Fright, sadly, is not one of the genre’s successes. Stage Fright is a cheap, unfocused mess of a film that seems to lose interest in its horror elements for extended periods in favor of limp, rather uninteresting musical numbers that would have been laughed out of an episode of Glee. It may have helped if the film had managed to secure the rights to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s much-loved and much-hated Phantom of the Opera, but the central production in Stage Fright revolves around an imaginary musical called Haunting of the Opera, which only reflects the second-hand quality of the entire movie.
This is a pity, because Stage Fright is populated with an appealing cast and a lot of authentic stage-rat cattiness. I was a theater major in college, so I’m familiar with the backstage gossip, the fearful gay students, the sniping prima donnas, and the PILES AND PILES of soap-opera-level sexual activity. This is something that Stage Fright manages to capture. I’m surprised there aren’t more movies and TV show set in theaters and at theater camps. The natural drama and cattiness in the air would make for a film that would practically write itself.
Camilla (Allie McDonald) is pretty, shy, and talented. She works as a cook at a theater camp for kids and teens, and has been afraid to perform ever since her mom (Minnie Driver) was murdered years before during a production of (sigh) Haunting of the Opera. The camp is run by the fretting Mr. McCall (Meat Loaf), who faces a possible closure. The camp’s star director is the sleazy Artie (Brandon Uranowitz), who has made it a regular practice to cast his lead actresses based on their sexual prowess. Camilla, upon hearing that this year’s camp production will be Haunting of the Opera, sees an opportunity to redeem her family name and get back into the biz. She then has to compete for Artie’s affections with the lovely Liz (Melanie Leishman), explain her motivations to her nervous brother, and overcome her stage fright. Yes, the kids are all incredibly good looking.
Oh yes, and there’s a masked killer hanging around, slasher style. Not that you’d know it from the movie, though. The kills are so concentrated near the film’s end, you kind of forget that this is supposed to be a horror movie. And, yes, the killer has a few rock musical numbers that he sings to himself, full of lame puns and sexual innuendo. Evidently, he just hates musical theater.
The final kills are pretty spectacular, but they come so fast, and make so little dramatic sense, that it’s hard to enjoy them. As a musical, Stage Fright comes close to kind of working. As a horror film, it fails. Overall, Stage Fright is just a mess. I look forward to seeing more of Allie McDonald in the future, and the enthused kids’ energy was infectious. It’s too bad they were in such a misfired effort.
Rating: 1.5 Burritos