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Stage Fright (2014)

tn_stagefrightI honestly thought this new-to-disc movie STAGE FRIGHT was gonna be a loose remake of the Italian STAGE FRIGHT directed by Michel Soavi, but after seeing it I don’t think they’re suppoosed to be connected. It’s just the logical title for a stage-performance-themed masked killer whodunit (or whoslashedit I guess). This one’s got completely different characters and backstory, it’s set at a camp for kids learning musical theater, and instead of a silent killer in a creepy as hell owl mask it’s a guy who sings rock songs in a kabuki mask that looks like that puppet from SAW.

See, that’s the thing about this, it’s a musical. And by “thing” I mean both “unique part” and “problem for me.” You know I don’t have a completely closed mind, I have appreciated a musical now and again. I loved the critically trashed THE MISERABLES, for godsake, I thought it was amazing. And you know how I feel about MARY POPPINS. But by my way of thinking “slasher movie with musical numbers” is kinda like BRICK‘s “hardboiled detective story, but in a high school.” I can admire the cleverness of how it’s put together, but that extra element is a drawback to me, not a bonus. I’d be more excited for the regular thing. I guess I still see room for great straightahead slasher movies in the world. The slots haven’t been filled yet, no need to start getting all fancy.

But this is a pretty well put together movie that’s gotta be right up somebody’s alley. The opening scene has Minnie Driver as a singer slam dunking her big Broadway debut. I thought “I didn’t know Minnie Driver was gonna be in this” and then a second later I thought, “Oh.” After a jokey true story disclaimer marked it as a comedy and almost spooked me, the opening murder scene is serious and brutal enough that I was on the hook to watch the whole thing. As you can probly tell by the thumbnail up top the horror elements are taken seriously, it’s not a parody or something, so I’m willing to give it a shot.

mp_stagefrightThe movie is about that singer’s two children and husband (Allie MacDonald, Douglas Smith, Meat Loaf) ten years later running a camp and putting on a new production of Mom’s last show (A Haunting At the Opera… what does that title remind me of? I can’t quite put my finger on it). Daughter Camilla forsakes her place in the cafeteria kitchen to try out for the lead, dad desperately tries to get an old agency connection from New York to come sit on a plastic chair in a barn to watch the thing, the douchey director (Brandon Uranowitz) sexually harasses Camilla and she squirmily compromises and tries to keep him happy to get the role. The threatening and killing is a little too slow and sparse for my tastes, but the mystery keeps you occupied with plenty of suspects established including acting rivals, family members and spurned would-be lovers.

You might be thinking okay, so they’re putting on a musical, that’s what he means about it having musical numbers. Yes, but also there are actual musical numbers, non-literal scenes where the characters look at the camera and sing about their emotions and shit. For example there’s a big number where the campers all sing about feeling safe among their fellow theater geeks, and mini-songs where a backstage lighting tech croons about having a crush on Camilla but she doesn’t know he exists.

This is the cheeky part of the movie. They know it’s ridiculous to be singing in this movie and they’re trying to be kinda funny, but they’re kinda serious too. The songs are only jokey in that “Ain’t I a stinker?” way of modern popular musicals. I think writer/director/composer/lyricist Jerome Sable is sincerely into this type of thing and, you know, I will try to accept him for who he is. I’m sure he’s been emboldened by the popularity of Glee and PITCH PERFECT and the Criterion blu-ray set of Cop Rock, but you gotta figure he still knows he’s doing something that is just really, really uncool on every level except the level where it’s cool to not care that you’re doing something that is so uncool. Respect.

It probly goes without saying that there are some cutesy horror references in here, including a kid with wild hair and a tie and then he puts on an apron and he looks like Leatherface. And he uses a Skilsaw in building props but the ‘S’ is missing so it says “Kilsaw.” Get it. Like “Kill.” Hard to explain. Never mind. I think there must be references to musicals also, because one characer is a Liza Minelli lookalike, dressed up like her character from Cabaret or Spider-man Turns Off the Dark or whatever it is she was in that was a musical where she dressed like that.

Where STAGE FRIGHT tips too far out of serious horror for me is with the killer. After a creepy silent killer in the prologue the present day version is a corny rock singer guy, and the soundtrack switches to electric guitars whenever he appears. It’s bad enough he makes Freddy-esque puns; that he sings them loses me. Everybody knows the best slashers keep their mouths shut, they communicate with a head tilt, not a heavy metal ditty. But I have to admit I did laugh when it seems like he’s gonna stab a victim but then he slides the knife under the strings on the neck of his guitar and plays a show-offy solo in his face instead. Funny stuff. Made me want to watch SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE 2 again.

