Horror and the jovial, spontaneous realm of musicals don't collide often on the screen, but when they do, the outcome yields mostly positive and extreme reactions. The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Phantom of the Paradise became a cult classics, Buffy the Vampire Slayer's "Once More With Feeling" transcended expectations and is considered one of the best episodes to come out of that series, and, more recent efforts like Repo! The Genetic Opera and The Devil's Carnival have curiously carved out a significant Rocky Horror-like fanbase. Whatever your personal thoughts are on those offerings, you have to commend them for fully embracing the radical, unlikely merging of genres. They find their voice, their message and they really just go for it.
Stage Fright similarly goes for it enthusiastically and with bloody reverence for the slasher genre. That's right, this is a slasher musical that, in equal measures, goes for the laughs and goes for the throat. And it does it very well. So well, it amused me quite a bit (obvioulsy)…and I'm a real curmudgeon when it comes to musicals.
The Jerome Sable-directed film lovingly tips its hat to the slasher sub-genre on a story level: It's set at a camp. The main protagonists – twins Camilla and Buddie Swanson (Allie MacDonald and Douglas Smith) – are haunted by a previous tragedy, in this case the murder of their mother (Minnie Driver). Red herrings are everywhere. And there's a masked maniac. (Also, there's no connection between this film and the Michele Soavi's Stagefright: Aquarius beyond the fact that both films use a stage production as the plot's backdrop.)
Did I mention that masked maniac screams with the hellish fury of death metal once he begins his massacre? Yeah…it's pretty goddamn hilarious.
The film concerns itself with Camilla – a cook at the theater camp – and her desire to be the leading woman of a play called "Haunting of the Opera," the same production her mother was a part of when she was killed. The problem is, Camilla doesn't carry that much of a personality and she gets lost among the sundry large personalities that dance about and croon their way through Stage Fright. A strong female presence within a film of this ilk – one that recognizes the tropes of slasher cinema so well and even adds fun visual gags to previous movies – is almost mandatory here, yet it drops the ball. Meat Loaf, playing the producer of "Haunting of the Opera" and who runs the camp, is a welcome presence, even if he's not given the best songs in the film.
That said, Stage Fright a little bit clunky, but it packs some fun tunes, chuckle-worthy lines and isn't afraid to poke a bit of fun at theater geeks while addressing the obsessive pursuit of fame. And it doesn't skimp on the blood by any means. When the "Metal Killer" – who takes on a cool, menacing Kabuki-inspired visage – strikes, it's with a 3 Inches of Blood-esque wail, a generous splash of gore and maybe a goofy one-liner. Tonally, this movie radiates with more of a "Crystal Lake" or "Camp Blackfoot" vibe than "Hot Topic," capturing the innocence and essence of '80s camp-set terror tales. Sable obviously knows the films he's drawing from and that is felt – I don't want to get too spoilery – beyond the film's obvious winks.
Stage Fright is silly. Of course it's silly. But it's got a charm that comes with a sinister blood-stained smile and a knife dripping with viscera that horror fans should enjoy. As I alluded to earlier: Musicals are not my bag, however, Sable and company introduced enough wit and slasher movie carnage to win me over.
The film hits VOD April 3rd and opens in select theaters May 9th.