Stage Fright (film review by Frank Ochieng).

May 20, 2014 | By | Reply More

The horror genre has not exactly been a steady and stable movie-going experience for freshness or originality as of late. Nevertheless, the persistence to include any distinctive gimmick or angle just to distinguish these faceless frightfests from one another is indeed appreciated. In writer/director Jerome Sable’s Canadian creeper ‘Stage Fright’ one can actually both cheerfully sing and scream for their supper in this entertaining off-kilter morbid musical of mayhem. Sable’s impishly dire slasher stage production does conjure up an interesting take on how to ‘kill a live audience’  or at least try not to be killed in front of this very same audience. No, the final curtain call for ‘Stage Fright’ does not involve any of the obligatory stand-by sinister venues such as haunted houses, freaky hairy monsters’ hideaways or even a summer camp housing horny teenagers. It does, however, refreshingly feature some colourful carnage taking place at a musical drama theater camp (okay, it is still not  a traditional summer camp and the teens are not as hormonal so let’s get this clear). Go ahead and try being a demanding actress on this particular ‘Stage’ then you will know the real meaning behind ‘drop dead diva’.

stage_frightIntriguingly, ‘Stage Fright’ looks to pander to those that have a passing appreciation (if not a strong palatable fixation) for a strange combination concerning camping activities and a flair for off-Broadway sing-a-longs. More important, ‘Stage Fright’ naughtily taps into the nostalgic feel of low-budget and shoddy-looking slash-and-dash flicks of the 80s that invites a sense of cheap thrills thus giving these kinds of horror showcases a distinctive, off-base appeal. This demented dress rehearsal whodunnit will not make anyone forget heralded horror musicals such as ‘Little Shop Of Horrors’ or ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ any time soon. Plus, the only two well-known names in this goosebump vehicle are a couple of actors/singers in the engaging Minnie Driver and the legendary rocker Meatloaf. Still, one should take a bow to ‘Stage Fright’ for its low-rent ode to good ole blood and guts in the name of cutthroat artistry.

The story revolves around a bunch of high school kids with dramatic aspirations that gather at a theatre camp in anticipation of putting on a grand musical show entitled ‘The Haunting At The Opera’. Hopefully, this elaborate musical production will garner the financial support it needs to save the beloved theater camp from bankruptcy. One must note that there is a past tragedy connected to ‘The Haunting At The Opera’ that took place ten years ago when leading lady Kylie Swanson (Minnie Driver) performed her coveted role and was brutally murdered afterwards in her dressing room by an unknown assailant. Thus, the current-day youngsters at Center Stage camp must re-stage this musical as they put their best foot forward.

When Kylie died a gruesome death a decade ago she left behind her offspring in Camillia and Buddy (Allie MacDonald and Douglas Smith). Both Swanson siblings now work as camp cooks for Center Stage. Camillia wants to try out for her late mother’s part in the musical production as she possesses a capable songbird voice. Buddy, on the other hand, wants no connection with the stage show whatsoever. Predictably, Camillia’s audition is successful and she finally realises her dream of being a star in the notable shadow of her dearly departed mother Kylie’s center-stage greatness. Soon, Camillia will inherit another thing from her mother’s stage presence, the return of the murderous misfit (if he/she is in fact the very same one from yesteryear) and the numerous killings that are being hatched at Center Stage camp by the hands of this twisted lunatic.

The convenient connection from yesterday’s ‘The Haunting At The Opera’ is producer Roger McCall (Meatloaf) who’s on board to fund the musical project for the modern-day showing of ‘Haunting’. Of course, the suspicions are thrown against the wall as to who the crafty killer is, given that there are too many attached memories to both the ten year-old ‘Haunting Of The Opera’ musical from its heyday and the musical’s deceased songstress whose surviving kids and old producer is back in the fold. So is there something to the random slayings that bind any of these people or is it just some nutcase theater critic on the rampage because ‘Haunting’ is not his/her agreeable cup of tea?

"Young lady...you really need to follow the proper stage direction as laid out in this afternoon's rehearsal".

“Young lady…you really need to follow the proper stage direction as laid out in this afternoon’s rehearsal”.

Certainly, in many ways ‘Stage Fright’ is numbing and conventional as it revisits the familiar formula of its campy cautionary confines. Some may even reject the ‘business as usual’ set-up involving masked/hooded killing creeps, babe-in-the-woods heroines echoing tormenting damsels in distress and the serving of arbitrary grisly endings that were probably better staged three decades ago in a knock-off ‘Friday The 13th’ sequels. Maybe ‘Stage Fright’ is best served as a low-key satirical riff on monotonous musicals and messy murder mysteries? Whatever the case, Sable’s slasher entry delivers a devilish wink and is surprisingly spirited in its gruesome gumption. How can one go wrong throwing some wacky shade at self-important iconic musicals such as ‘Phantom Of The Opera’ while simultaneously developing a tongue-in-cheek approach to cheesy factory-made fear fables? The theatrical music featured in this doom-and-gloom drama is quite infectious to boot.

Thankfully, one’s nerves are subjected to this considerable case of ‘Stage Fright’ because, after all, the blood-cuddling show must go on.

Stage Fright (2014)

STARRING: Allie MacDonald, Meatloaf, Douglas Smith, Minnie Driver, Kent Nolan, Melanie Leishman and Brandon Uranowitz

DIRECTED BY: Jerome Sable

SCREENPLAY BY: Jerome Sable

MPAA RATING: R

RUNNING TIME: 89 mins.

DISTRIBUTED BY: Entertainment One/Magnet Releasing

CRITIC’S RATING: ** 1/2 stars (out of 4 stars)

 

 

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Category: Films, Horror, MEDIA

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About the Author ()

Frank Ochieng has contributed film reviews to SF Crowsnest off and on since 2003. He has been published in other various movie site venues throughout the years. Ochieng has been part of The Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and had written film reviews for The Boston Banner newspaper (USA) and frequently is a media/entertainment panelist on WBZ NewsRadio 1030 AM on "The Jordan Rich Show" in Boston, Massachusetts/USA.

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