When you think of genres that tend to get mashed together, what do you come up with? I guessing you didn’t say horror and the musical, and yet this very niche and hybridised genre is home to some classic films (of which The Rocky Horror Picture Show is surely the most famous, though the under-appreciated Repo! The Genetic Opera is also a good watch). However, it takes a fine crafter to successfully mix the two, and in his feature-film debut, Jerome Sable has demonstrated he may not quite be that guy. Instead, Stage Fright is a bizarre film that is more likely to leave you bewildered than entertained.
On the Broadway opening night of the musical The Haunting of the Opera, diva and leading lady Kylie Swanson (Minnie Driver) was murdered by an unknown assailant wearing the mask of the play’s villain, the Opera Ghost. Ten years later, her children are working at a musical theatre summer camp run by Roger McCall (Meat Loaf Aday). When Camilla (Allie MacDonald), Kylie’s daughter, hears the camp will be producing a new version of the aforementioned musical, she resolves to sneak into auditions and get a part. But the new play also brings its own share of bloodshed, with Opera Ghost returning to kill those involved with the show.
My overwhelming feeling coming away from the film was one of stupefaction – I couldn’t make out whether what I had seen was absurdly brilliant or a muddled disaster. Having had the benefit of time to reflect, I realise now that it veered far more towards the latter assessment.
This was very much a film of two halves – there were sections that were distinctly musical and distinctly horror. The issue, then, is that they never really blurred together at all. What we had, then, rather than a horror musical was a slasher film set at a musical camp, and there is a marked distinction between the two. This is all the more frustrating because the film’s opening sequence (definitely the best part of the film) fixed the two together wonderfully – a flashback to the musical’s Broadway opening, which sees Minnie Driver being butchered (in a wonderfully gory manner), and sets the film off on a height from which it plummets fairly rapidly.
Despite the fact this film is proof that he clearly needed the money, Meat Loaf is definitely the best part of the movie. The rest of the other characters (even the background children) are fairly non-descript, even with their overt traits (director arsehole, gay guy) being spelt out in the big opening number. Normally, you root for people to die in horror films because they are horrible jerks – in this case, you want them to perish because they seem such pretentious prats, they would be completely insufferable in any scenario other than this one. Fair play to the screenwriter – I know musical theatre people, and they are as terrible as this.
Our lead, then, is also a bit dull (although it is striking how much she resembles Dakota Johnson), but nothing in comparison to the killer – indeed, they are so boring, I didn’t realise who they were when they were unmasked. The killer’s presence is announced by a number of pseudo-metal numbers that are mostly cursing and saying that they don’t like musical theatre. Yeah, aside from the ‘main’ motive (if you’ve ever seen a slasher film, you’ll work out who it is and the main reason for the slaughter within ten minutes), they kill a bunch of folks because they don’t like musical theatre. Aside from their tedium and their joke at playing the electric guitar instead of murdering someone they want to murder, they also speak in the whiniest voice I’ve ever heard – it’s grating beyond measure.
Sadly, as inane as our killer is, their worst crime is that they don’t really start murdering until about an hour into the film. We reach the third act before the focus shifts away from the musical focus, instead becoming a hybrid of illogically timed murders and a strange comedy element in the camp’s musical. Again, the film would have benefitted here from focusing on one elements, or actually trying to merge the two together – it bastardises a whole bunch of genres and none of them can really be appreciated like this.
I like horror and I like musicals, but this film just left me baffled. Sadly, there was no real effort to mix the two genres, so what you have here is essentially a non-descript musical padded with people you’ll hate and a slaughter-filled finish stuck on the end. I couldn’t even go so far as to call it cheesy – it was simply absurd beyond question – and I certainly couldn’t recommend it.
Director: Jerome Sable
Cast: Minnie Driver (Kylie Swanson), Meat Loaf (Roger McCall), Allie MacDonald (Camilla Swanson), Douglas Smith (Buddy Swanson), Kent Nolan (Joel Hopton), Brandon Uranoqitz (Artie Getz)
Running Time: 89 Mins