'Stage Fright' Pays A Fun Musical Tribute To Classic Hollywood Horror, Both Old And New

By James Jay Edwards
Released: May 9, 2014
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Starry-eyed teenager Camilla Swanson wants to follow in her mother's footsteps and become a Broadway diva, but she's stuck working in the kitchen of a snobby performing arts camp. Determined to change her destiny, she sneaks in to audition for the summer showcase and lands a lead role in the play, but just as rehearsals begin, blood starts to spill, and Camilla soon finds herself terrified by the horror of musical theatre.

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Film Review
Stage Fright is a unique film, and as such, I think I should tell you a few things about myself before I get into reviewing it. It's common knowledge that I am a horror movie fanatic, but I am also a big musical theater geek. I know every word to Jesus Christ Superstar and Hair, I played the part of Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors while in college, and I was a performer in a shadow cast of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a film which I have seen over 400 times. With all of that information in mind, it should come as no surprise that I think Stage Fright is awesome.

Stage Fright begins with the murder of famous Broadway actress Kylie Swanson (Conviction's Minnie Driver). Her children, Camilla (Allie MacDonald from House at the End of the Street) and Buddy (Antiviral's Douglas Smith), are taken in by Roger McCall (Meat Loaf from The Rocky Horror Picture Show), Kylie's former producer who, ten years after her death, runs the Center Stage Camp for the Performing Arts, a summer camp for budding musical theater kids. Camilla has dreams of following in her mother's footsteps, but she and her brother are simply the kitchen cooks for the camp, forced to watch the campers perform in the productions each year. When it is announced that the camp is going to be performing "The Haunting of the Opera," the very musical which made her mother famous, Camilla sneaks into the auditions. She nails her tryout, but there is an obvious problem; she isn't a camper, she's a staff member. Director Artie (real-life Broadway star Brandon Uranowitz) gets around this by casting two girls in the lead: Camilla and her camp rival, Liz Silver (Melanie Leishman from "Todd and the Book of Pure Evil"). Artie uses the duplicitous casting to extort "favors" from the girls, but the production has bigger problems than a casting couch; cast and crew members are being murdered one by one, with Camilla seeming to be the ultimate target.

If the kids from "Glee" went to the high school from Prom Night, the result would be Stage Fright. Director Jerome Sable (who adapted Stage Fright from his short "The Legend of Beaver Dam") is clearly a fan of the classic slasher films, yet the cast of Stage Fright breaks into song every chance they get. The musical numbers coupled with the choreography of Paul Becker (no stranger to horror choreography with credits that include Cabin in the Woods, The Wicker Man, and Sucker Punch) makes Stage Fright an amusing little mash-up of two distinctly different types of movies. Stage Fright hits all the stereotypes and tropes of each respective genre, creating a very purposeful parody of both.

The whole plot of Stage Fright is a tribute to The Phantom of the Opera, right down to the title of the play which the camp selects to perform, but the influence of classic films does not stop with that. There are a ton of fun and sneaky references to other movies in Stage Fright; it's one of those movies that will be most enjoyed by loyal fans of horror movies and Hollywood musicals, because it contains nods to several films from both canons, both visually and musically. It's a bit like "The Simpsons" in that it gets funnier as the knowledge base of the viewer grows, and subsequent views will undoubtedly reveal even more sly little winks. It's all part of Stage Fright's master plan to pay tribute to what has come before, and it accomplishes it in the most original way possible.

The reason for beginning this review with a disclaimer is this: Stage Fright is not for everyone. Personally, I thought it was great. It does have issues, but the merging of two distinct genres that I love into one cohesive film was enough for me to overlook them. People who don't have the same appreciation for campy musicals may not agree. Those who do love to see people literally singing their guts out, Stage Fright is for you.
Special Effects
As a fan of classic slasher movies, Jerome Sable made a point of doing Stage Fright's special effects the old fashioned way, using practical, in-camera tricks. For help with this, the director enlisted the services of special makeup effects designer David Scott, the man who did the effects for the Resident Evil movies and the Dawn of the Dead remake. There is plenty of carnage in Stage Fright, and the kills are fun throwbacks to the age of the splatter flick. Some are typical, using standard implements like knives to slit throats and such, while others are more creative (there's a light bulb scene that makes Oculus' light bulb scene look like a puppet show), but it's all gruesomely well done. The visual effects hold up the horror end of the bargain in Stage Fright's horror/musical hybrid.
Because it's truly a musical, the score for Stage Fright had to be just right. Being an accomplished composer in his own right, Jerome Sable left nothing to chance and wrote the music himself along with his musical collaborator, Eli Batalion (who worked with Sable on the music for The Legend of Beaver Dam as well). And they pretty much nail it. The music and lyrics for the film are note-perfect imitations of classic musical theater soundtracks, almost to the point of being satires. It's not an opera in the sense that, say, Les Miserables is an opera, but it's closer than most musicals; Stage Fright is practically all music, with most of the dialogue delivered via song, so it's a good thing for the viewer that the music is easy on the ears.

While the music in Stage Fright is all very well written and arranged, there is a gaping hole in its game; there's no show stopper or hit single that the audience will leave the theater singing to themselves, no "Time Warp" or "Suddenly Seymour" to really ingrain itself into the memory of the viewer. With no standout tune, the soundtrack just becomes a clever way to tell the story. Which is fine, it does what it intends to do, but the soundtrack album to Stage Fright isn't going to sell millions of copies and get tons of radio airplay.

Also on the subject of music, it's worth mentioning that Stage Fright's killer has a signature sound of his own; his presence is accompanied by distorted shredding guitar riffs, and he sings in a scream that sounds like it once fronted an eighties metal group like Mercyful Fate or Grim Reaper (the voice of the killer is provided by Rick Miller from Mulroney: The Opera, who also portrays a camper in the film). The Metal Killer also plays the film out, performing a closing credits song for which audiences should really stick around to hear, paying close attention to the lyrics – they're hilarious.
Scary Factor
The musical comedy aspect of Stage Fright prevents it from being too scary; it's hard to get truly frightened when the entire cast bursts into elaborate song and dance numbers throughout the film, and the killer's screeching falsetto is more hilarious than horrifying. There are a few good moments of suspense that pay off with nice bloody death scenes, but even those aren't especially scary because the whole film is a tribute to other horror films; the bloodshed is expected. None of this means that Stage Fright is a bad film, it's just not scary. Humorous? Yes. Entertaining? Absolutely. Scary? Nah.

Horror, Musical
Release Date
May 9, 2014
Production Designer