Dir: Jerome Sable
Written By: Jerome Sable
Starring: Meat Loaf, Minnie Driver, Allie MacDonald, Douglas Smith
UK release: Frightfest 2014
A masked killer – who totally hates musical theatre – terrorises a summer camp full of born-for-the-stage young hopefuls, all of whom find themselves singing and dancing to their deaths. Literally.
Marketing a film as the new Rocky Horror is a bold move, but with Meat Loaf in a starring role and an opening number utilising the refrain “I’m gay, I’m gay, but not in that way”, it’s difficult not to appreciate Stage Fright in much the same way that Richard O’Brien’s lauded cult classic is so beloved twenty years later. Whether the audience is there for it, in the year 2034, is another story.
The carnage begins on the set of The Haunting Of The Opera, a sort of slasher take on The Phantom Of The Opera, with Minnie Driver’s diva Kylie in the lead role. As her daughter belts it out live on stage to an audience of no one, Kylie is brutally murdered backstage by a masked assailant, whom she mistakenly assumes is her devilish co-star. Fast forward a decade and Meat Loaf, the then-producer, is now heading a summer camp for obnoxious theatre kids, where he and his fabulous moustache are as much a part of the scenery as the, well, fake scenery they use in their productions.
Having taken Kylie’s kids under his wing, Meat Loaf focuses all his energy on paying bills and singing songs while the two brats – one of whom, we recall from the prologue, dreams of being centre-stage – slog away in the kitchen. When he decides to resurrect (no pun intended) the ill-fated Haunting Of The Opera, it isn’t long before the bodies start to pile up again. And, although it’s blindingly obvious who’s to blame, there’s a lot of singing and dancing and stabbing to get through before the killer’s identity is revealed – most of it highly enjoyable.
It goes without saying that Stage Fright is a very silly affair. Chock full of ridiculous songs – all of which were penned by director Jerome Sable, along with the snappy script – and great throwaway gags – posters are dotted on the walls advertising previous musicals such as Arkansas! and The Producerables – it has more in common with another Canadian export, the sadly short-lived Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil, than the ludicrously popular Glee.
The music, for the most part, is diverting enough with Meat Loaf proving he still has an amazing set of lungs on him, while newcomers Allie MacDonald and Douglas Smith hold their own as the warring brother and sister duo, one of whom despises musical theatre. The killer, clad in a creepy kabuki mask throughout, communicates his anger through bursts of heavy metal guitars, which leads to a moment reminiscent of Brandon Lee’s iconic rooftop jam in The Crow.
Happily, this is a far less serious take on rock star theatrics, although the kills hit just as hard as the songs – Kylie’s murder, in particular, is vicious – and there are some genuinely creepy moments, in spite of the fact it takes place mostly in daylight. Naturally, Meat Loaf is the heart of the production, effortlessly stealing each scene he’s in. He’s not quite gifted with a Hot Patootie this time around, but he does the best with the material he is given and a twist in the final act lends his character some genuine pathos, too.
Stage Fright isn’t going to have nearly as much impact as the great Rocky Horror, but it does what it says on the tin and it has absolutely no aspirations to do anything otherwise. Check your brain at the door, allow your toes to tap along and you might just enjoy yourself.