Stage Fright (2014) Review.
**WARNING: CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS**
A camping slasher that’s also a musical happens to be right up my street. This enjoyable genre hybrid that played at FrightFest 2014 is what happens when you combine Sleepaway Camp with Glee adding a splash of The Phantom of the Opera into the mix. Much like how Astron-6’s The Editor delivers an affectionate parody and homage to the giallo sub-genre, Stage Fright sends up the musical movie and parallel’s it with the slasher, creating something different in its own way. Seeing more intelligent horror parodies this year is a breath of fresh air, made by people who appreciate the genre; a far cry from the toilet humoured Scary Movie type spoofs that have emerged from the Hollywood Machine during the last decade or so.
Stage Fright goes straight for the jugular with a surprising opening sequence that gives horror fans exactly what they want, echoing Scream. The plot centres on Camilla Swanson (Allie MacDonald), a tortured young woman haunted by the brutal murder of her Broadway star mother. Now working in a kitchen at a stage school summer camp, Camilla breaks the rules and auditions for the revival of the musical production that shot her mother to fame ten years prior. The head of the camp is played by Meat Loaf, a former Broadway producer named Roger who ruthlessly uses Camilla as an avenue for his own showbiz gain. Since the death of the talented Kylie Swanson, cut down in her prime, Camilla and brother Buddy (Douglas Smith) have been under Roger’s care.
History begins to repeat itself when cast members of the fantastically titled kabuki version of The Haunting of the Opera are slaughtered one by one. Its a wonder they even manage to raise the curtain on opening night! Its a tale of mystery, murder and musicals as Camilla proves she has what it takes to become centre stage!
Judging by several reviews of Stage Fright, it appears critics haven’t been too kind toward the film as understandably it is an acquired taste. Its not the The Rocky Horror Picture Show that gravitates its appeal toward cult/horror audiences with its strangeness but also it struggles to attract a more commercial audience because of its graphic violence. It has several upbeat numbers, an Andrew Lloyd Webber style score and some 80’s heavy metal sounding songs making it a somewhat experimental piece. There are a few teething problems with its pacing, leaving the majority of the kills nearer the end. The extended sub-plot of Camilla feeling pressured into degrading herself for the slimy amateur director Artie (Brandon Uranowitz) also takes up too much of the run-time. The callous Artie, plays Camilla and her rival, spoilt brat Liz Silver (Melanie Leishman) against each other for the opportunity of bagging the leading role that shows Uranowitz completely relishing his villainous part.
Stage Fright does gradually build up but doesn’t quite manage to balance both its genres equally. The majority of the first act focuses on the musical aspect diverting away from the jaw dropping slasher moment that’s offered at the beginning. That said, when the conventional masked killer slays his victims they are some of the most inspired and creative kills in a film of this kind. The gore compliments the retro 80’s slasher aesthetic. It unashamedly homages classic horror films from Carrie to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre providing nice little nods to some of horror’s most iconic films.
Allie MacDonald is sensational, elegant and stunning as Camilla. She most definitely has the makings of a future starlet. Camilla sings a selection of beautiful numbers including ‘Alfonso’, this production’s ‘All I Ask of You’ in concept and ‘The Audition’. Contrasting is the killer’s hard rock medley of Iron Maiden sounding tracks that perfectly suit the masked maniac, who’s construction is of a classic slasher villain with a simple eerie mask, reminiscent of the KISS look and a black cloak.
The big cast number ‘We’re Here’ is side-splittingly funny as it pokes fun at wannabe stage school kids and pulls up every stereotype imaginable, making a comment on bullying and sexuality. Thomas Alderson’s openly gay stage manager David Martin is wonderful in a comical supporting role along with Ephraim Ellis’s ‘gay but not in that way’ character Sam Brownstein. There’s an interesting dynamic at play through the conflict their characters share. Stage Fright also exposes the darker side of amateur theatre, the ruthlessness and entitlement these possible rising stars will strive for in order to climb to the top which makes it the ideal subject for the horror metaphor treatment. Its meta-narrative of a play within a film is cleverly orchestrated with having the plays events spill into the film’s world.
Over the course of the film, Stage Fright supplies the recognizable tropes and red herrings a slasher movie can offer, making it a joy to watch. There’s also plenty of twists and turns in store. While it might be overly ambitious in taking on two usually separate genres and moulding them into one, something about it just works well. Incredibly clever, emotional, tongue-in-cheek and full of fun, Stage Fright stands out on its own amongst the horror of 2014. Director Jerome Stable (‘V’ is for Vacation– The ABC’s of Death 2) pays compliment to his influences and makes Stage Fright something totally offbeat. I most certainly love it for that.
Hayley Alice Roberts.