Writer: Jerome Sable
Cast: Allie MacDonald, Meat Loaf, Douglas Smith, Minnie Driver
Running time: 89mins
The lowdown: The stalk n’slash genre gets a Glee-ful makeover with this full-on murderous musical. A summer camp for performing arts becomes the setting for bloody mayhem, one of the chief victims being musical theatre. Meat Loaf and Minnie Driver offer spirited big name support in a film that won’t be getting a Rocky Horror or Phantom of the Paradise-like cult following, but has a cheeky lightweight charm.
The full verdict: “I’m gay, I’m gay, but not in that way!” So sings a closeted hunk in one of the many full-blooded musical numbers that pepper Jerome Sable’s infectiously fun debut.
Clearly paying homage to the giallo and slasher movies of his youth, the director delivers a cinematic rarity; a horror-comedy where the scares are scary and the funnies funny.
Not hurting at all is that Sable clearly knows his fright flick licks. A pre-credit sequence that sees Minnie Driver’s opera diva slayed on opening night of The Haunting of the Opera (sic) captures the atmosphere of Dario Argento’s Opera and Michele Soavi’s 1985 Stage Fright so well he should take a stab at straight horror next time.
Cut to ten years later and Driver’s daughter Camilla (MacDonald) and her brother Buddy (Smith) are cooks at the Center Stage Camp for Performing Arts, a refuge for Gleeks who dream of treading the boards.
Italian horror nodded to, Stage Fright turns its attentions to those summer camp slashers that took the entire 1980s to die.
The Burning, Friday the 13th, Sleepaway Camp, Slumber Party Massacre II and even April Fool’s Day are all evoked as a kabuki-themed revival of The Haunting of the Opera by Driver’s one-time producer (Meat Loaf) begins another bloodbath.
And Buddy ain’t best pleased when Camilla decides to audition for the leading role.
Sable cannot quite sustain the tempo for Stage Fright’s full running time, but for every song that hits a bum note another rings successful. And crucially, the horror set-pieces are the real, gory deal with the kabuki-masked killer belting out screechy heavy metal between slayings.
Devoting almost the entire third act to the performance of The Haunting of the Opera, the director has fun testing the adage “the show must go on” as cast and crew are being offed in the wings, leaving limelight hogging primadonnas to take centre stage… before then being targeted themselves.
Leaving no cliché unturned, cleavage grows ample as the bodies begin to pile, while killings directly reference Hellraiser, Deep Red and the squirty bloodletting of Japanese samurai movies.
A fantastic Carrie gag should bring down the house and a massive cheat in disguising the identity of a key psycho will have audiences howling.
And in a performance perfectly pitched between tremulous and toughened MacDonald suggests she may become a Scream Queen of (pitch perfect) note.