There’s always been something theatrical about the slasher film, and Stage Fright is by no means the first movie to take that and make it literal. (It isn’t even the first movie called Stage Fright to do so.) In fact, Stage Fright isn’t even the first slasher musical, though it joins a pretty small company on that particular stage. When you get right down to it, Stage Fright doesn’t actually bring much of anything new to the table, but it’s pretty fun, nonetheless.
What Stage Fright does do is return the slasher film to its natural habitat, the summer camp. In this case a musical theatre camp called Center Stage, run by the producer (Meat Loaf) whose leading lady (Minnie Driver) was butchered ten years earlier in the film’s cold opening. Joining him at the camp are said lady’s twin children, the star struck Camilla (Allie McDonald) and her grumbling brother Buddy. In desperation, Meat Loaf is planning to stage a new production of The Haunting of the Opera, the very play that ended in tragedy a decade before, and Camilla is resting all her hopes of stardom on essaying the same role that cost her mother her life. So yeah, like I said, nothing new.
As you might imagine, before Camilla has even taken the stage, the body count has begun, though it doesn’t really get underway until opening night, when, of course, a Broadway agent is out in the crowd. While Allie McDonald is the star, Meat Loaf steals the show as the seedy producer for whom the show must go on, no matter what the cost. The movie does a good job of littering the script with red herrings, but the actual resolution turns out to be pretty unsurprising. Still, there’s something to be said for seeing the slasher standing over one of his victims and supplying his own shredding guitar riff.
While Stage Fright has its tongue planted pretty firmly in its cheek from start to finish, it is never at the expense of the killer, who nevertheless has his quips and his musical numbers in their own heavy metal style. And poor Allie McDonald’s character never gets to be in on the joke.
Like seemingly every contemporary horror filmmaker, director Jerome Sable and co-writer Eli Batalion are unabashed horror fans who wear their influences all over their sleeves, and Stage Fright contains the obligatory nods to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hellraiser, and of course Carrie, to name just a few of the ones I caught. Fortunately, they’re all just that—nods—not beat-for-beat homages, and never anything that takes center stage over the film itself. Perhaps the best and most subtle of them is that the title treatment is done in the same font that John Carpenter used for many of his movies, with Sable even claiming that they “used the ‘eye-dropper’ tool on Photoshop to [get] the exact Assault on Precinct red.” (At the end of the credits, the title shows up again, white-on-black, as it probably would have looked on a Carpenter film.)
The songs are serviceable and frequently credible as musical numbers, but nothing that you’re likely to find yourself singing in the shower the next day. The best one was probably the medly that played over the closing credits, thanking the audience for sticking around and cautioning against pirating the movie.
Unless this is your first slasher musical, Stage Fright may not have anything you haven’t seen before, but its heart is in the right place, and you can bet it’s going to sing you its heart’s song!