Camilla Swanson (Allie MacDonald) and her twin brother Buddy (Douglas Smith) are raised by musical theatre camp director Roger McCall (Meat Loaf), after their mother – musical theatre star Kylie Swanson (Minnie Cooper) – is brutally murdered backstage, after a performance of The Haunting of the Opera.
Ten years later, Camilla decides to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a star in her own right, but the camp where she and her brother work is soon terrorised by a masked killer with a deep hatred of all things musical.
I feel like it’s fitting to start off this venture with a write-up about a musical horror/slasher movie. After all, given that I haven’t yet established myself as having any credibility, you can’t exactly accuse me of having lost it with a post like this.
What can I say, though? I love musicals. And I love horror movies. So, of course I’m going to love a movie that combines those two genres – even if it is a bit uneven at times.
Overflowing with a cast of characters that fit all the appropriate wanky musical theatre stereotypes (the failed producer, the pretentious director, the gay stage director, the Liza Minnelli clone…and the list goes on), Stage Fright hits all the notes (See what I did there? Genius, I know.) you’d expect from a teen musical. We’re dealing with a pretty simple plot here (chances are, you’ll work out who the killer is pretty early on in the game), and the scoring of the film reiterates the fun, slightly over-the-top tone that’s set by the acting.
The strength of this movie is that it doesn’t take itself seriously. And, from the opening lines, which tell us that “while the names have been changed to respect the victims and their families, the musical numbers will be performed exactly as they occurred,” we know that we’re not meant to, either.
For the most part, the slasher elements of the film are incorporated in a witty way – with scenes that depict this world of actor-wannabes in a slightly sinister light with nothing more than sound work and a change in camera angles. The changes in music that plays the rock ‘n roll aesthetic of the masked killer against the world of musical theatre in which most of the movie takes place also do a good job of blending the two genres together in a way that’s enjoyably playful.
Unsurprisingly, this movie is at it’s best when it’s unashamed about the fact that it’s a musical. This is why everything relating to the final twist/big reveal manage to fall flat.
Up until this point, we’ve been watching a cast of characters parading around on screen, rather than developing a relationship with them. Even Camilla, our star, is pretty one-dimensional. So this seemingly random attempt at emotional and dramatic depth in an otherwise shallow (but entertaining!) movie, really doesn’t make much sense. It’s not even that it’s bad – because it’s not! It’s just a bit too removed from the rest of the movie, tonally-speaking, so that while this whole scene may have worked well in another movie, I don’t think it actually works here.
The more I think about it, the more I wonder if it’s a minor editing problem that’s at the heart of my complaint, more than anything else.
Still! Let’s not pretend that horror/slasher movies are otherwise all that good when it comes to The Big Reveal. So, maybe it actually does a better job of being a slasher in this respect than I’m giving it credit for.
Overall, I really enjoyed Stage Fright. Yes, it definitely drops the ball a bit toward the end, but I can accept five or ten minutes of the movie being a bit tone deaf (SEE? I DID IT AGAIN!), because it otherwise manages to be an entertaining blending of two genres that I love.
My recommendation? Accept that it uses the tropes of a slasher without really being one, and watch it for the lulz.