24th Aug2014

Frightfest 2014: ‘Stage Fright’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Minnie Driver, Meat Loaf, Allie MacDonald, Douglas Smith, Kent Nolan, Brandon Uranowitz, Ephraim Ellis, Melanie Leishman, Thomas Alderson, James McGowan | Written and Directed by Jerome Sable


Billed as Friday the 13th meets Glee, Stage Fright is a new take on the classic slasher formula which sees Kylie Swanson (Driver) brutally murdered after her star-making performance in the Broadway-bound musical ‘The Haunting of the Opera’. Ten years later, her producer Roger McCall (Loaf) is running a musical theatre summer camp where Kylie’s twins, Camilla and Buddy help out. When Roger decides to revive ‘The Haunting of the Opera’ kabuki-style for the end of term entertainment, Camilla wants her mother’s cursed role. But the masked Opera Ghost returns with rehearsals ready to break a leg and strike down the cast and its leading lady again…

Sharing it’s name with one of my favourite giallo of all time, Stage Fright couldn’t be far more removed from that stage-set Italian slasher. In fact this is unlike any other slasher film I’ve ever seen. Of course the idea of a musical horror isn’t anything new, we’ve already had the likes of Repo: The Genetic Opera and the classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show; but to see the slasher genre taken to such places is, admittedly, a little disorientating. But once you realise there’s tongue placed firmly in cheek – whilst at the same time you see that the filmmakers are also taking the slasher aspects (in particular the gloriously OTT kills) seriously, you can’t help but be enamoured by this blackest of black comedies.

I’m just going to come right out and say it: writer/director Jerome Sable is both a madman and a genius! Madman in that he decided to mix genres and genius in that he actually pulls it off, and does so with aplomb. Who would of thought that a film that blends the tropes of traditional musical, rock opera, horror film and slasher movies would, nay could, work? It does. And it does it tremendously.

Stage Fright works because Sable treats all the aspects of the film with respect. The musical numbers are well written and well performed, the kills are convincing (and fit perfectly within slasher movie conventions) and the villain… Well he fits perfectly with the classic horror icons of the past – he’s a wisecracking, rock-opera singing madman that wields weapons as well as he slings his words. Yet somehow Sable manages to both adhere to all the genre tropes and subvert them at the same time – which is no mean feat. And if you can’t help but appreciate this film for that alone.

Plus it helps that Sable has a cast that is willing to do what it takes to make Stage Fright work. Meat Loaf is superb as the theatre manager turned stage school camp owner, giving – in the end – a bombastic performance that recalls his best work, be it in his film career or in his music. Meanwhile Allie MacDonald, as the put upon Camille, this films “final girl”, is both at once vulnerable and mesmerising, and she has one hell of a singing voice too! Even the smallest of roles – the bit-parters that contribute to some of the bigger musical numbers – appear to be striving to give the best performance they can, which says a lot about this films director and its production.

The latest in a long line of musical cinema Stage Fright, like its genre brethren, is – even if not a blockbusting success – destined to find an appreciative cult audience who will sing-along with the many musical numbers and cheer on the many kills in the grandest of Rocky Horror Picture Show traditions at midnight screening after midnight screening. And I know I’ll be one of them.

***** 5/5


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