What kept me watching even as it became clear this movie wasn’t really for me was a good Final Girl played by MacDonald. She’s beautiful but seems intelligent, except in dealing with the sexual harassment. She has Sharni Vinson bangs but she appears to be a singer instead of a dancer. It’s cool that she seems to be really doing all that singing, but that’s not even the important part. The main difference between a watchable horror movie and an unwatchable one might be having a protagonist with some presence. We experience so much of the story through the expressions on her face; if it looks like she’s taking it seriously then we probly will too. Despite the singing and guitar solos.

There’s gotta be somebody out there who loves both slasher movies and musicals. Man, there better be, ’cause somebody went through alot of damn trouble to make this thing just to blow that person’s mind. You better appreciate it, too. This is a special thing they did for you, whoever you are.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, July 10th, 2014 at 1:55 pm and is filed under Horror, Musical, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

32 Responses to “Stage Fright (2014)”

  1. Hey Vern,

    Have you seen Todd vs The Book of Pure Evil? It’s a canadian TV series, a jokier evil-dead type with heavy metal. Anyway, there’s a musical episode and it’s pretty good.

  2. This has got Mouth written all over it.

  3. The Original Paul

    July 10th, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    Majestyk – I think you mean “This has Paul written all over it”.

    Seriously I gotta see this one. The barbarian movie I can take or leave (with all apologies to Conan, my opinion on barbarian movies is much the same as my opinion on ninja movies: I’ve seen so many bad ones that the concept itself has kinda lost its “cool” for me), but a slasher film that’s also a musical? I’m there. If there’s a single moment as great as “Urban Legend: Final Cut”‘s use of a lifesize alien prop at its denouement, I will consider it worth my time.

  4. The only musicals I could ever tolerate came from the South Park guys. I even tried to see THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW at midnight showings a couple of times only to never make it through due to being freaked out by both the lameness of the movie itself and also it’s most die hard fans.

  5. Time Warp is a cool song though. I totally get why people would like that one.

  6. Broddie, try LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS.

    If you don’t like that one then stop. If you do, maybe next try TIM BURTON’S THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS.

    MONTY PYTHON’S THE MEANING OF LIFE has enough songs to qualify as a musical.

    I’m not really a musicals fan either, but those are the ones that make it past my defenses – perhaps because they’re culty dark comedies rather than something more sappy.

  7. Curt – Damn I don’t know how I forgot about LITTLE SHOPS. Yeah that’s another exception. Always enjoyed it. I was more so talking about live action musicals. It’s funny cause I have enjoyed a lot of the Disney joints (NIGHTMARE included) in my lifetime so I suppose I do enjoy some musicals after all when you factor in animation. The Gaston song from BEAUTY AND THE BEAST for example is still funny as hell to me till this very day. Brilliant songwriting.

  8. “I was more so talking about live action musicals.” well not entirely true cause I did mention the SOUTH PARK movie and TEAM AMERICA but BOOK OF MORMON was actually really enjoyable. If that’s ever adapted into a movie I highly recommend the non-NYC dwelling members of the site to give it a try.

  9. Yay, that’s two people on here who watch TODD & THE BOOK OF PURE EVIL.

    As noted here several times before, I really have some trouble with musicals too. Most of them shouldn’t be musicals. If you interrupt your story every 10 minutes for a song, it better should be a damn good one and frankly, not many movies can pull this off. ROCKY HORROR is one of them who pull it off, but I don’t blame anyone who thinks otherwise. I got into ROCKY HORROR only recently and also only because I found someone very cool, who is obsessed with it.

    As far as partly intentionally comedy/partly serious slasher movies go, I doubt it’s possible to top CLUB DREAD, btw.

  10. Interesting enough: I just learned from another review that Melanie Leishman from TODD & THE BOOK OF PURE EVIL is actually in this movie here!

  11. What’s all this, then?

  12. I actually really enjoyed Burton’s Sweeny Todd musical. For me, I have less of a problem with stage musicals because it’s easier to suspend your disbelief, but film musicals are harder to pull off, in my opinion. As others have noted, one of the problems with film musicals is that they stop the entire plot for a song every ten or fifteen minutes and it really bogs things down.

