Ten years after her mother s murder, starry-eyed teenager Camilla Swanson follows in her mother’s acting footsteps only to be haunted by a crazed killer. Stuck in the kitchen of a snobby performing arts camp, Camilla sneaks in to audition for the summer showcase and lands the lead role in the play, the same role her mother won before her death. As rehearsals begin, the play is seemingly cursed by a masked killer. Blood starts to spill as bloody rampage tears through the cast and crew in a killer performance no one will forget.
I must admit when my eyes initially fell upon the words STAGE FRIGHT scrawled on a screener disc I received, my initial reaction was to blow SCREAM towers a kiss believing it was Michael Soavi’s 1987 Giallo remaster! But no sooner had the first few frames graced my TV screen I came to terms with an entirely different movie of the same title.
This STAGE FRIGHT we are about to look at was made over a quarter of a century after the aforementioned European giallo and is markedly different in style and content. As the harmonious opening scene played out, my worst fears were confirmed. This was not simply ‘comedy horror’ – this, dear readers, was a ‘comedy horror musical!’
That said, proceedings got off to a very promising start. Kylie Swanson (played by Minnie Driver… yes THE Minnie Driver) plays a Broadway superstar of sorts. After giving another crowd stirring performance, she leaves the rapturous crowd adulation and meets her twin children Camilla and Buddy backstage. Claiming they are her biggest fans, she lovingly signs a self portrait and is left alone to change.
But she is then joined by a masked stranger who she mistakes for her lover playing a prank. Her brutal demise courtesy of a frenzied knife attack shockingly ends her life. Although predicable, the sharp and violent scene produced the best sequence of the picture.
Although the manner in which STAGE FRIGHT opened served as an attention grabber, it did have clear overtones of Drew Barrymore’s bold dispensation in the opening gambit of Wes Craven’s SCREAM. As I was soon to find out, this ode to well known Horror movies was soon to become the cornerstone of the picture.
The narrative then fasts forward 10 years and Camilla (Allie MacDonald), still clutching to the aforementioned signed picture, is toiling with her job as a kitchen hand at the local dance school. It is here the humour and music bursts into life with the movies protagonists declaring their presence and character via light-hearted song.
The movies dialogue is liberally peppered with gags and I imagine even the most stone faced of viewers would afford themselves at least a snigger at some of the witticisms as they come thick and fast. My favourite had to be the answer given regarding ‘something white that covers the face’ when a kabuki (Japanese mask) and bukkake get confused!
What develops is essentially a tale about the Centre Stage schools controversial decision to produce a Haunting of the Opera performance, the first since Kylie Swansons’ murder a decade ago. With Camilla successfully making the leap from the soap suds of the kitchens washing up chores to leading lady in the production, there is no shortage of envious rivals. It sets the foundations for the melodic slasher to pick off characters one by one courtesy of the mysterious masked killer.
If you read beyond the opening paragraph of this review I am assuming you are willing to engage in such frivolous fair. Given the movies tone, it follows that it has a very glossy look with slick production values. That said, I found the jokes and humour became a little one dimensional in the latter part of the movie.
Whereas the quick fire humour that introduced the characters and narrative was sharp initially, I couldn’t help but feel the picture slipped into a monotonous procession of parodies as it wore on. I won’t list of the movies taken off, but it just seemed a little stale. Not only has there been a glut of SCARY MOVIE type spoofs over the years, but the skits lacked the dynamic execution that even The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episodes display.
I was honestly impressed with the initial murder and it served to keep me watching with anticipation of equally vicious set pieces to add some contrast to the otherwise light-hearted, harmonious tone of the picture. Unfortunately the following deaths were a little languid in comparison. Yes the red stuff did indeed flow once the violence kicked back in but they lacked the style and impact of the initial scene. In that scene the humour is completed segregated from its execution which I felt galvanised its impact. The subsequent deaths are irritatingly accompanied by hackneyed one liners such as “…break a leg…!” when a foot is torturously severed in two for example. It’s the kind of stuff Mr Krueger used to indulge in with his much lamented Freddie’s Nightmares series.
All in all STAGE FRIGHT is efficiently produced 85 minute movie full of song, dance and humour. It’s just a shame the horror element played its trump card in the opening few minutes. Metrodomes’ watermarked screener disc presented the movie in a cinematic 2.35 : 1 aspect ratio and had no extras to report on.
Words: Marc Lissenburg