I told some friends that there was a comedy-horror-musical mash-up at the Sydney Film Festival and was politely relegated to seeing this one on my own. ‘Stage Fright’ is an acquired taste, a film one could relish for one or more of three reasons and otherwise best avoided at the peril of a confusing, disjointed genre mash-up which can best be described as a combination of Phantom of the Opera, Scary Movie and Glee.
Camilla Swanson (Allie MacDonald) and her brother are young kitchen-hands at a musical theatre camp where every year hordes of pretentious children come together to stage a musical. Their boss/guardian Roger McCall (Meatloaf) took them in ten years earlier after their mother (Minnie Driver) was stabbed to death by a mysterious masked phantom on the opening night of ‘Haunting of the Opera.’ The kids decide to stage a revival of the musical when a mysterious rock ‘n roll specter begins to haunt the camp and pick off nasty students while the survivors, including star Camilla, prep for opening night.
It’s what it sounds, and there’s three reasons to go see it, or not.
A. Genre Mash-up
For those who like original experimental productions this may be just the thing for you with a relatively unique combination of genres prevalent throughout the film. In something reminiscent of Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog (or for any who had the good fortune to see the staged version of Re-animator: The Musical) ‘Stage Fright’ blends gory themes and action with hoppy music to alleviate the tension of macabre acts of butchery like seeing someone repeatedly stabbed in the face. It makes strong violence, something that would otherwise seem excessive and gratuitous, an act of comic terror and delight. It helps when the guy committing these heinous acts does so to progressive 80’s rock on a six-string topped with a steak knife between the frets ready to go.
It is graphic and there are genuinely frightening moments but ‘Stage Fright’ is more akin to the second half of Cabin in the Woods where everyone has kind of cottoned on to the joke and you can sit back and enjoy yourself.
B. Pretentious wannabe Idina Menzels
If you’ve ever worked on a staged production, or a musical, or even a short film, you have likely encountered them. You know who I’m talking about, whether its actors, creative, crew, whomever, there are many who believe that they are not so much better and more eclectically talented than their peers but that the very production is graced to have them and their radiant genius shine on the tattered mess that was this play before they arrived.
‘Stage Fright’ really plays this up; the Director of the show envisions in no uncertain terms that a postmodern version of ‘Haunting of the Opera’ set in feudal Japan will really bring out the truth of the characters. Camp ringleader (who while having a character name is perhaps best referred to as Veruca Salt) undermines Camilla at every turn including attempting a fateful Carrie-esque red paint incident to ensure she gets the lead role in the production.
The Stage Manager takes his job way to seriously and if like me you’ve been involved in production crews or revues or theatre of any kind you’re going to appreciate the none too subtle competition between the characters and all-enveloping personalities of the most obnoxious children. There is a scene where they debate whether it is right to cancel the play following the death of a key crew member; for those who have experienced the drama before an opening night this barely registers as parody.
C. Meatloaf is in a film. Seriously.
I am a Meatloaf fan, and I am not alone. I saw him when he came to Sydney in 2011, my friends wanted to cancel their tickets along with many others after they heard him sing at the Grand Final, but I convinced them to come along with me. And we had fun, there’s nothing like 10,000 people screaming out Bat out of Hell being lead on by the man himself.
For those of you who are Meatloaf fans and stuck it out with the aging artist you will thoroughly enjoy seeing him in a feature role. Even if his voice has diminished and his singing scenes are few, it is a pleasure to watch the man perform.
I would recommend you see ‘Stage Fright’ if you can tick at least two of the three boxes, otherwise you will be very frustrated and in a perpetual state of confusion, much like the characters in this film. This movie doesn’t go by the traditional ABCs of film-making, it makes its own, and if you’re like me and tick all three boxes then go and have some toe-tapping fun.