  13. It took me two tries to get through SWEENEY TODD, and then I managed it only by fast forwarding through the songs. What unlistenable, tuneless, syllabically overstuffed slogs those things are. You get the feeling that they’re never sung, only survived.

    I generally only like musicals that are funny, such as Parker/Stone joints and DR. HORRIBLE. I just can’t be expected to take people seriously when they stop what they’re doing and start singing about their feelings out of nowhere. I will tolerate the occasional Old Hollywood musical, however, because that kind of theatricality fits the staginess of most of those movies. And the songs tend to be better when they’re the real deal and not ersatz recreations like modern showtunes.

    In conclusion I will watch this movie. Because of stabbing.

  14. Majestyk is going after Sondheim! Damn. I remember my parents watching a stage production of Into the Woods on PBS when I was a kid. I sat down to see what this was all about, since it had all of the different characters from those Disney movies. Needless to say, I was absolutely traumatized by the premise of that these characters didn’t live happily ever after. The musical really creeped me out. I guess I’ll always have a grudging respect for Sondheim for warping my impressionable brain.

  15. Sondheim is definitely not for the faint of heart. And, Majestyk, there is no way anyone in the movie could pull off any of his songs, so I don’t blame you for fast forwarding there. It takes a certain kind of talent to do so.

    In college I took a class on musical theater (academic, not participating in anything like singing and dancing) and there was one woman who was a Sondheim nut and another who was a Andrew Lloyd Webber nut. It was worth it just to watch them fight all the time.

    RBatty, I’ve seen that production and it’s definitely a mind trip. Having the Big Bad Wolf in full frontal the entire time would be enough to traumatize any kid. But don’t worry, Disney is here to sanitize it for the movie version so that no one ever again knows what it’s really supposed to be about.

  16. LOL picturing the composer fanboy wars being akin to the bloods vs. crips made my day ha ha ha. Thanks MaggieMayPie.

  17. I don’t know anything about Sondheim other than having seen that movie, so I’m not in a position to attack him. But I can’t imagine a world where those SWEENY TODD songs weren’t a chore. They sound like they were exceptionally difficult to write and sing, so I suppose it’s appropriate that they’re equally difficult to listen to.

    Of course, the only Broadway musical I’ve ever seen was CATS (worst thing ever) so what do I know? I’m like a football analyst trying to judge ballet. Not my specialty.

  18. I remember when Sasha Baron Cohen was cast in SWEENEY TODD, one yellow press shit paper wrote that he would rap his songs, instead of sing and of course there was a huge outcry (Although that papaer was known for lying. I think it was THE SUN.).

    Then I saw the movie and noticed that most of the songs consisted of very fast talking anyway and I wondered what that outcry was all about.

  19. My last post got me to thinking how long before a gang movie/musical mashup happens? yeah yeah West Side Story but how long ago was that?

    Someone should write a musical about gangs made up of musical composer fanboys. Similar to that one SOUTH PARK episode where Randy Marsh fights Stephen Sondheim but with fans. It would be like THE WARRIORS. You could even have the Andrew LLoyd Webber gang wear Phantom of the Opera masks and capes.

  20. Majestyk, when CATS hit some milestone, like 5,000 shows, SNL did a joke on the Weekend Update saying it was also the 5,000th time a husband turned to his wife and said, “What the hell is this?!” Sure, it’s a tad sexist, but the idea of doing a musical based on a book of poems with people dressed up like cats gathering to sing and dance while waiting to be chosen to ascend to heaven or space or whatever in a magical garbage can spaceship is beyond bonkers. It was the 80s, man.

  21. I liked the songs in The Wicker Man, was that a musical? Everyone bursts into song at the same time. I remember the musical numbers in The Cotton Club being pretty good.

  22. We had this discussion about musicals last year. Vern reviews one musical a year, we all get nostalgic for the ones we liked. I usually wouldn’t go out of my way to see a musical unless(to paraphrase Majestyk) “it comes with a side order of stabbing”. I’ve avoided JERSEY BOYS thus far and I might see it on dvd, but I think I’ll check out STAGE FRIGHT.

    Also, THE WIZARD OF OZ is still the best musical/horror film ever made.

