We’ve had horror musicals before, and rock operas aplenty, but it’s not often we get slasher musicals. “Stage Fright” is a very niche horror film, and one that runs the risk of alienating its audience, but for experimental audiences and for folks that appreciate horror comedies with an eighties twist, “Stage Fright” is an excellent and occasionally brilliant bastard child of many sub-genres, that works well as a truly memorable cocktail of madness and gore. Director Jerome Sable really creates a unique and genuinely raucous horror musical that takes “Phantom of the Opera” and builds a very refreshing revenge story from its roots.
For audiences unaware, “Stage Fright” is mostly all singing and dancing, with its emphases placed on its tongue in cheek tone and silly premise. While it does acknowledge its goofy tropes and odd characters, that never stifles what is a really suspenseful whodunit slasher about an ill fated musical and a masked man in the shadows. Gorgeous Allie MacDonald stars as the meek Camilla, a young girl whose Broadway bound mother (Minnie Driver) was viciously murdered in her dressing room when Camilla was a child. Though the identity of the masked murderer remained unknown, Camilla and her brother Buddy were adopted by their mother’s manager Roger (as played by Meatloaf) as his surrogate son and daughter. Buddy and Camilla are tasked with cooking for Roger’s new summer camp, which revolves around helping aspiring performers and theater geeks learn to sing, dance, and act.
Buddy is anxious to finish out the summer and start a new life with Camilla, but Camilla can’t help but feel compelled to perform. When the camp’s director Artie, revives their mother’s most famous musical “Haunting of the Opera” (but with a Kabuki twist!), she competes to play the role made famous by her mother. Despite Buddy’s insistence that she avoid the lure of the stage, altogether. But things go immediately nuts as a masked killer lurks in the dark, prepared to destroy the show and viciously murder anyone in the production. “Stage Fright” has cult classic written all over it, as it channels many of the great rock horror films like “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and “Phantom of the Paradise,” all the while eliciting genuine laughter with a wry sense of humor that keeps the film dark and morbid, but never grim. Sable is also able to dive from camp to dread easily by staging much of the character’s music with upbeat dance and singing numbers that require necessary exposition and hilarious gags (the solo from the girl with the heavy lisp left me in hysterics).
Meanwhile he drops us in to the killer’s amazing heavy metal wailing, using the opportunity to emphasize the masked murderer’s menace, as well as bring to life the kabuki psycho known as “Metal Killer.” The performances are what really keep “Stage Fright” immensely entertaining with beautiful Allie MacDonald stealing the film as the naive and eager Camilla who does whatever it takes to star in the show. Meatloaf is also very memorable as the head of the camp whose main goal is to lure a stage producer to the premiere, while Douglas Smith is a very entertaining source of morality for Camilla. While the carnage ensues, more clues (and red herrings) unfold, and “Stage Fright” thankfully never loses sight of its premise as a slasher with our masked killer offing their victims in the most creative and gore soaked methods. Director Jerome Sable really perfects balancing the hodgepodge of sub-genres in to one gleefully creepy horror film.