There have been a few films before with the title Stage Fright, namely an Alfred Hitchcock thriller, and an Italian slasher from 1987. This film definitely has more in common with the latter than the former, being heavily steeped in the Friday the 13th tradition, right down to the summer camp setting (only Crystal Lake didn’t have a theatre). It’s also a mash-up of horror and musical, which sounds odd, but is actually a lot more common than one might think. There’s obviously The Phantom of the Opera, as well as Repo: The Genetic Opera, Little Shop of Horrors, even the original The Wicker Man in a way. So with that sort of lineage behind it, and with one of the stars of The Rocky Horror Picture Show in the cast (Meat Loaf), is this a high note, or bum note?
Kylie Swanson (Minnie Driver) hit new heights of fame in the lead of The Haunting of the Opera on Broadway… but the fame is quickly overshadowed by her brutal murder. Ten years later, her children Camilla (Allie MacDonald) and Buddy (Douglas Smith) are working at Camp Center Stage, a summer camp for training musical theatre run by former producer Roger McCall (Meat Loaf). That summer’s big production is that very same play, and Camilla decides to audition for her mother’s role. However, someone is not happy about this, and it looks like on opening night, history might repeat itself…
Apparent right from the start, the film has a major issue in regards to tone; it honestly can’t seem to decide what it wants to be. Is it making a serious point about the nature of fame? A spoof of slasher tropes by mashing it with musical touches? A serious horror that happens to have songs? Movies can be multiple things at once, there are many that can manage this sort of mix properly, but this isn’t one. A lot of the musical numbers are fairly silly stuff, but with the death scenes, a lot of them end up at Saw levels of how grim they are (including borrowing a few points from Saw’s direction). There’s an extended scene towards the climax that really feels like it belongs in a far more serious slasher, not the more light-hearted one initially suggested. As a result, the whole film feels like it has a serious identity crisis.
Some of this might be forgivable if the songs were any good, but it doesn’t work here either. None of them are in any way memorable, you’d be hard-pressed to remember the tune to any of them. The use of them is fairly inconsistent too, with the spacing of many being fairly sporadic. Worse, lyric wise they’re not much better. They’re either too on the nose (one that repeats “All I ever wanted” really outstays its welcome) or as jokes they fall flat (“I’m Gay, but not in that Way”). Also, it’s established that the killer has a major beef against musical theatre… so why the heck does he get songs? Well, songs might not be the right word, as it’s more just noise amongst guitars. The film stars Meat Loaf, but none of the songs make any use of his vocal range, he just looks faintly embarrassed by them.
Faintly embarrassing sums up a lot about Stage Fright really. It just goes through the motions for a slasher movie, doesn’t make you want to sing along, and really says nothing about theatre that other works haven’t done better. Black Swan covered similar ground and was far scarier… funnier too come to think of it. Flatly directed, offering nothing bar the novelty of a quite good design for the slasher’s mask, and making a waste of a decent cast, Stage Fright is not worth the booking. If you’re looking for a campy riff on horror tropes and musical arts with a soundtrack that you’ll remember, go pick up Phantom of the Paradise instead.