Stage Fright, the first feature film from writer-director and composer Jerome Sable, is billed as a mashup of the horror, comedy and musical genres (where Glee meets Scream). While its aims are ambitious, Stage Fright misses the mark on all three targets, serving up a movie bereft of humor, memorable lyrics and melodies, or genuinely scary moments. Even numerous nods to old-school slasher films and the casting of Meat Loaf and Minnie Driver as supporting characters aren’t enough push the movie past mediocrity.
In her small, but key role, Driver stars as Kylie Swanson, an actress on the cusp of Broadway stardom with her leading role in The Haunting of the Opera. Unfortunately, a maniacal killer wearing a mask that’s an amalgam of Jason Vorhees’s hockey mask in Friday the 13th and the Phantom of the Opera’s, pops into her dressing room and viciously stabs her to death. Her young twins, Camilia and Buddy, suddenly find themselves orphans, left in the care of Kylie’s boyfriend-manager, Roger McCall (Meat Loaf).
Fast-forward 10 years and Buddy (Douglas Smith) and Camilia (Allie MacDonald) are working kitchen duty at Roger’s summer theater camp as the latest crew of theater geeks descends en masse. The kids are bursting with excitement to be at camp, one of the few places they can let their freak flags fly—without worrying about getting beaten up or shoved into school lockers. Their enthusiasm, combined with lyrics revolving around being gay (“but not in that way”), easily make this scene the film’s best ensemble number.
In the mess hall, Roger introduces wunderkind director Artie Getz (Brandon Uranowitz), who announces that the camp will be mounting a revival of—wait for it—The Haunting of the Opera. The choice of stage production moves Camilia, still clearly affected by her mother’s murder, to try out for the same role. Both her moody brother and Roger think this is a really bad idea, but then again, many characters in slasher flicks do things that don’t make sense.
At this point, Sable busts out every other theater cliche not yet used in the film. Artie wants to get a little edgy and experiment in his signature production by giving the play a Japanese kabuki theme. Camilia vies for the lead, competing against a catty girl for the role. The deciding factor for lead actress comes down to the old-fashioned casting couch. Also added in for good measure are a number of visual references to horror films like Halloween, Sleepaway Camp and Carrie. (Why yes, that is a bucket of “blood” balanced on a beam above the stage.)
The new twist that Sable brings to the retro-serial killer archetype is that the murderer running amok in the camp not only wears kabuki garb, but also enters each scene to a metal rock sound cue/riff, accompanied by Axl Rose-like screeching vocals. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to make the “metal killer” memorable.
Despite the film’s stock plot, MacDonald is the Stage Fright standout, bringing a mix of innocence and angst to her character. Her singing abilities are notable, too; with her vocals being a better match for Sable’s and co-composer’s Eli Batalion music than any other cast member’s (sorry, Meat Loaf).
The blending of disparate genres like slasher/comedy/musical is difficult, but it’s been done successfully before, from Little Shop of Horrors to Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to The Rocky Horror Picture Show (which stars a young Meat Loaf). That last film has become a cultural phenomenon, rising above its mediocre original reviews in 1975 to evolve into a hybrid stage show-film. With Stage Fright, none of the tunes even come close to inspiring audiences to jump to the left, the right or to do the time warp, again. In the end, the film’s scary parts are a little laughable while the bits of comedy are murderous.
Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter.
Director: Jerome Sable
Writer: Jerome Sable
Starring: Allie MacDonald, Douglas Smith, Brandon Uranowitz, Minnie Driver and Meat Loaf
Release Date: May 9, 2014