Melding two of the most popular genres of films -- the musical and the horror movie -- Jerome Sable’s "Stage Fright" is a cheerful send-up of both. While it amuses more so in the first half of the film than the second, there is enough morbid originality in this little ditty to make it worth checking out.
After their Broadway Diva mother (Minnie Driver) is murdered during a performance of the popular musical "The Haunting of the Opera," Camilla (Allie MacDonald) and Buddy (Douglas Smith) spend their teenage years working in the kitchen of the Center Stage performing arts camp run by their mother’s old flame Roger (Meat Loaf). At the start of the season, campers of all ages arrive via musical number and prepare for the summer of their lives. Made up of the usual drama geeks, outcasts, and future gays, the campers are thrilled when they learn that Roger -- with hopes of a return to Broadway -- will be staging a retooled "The Haunting of the Opera." Overhearing this, Camilla decides that maybe getting cast as the lead will get her over her mother’s death. And what do you know? She can sing, and she gets the part! So along with a ragtag bunch of theatre types (the closeted gay, the slimy director, and the jealous competitor), the theatre prepares for opening night.
But waiting in the wings is a mysterious masked killer who isn’t all that keen on kids doing musicals. In fact, he pretty much establishes right off the bat that he’s going to destroy this play and everyone involved in it.
The best thing about "Stage Fright" is that it truly is a one of a kind horror film. Combining musical theatre and horror together is an inspired idea, even though it doesn’t always mesh together perfectly. The murderer’s song-stylings are all ’80s rock influenced and -- while amusing -- it grates a bit on the nerves. (He even gets a guitar solo whilst a victim waits to be hacked to death while tied to a chair.) The other songs are incredibly funny with the camper’s rousing "We’re So Gay" being the standout. Even more impressive are the Andrew Lloyd Webber-esque tunes penned for the stage musical that the film is clearly spoofing. The songs (and the giddy score) are all written by Sable and Eli Batalion and are actually well-crafted and catchy. They could easily be found in a real honest-to-God Broadway show, and in that respect they are almost too good to be in the film. That said, when you mix this with over-the-top gore, it’s a bit off-putting.
The film might actually find a wider audience had it toned down the blood and guts. Seeing someone getting their entire torso mutilated by a table saw is a bit nauseating after watching a Christine Dae-style solo. Perhaps that was the intention, but it is such a 180 that it takes you out of the funny and makes the horror all that more horrific.
In addition, the big reveal isn’t all that exciting and the film wraps up a bit too smoothly. But there was still something so entertaining about this idea that you can’t help but appreciate it. It’s kind of like going to a real summer camp to watch your nieces and nephews put on a show. You know it’s not going to be "Les Miserables," but you admire the pluck of everyone involved regardless.