  23. Talking about Trey Parker and Matt Stone: Their first feature film was CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL which they sold to Troma.
    Totally forgot about that one.

  24. “Interesting enough: I just learned from another review that Melanie Leishman from TODD & THE BOOK OF PURE EVIL is actually in this movie here!”

    That, plus the review is enough for me to check out this movie.

  25. The BUFFY musical episode worked, because in additional to the songs being well done, the plot was they were literally doing all this because of a Demon’s spell, so there’s some fun had with their awareness that they’re in a musical, and it also furthered some plots as characters remembered what they heard when secrets are revealed.

    XENA had a couple of musical episodes too, with the first one “The Bitter Suite” being interesting in it coming at a point when Xena and Gabrielle wanted to literally kill each other, and it dealing with their reconciliation.

  26. The Original Paul

    July 12th, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    Stu – see I was thinking of that as well (the Buffy musical, I mean). But it’s not horror. It’s mostly played for laughs, with a little character development at the end. I think there’s only one death in it, and that’s so ridiculous (guy literally dances himself to death, “Moonwalker”-style) that it’s less menacing than surreal.

    New releases at the multiplex this week? “Tammy” and “Begin Again”. I might be tempted to see the latter, it’s had some good reviews, plus last year two of the best films that I saw were unconventional rom-coms, so what do you do. I’ve checked the “upcoming releases” section of my local multiplex. No sign of “Stage Fright” or “Snowpiercer”, but there are no less than THREE upcoming films about young women who get superpowers via various random occurrances. Uuurgh…

    On the unrelated horror front, can I also take this opportunity to recommend “Oculus” to those who haven’t seen it (or read my write-up of it in the forums). It’s got some major pacing and plotting issues, but those don’t take away from the fact that it’s also a really well-directed and well-acted claustrophobic horror piece that stuck with me a long time after I’d left the cinema. Definitely worth seeing if you’re into slow-burn horror. It also stars the female leads from both “Doctor Who” and “Battlestar Galactica”, so if you ever wanted to see Karen Gillam and Katee Sakhoff work together, now’s your chance (although they never actually share any screen time). At present “Oculus” is in its last week at my local multiplex, and I assume it’s similarly situated elsewhere in the UK at least. So if you happen to be in a place where it’s showing, go see it. Sorry for the completely off-topic recommendation there.

    And if any of you UK guys have any idea where I can actually see “Stage Fright”, at least without having to wait for a Region 2 DVD that may never come out, I’d be grateful to hear it.

  27. Jareth Cutestory

    July 13th, 2014 at 8:40 am

    Does the WILLY WONKA count as a musical? How about THE BLUES BROTHERS? God I love THE BLUES BROTHERS.

    Majestyk: Put WEST SIDE STORY between THE NIGHT PORTER and SALO on your list of Important Films A Bunch Of Assholes On The Internet Think I Should See Before I Die. Maybe when you’re a retired old melon farmer you can enjoy WEST SIDE STORY as a fantasy about a future dystopia where kids were never allowed to hear hip hop. And then Renda will show up and pull you back into the shit.

    Not a fan of GREASE? Neither am I, but I just figured that wasn’t something we were allowed to say in public. People are always making excuses for that film.

    Also, 42nd STREET is worth watching for the dialogue and hilarious choreography.

    By the way, I took your advice and watched FIREFLY, followed by a second viewing of SERENITY. It was incredibly enjoyable. Thanks for talking it up.

  28. I saw WEST SIDE STORY in school. It was better than gym class, I guess.

    Never seen GREASE. Shocking, I know, but I am not nor have I ever been an 11-year-old white girl, so I think my story checks out.

    My favorite old musical is easily SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS, which I have talked up before. It’s got a great opening song, a rockin’ brawl, and the rapiest plot this side of OVERBOARD.

  29. Don’t know how I forgot THE BLUES BROTHERS. Some of the best use of classic R&B ever. OK so between THE BLUES BROTHERS and LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS there are 2 live action musicals that are solidified in my eyes. That’s 2 more than I ever expected.

  30. The Coen brothers said something along the lines that they consider O BROTHER to be a musical. I think that would be along the same vein as BLUES BROTHERS. Both great movies with the music playing a big part.

  31. O BROTHER was definitely the Coens version of a musical, via Homers Odyssey.

  32. I own 3 versions of LES MIS and 3 versions of HALLOWEEN so maybe this is for me…

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