Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Bloody Horror Violence, Language and some Sexual References
Directed by: Jerome Sable
Written by: Jerome Sable & Eli Batalion
Starring: Allie MacDonald, Douglas Smith, Brandon Uranowitz, Minnie Driver & Meat Loaf
STAGE FRIGHT probably sounded brilliant on paper. Given the writing duo’s darkly hilarious short film THE LEGEND OF BEAVER DAM could be seen as an early template for this musical slasher, things looked mighty promising. How’s the end product? Though it’s messy (in both gore and the tone), this is an enjoyable way to kill some time. Sometimes, the film seems a little too focused on either being a musical or a slasher, but not the supposed combination of the two.
When Camilla Swanson was a little girl, her actress/singer mother was killed backstage after a play. Years later, Camilla and her brother, Buddy, work as cooks at a musical theater camp run by their mother’s former washed up producer. The play of this new year at camp is “Haunting Of The Opera,” coincidentally the play that Camilla’s mother was performing on the night she was murdered. In order to move on from the tragedy, Camilla auditions for the lead part (her mother’s role) and nabs it. Challenges arise in her having to put up with a sleazebag play director, the cheap producer, and there’s also the slight problem of a killer planning a bloodbath for anybody who dares sing a song in their presence.
STAGE FRIGHT almost seems to play out like GLEE collided with an 80’s slasher. At least, that’s what I made of the style. The production values are top-notch. The musical numbers thrown in through the movie are catchy and I dug how the killer (yes, this masked murderer does sing a few times) had a rock and roll style to his musical musings. This seemed directly lifted from Sable’s LEGEND OF BEAVER DAM, in which Stumpy Sam (the one-armed ghostly killer) screeches heavy metal as he’s slicing and dicing through victims. The script directly calls for the cast members to jump up, dance and sing. They all seem pretty darn good at it.
The gore gags themselves seemed like practical effects and were all impressive to some degree. There aren’t a whole lot of kills to be had, which might dissuade a lot of diehard gorehounds from checking this out, but the ones that are shown on-screen are simultaneously gruesome and cool. The actors and actresses all deliver good performances. The real notable standout that I personally enjoyed watching was rock star Meat Loaf playing the crooked once-producer-turned-camp-director. He almost had a certain amount of dramatic weight in parts and equally got some solid jokes as well, even leading a very funny musical number about halfway through. That’s another thing STAGE FRIGHT gets right. The jokes are very funny and quirky. This isn’t splatstick, but it does have a good sense of humor. I also particularly enjoyed the conclusion. I had sort of guessed the identity of the killer, but there are a few suspects that may throw some viewers off the correct trail. Other twists were in store as well. One of which I admittedly didn’t see coming.
The biggest problem with STAGE FRIGHT doesn’t come from the production values (they are rock solid) or the acting (which is surprisingly good) or even the musical numbers (which are admittedly catchy). It comes from the schizophrenic tone of the film. This is supposed to be a mash-up of a slasher and a musical into one unique creation. Instead, the film feels split into three distinct parts. The opening scene is in definite slasher territory, then the majority of the film is devoted to the musical aspect, then it returns to the slasher realm for the final third. The tonal shifts are jarring to say the least and I didn’t really know how to take it as a whole as soon as the closing credits (which have a hilarious final overture sung over them) began to roll.
STAGE FRIGHT is fun. That much can be said for it. I was entertained the entire time, even if the film has a major problem with in its ever-confused tone. The ideas were there, but it seems as if this one could have done with another rewrite of the script. This might have blended the musical and the slasher elements closer together, instead of leaving them in big noticeable chunks. I’d recommend STAGE FRIGHT as worth a rental if you’re interested in this kind of experiment. The only real problem I had with the film was the tone, but it’s a big enough problem to say that there were some missed opportunities in this musical slasher (a phrase we really don’t hear as often as we should).