PLOT: Years after a horrific event opening night of “The Haunting of the Opera”, a performing arts summer camp attempts to bring the infamous play back to the stage. As the performance gets closer, those involved find themselves terrorized by a crazed musical hating killer.
The slasher film and musical theatre rarely mingle. With the exception of Darren Lynn Bousman’s REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA and THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL, the two genres tend not to mix. And then along comes STAGE FRIGHT. Like a peppy cross between the television hit “Glee” and SCREAM (or even SLEEPAWAY CAMP), this horror musical about a performing arts camp is certainly an intriguing concept. With characters breaking out into song and a few surprisingly brutal kills it could have been a fun-filled bit of escapism. While it may be inventive, by the end it is more a predictable thriller with only a couple of fun songs with most of the music not inspiring a whole lot of toe-tapping.
The opening sequence is a promising start. We meet a tuxedo clad gentleman running from something (or someone) in the dark. When suddenly, out of the shadows a masked figure appears clutching a blade. Soon, the man is stabbed and he collapses to the ground as the lovely Kylie Swanson (Minnie Driver) appears to witness his demise. Horrified, she lets out a scream, but instead of a terror filled howl she begins to sing and we soon find that things aren’t exactly as they appear. Much like SCREAM – this time in the world of theatre as opposed to film – STAGE FRIGHT has a little fun with the many clichés and stereotypes of musical theatre.
Years later, the daughter of famous actress Kylie Swanson is working at a performing arts camp with her twin brother, both as cooks for the annoying theatre kids. The play that is planned for this year’s curriculum happens to be the infamous “The Haunting of the Opera” which made the beautiful Ms. Swanson a tragic theatre legend. This creates a bit of tension for Kylie’s children, Camilla and Buddy Swanson (Allie MacDonald and Douglas Smith) as well as the rest of the camp when a knife-wielding metal loving maniac shows up. With a ton of jabs at the world of theatre as well as a few horror bits, this mixed bag of a film never quite reaches the heights worthy of a standing ovation.
As a girl who desperately wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps, Allie MacDonald is a delight. The actress can carry a tune and she makes for a sympathetic leading lady. As well, Douglas Smith (PERCY JACKSON: SEA OF MONSTERS) is quite good as the concerned brother who worries about his wide eyed sister. As the owner of the camp – an old friend of the Swanson family – Meat Loaf gives us an over-the-top bravura performance and he does a fine job with it. The lovely Minnie Driver has a far too brief role yet she is involved in what may be the most memorable part of the movie. Plus she looks incredibly scrumptious as the diva in the making.
The one thing that sets this apart from most horror films obviously is the music. From the utterly silly “We’re Gay” to the plays main theme “Haunted” the songs are occasionally catchy – if not very memorable. When the campers arrive at “Camp Center Stage” they joyfully belt out – with mixed vocal results – how they can once a year not get picked on and treated life garbage. One unfortunate nerdy young man gets a break from the constant abuse of his mean father. Fun times! This concept would work a whole lot better if these campers weren’t so damn annoying and awful. When the body count finally does begin – and it takes a bit to get there - I was just glad to hear some of these obnoxious kids stop singing.
As a horror film, there are few surprises or shocks, aside from a couple of impressive kills. The mystery of the kabuki masked opera ghost killer happens to be pretty obvious. Even still this flick attempts to stage a little suspense with red herrings, including the sexually aggressive director Artie (Brandon Uranowitz) and a young man with a thing for Camilla named Joel (Kent Nolan). As far as suspects, the film even suggests that it may be one of the two Swanson siblings or even Meat Loaf himself. It’s not difficult to narrow the suspect list down and figure most of it all out.
STAGE FRIGHT is not the showstopper it could have been. The songs aren’t terribly memorable and the slasher mystery element is predictable. Yet it is still refreshing to see a horror film try something unique and this is certainly an unusual – and occasionally satisfying – feature. Directed by Jerome Sable with music and lyrics by Eli Batalion this foray into musical theatre offers a handful of fun and inventive kills and a decent cast. This bloody bit of song and murder is maybe worth a look, but it won’t be a song you’ll want to hear over and over again.