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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WORDS James Gracey
In the past when horror has bred with the musical, it has spawned oddball titles such as Repo: The Genetic Opera, Phantom of the Paradise and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, resulting in one of the quirkiest subsets of the horror genre. Similarly, with its admittedly ludicrous blending of musical comedy with slasher flick, Stage Fright sets itself up as an over-the-top, camp romp. Sadly, it never quite nails it.
Much of the plot is dedicated to heroine Camilla’s voyage of self discovery and various backstage hijinks, but the story could be that of any 80s slasher flick: a masked killer with a hatred of musicals menaces the residents of a summer camp as they put together a theatre production. The setting is a fond nod to 80s slashers like Friday the 13th and The Burning, while the backdrop of the theatre production recalls Michele Soavi’s Italian slasher Stage Fright (aka Aquarius) and Dario Argento’s Opera. Neither setting is as fully utilised as it could be, however during the opening scenes, writer-director Jerome Sable manages to pull the rug out from under the audience, not once but twice, by blurring the lines between reality and theatrical illusion. The remainder of the film unfortunately fails to live up to the promise offered by these moments, which also feature operatic violence reminiscent of vintage Argento.
Given the large cast, the body count is quite low and while lashings of gore don’t necessarily make a good horror film, Sable rejects the opportunity to have some fun with themed murders, à la Dr Phibes or even Urban Legend, with most of the kills occurring off screen. Cheeky nods to Carrie and Scream abound, but seem to be there for the sake of it and don’t really enhance the story — though credit should be given for establishing each of the many red herrings.
While Sable’s love and admiration of both genres shines through, he can’t quite make them work together. It’s not trashy enough to hit the tone he appears to be aiming for and even the high-camp and catty theatrics of the cast aren’t quite vitriolic enough. The comedic aspects hamper attempts at tension and terror and sporadic outbursts of surprisingly strong violence are completely at odds with the light-hearted tone. Various musical numbers slice through the narrative as intrusively as a maniac’s blade, and while fun is poked at both genres, it fails to say much about either; satire and subversion are conspicuous by their absence. Neither element is really given centre stage and as a result Stage Fright, while certainly not a bad film, never feels like the sum of its curious parts.
Stage Fright is available on DVD on 26 January