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Film Review: ‘Stage Fright’

This horror musical has about 20 comically inspired minutes before devolving into increasingly moribund genre-spoofing territory.

With:
Allie MacDonald, Meat Loaf, Minnie Driver, Douglas Smith, Brandon Uranowitz, Thomas Alderson.

There are a good 20 minutes of genuine comic inspiration in Jerome Sable’s “Stage Fright,” a horror musical that essentially imagines what a “Glee” summer-camp episode would look like if crashed by a masked serial killer. Unfortunately, those 20 minutes all appear in the film’s first 30, leaving an additional hour of increasingly moribund genre jabs as the movie plods toward the finish with the needle in the red. Just clever enough at the beginning to register as a real disappointment by the end, the pic could nonetheless attract a small cult on VOD.

Though it features moderately amusing supporting turns from Minnie Driver and Meat Loaf, “Stage Fright” centers on Allie MacDonald and Douglas Smith as orphan siblings Camilla and Buddy. The two have muddled through life as Dickensian live-in kitchen workers at the Center Stage performing-arts summer camp, run by the mustachioed ex-Broadway producer Roger (Meat Loaf), who still carries a torch for the kids’ mother (Driver), a prima donna murdered in her dressing room years ago.

Boasting a hidden singing talent, Camilla sneaks into camp auditions and manages to win a leading role in the centerpiece production, “The Haunting of the Opera,” which was coincidentally her late mother’s last role. While she deals with side-eyes from her pampered castmates and dodges the slimy attentions of director Artie (Brandon Uranowitz), ominous incidents around the grounds grow more and more frequent, and soon enough the camp starts filling with bodies.

From here on out, the entire enterprise falls apart. The music ceases to amuse — the decision to give the anonymous, guitar-wielding killer a batch of half-tunes styled on screechy ’80s hair metal is a particularly disastrous one — the bloody killings prove jokey and dull, and whatever flashes of directorial audacity Sable displayed in the beginning are discarded for a purely functional shooting style.

Most frustratingly, the film rarely manages to meld its two parent genres at all, with musical-theater pastiche dominating the early going, and straight slasher pastiche taking over around the halfway point, and rarely the twain do meet. Horror fans will surely spot all sorts of callbacks to vintage grindhouse trash cinema — the musical-theater references are mostly limited to the fake show posters that adorn the camp’s mess hall — but there have to be more than a dozen tongue-in-cheek “Friday the 13th” homages that have done this with far more wit and intelligence.

Songs by Sable and collaborator Eli Batalion are diverting enough when they hew close to the Andrew Lloyd Webberisms of the material they’re sending up, but too often the lyrics resort to easy punchlines aimed at obvious targets. Lead actress MacDonald proves nicely adept with her spotlight solos, however, and the sound work is all well handled, which is no small feat for a musical produced on a budget.

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Film Review: 'Stage Fright'

Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (Midnighters), March 12, 2014. MPAA rating: R. Running time: 89 MIN.

Production: A Magnet Releasing presentation of a Serendipity Point Films production in association with Citizen Jones, XYZ Films. Produced by Ari Lantos, Jonas Bell Pasht. Executive producer, Mark Musselman.

Crew: Directed, written by Jerome Sable. Camera (color), Bruce Chun; editors, Nicholas Musurka, Christopher Donaldson, Lisa Grootenboer; music and lyrics, Sable, Eli Batalion; production designer, Oleg Savytski; costume designer, Michael Ground; sound, Joe Barrucco; re-recording mixers, Barrucco, Alan de Graaf, Mike Woroniuk; assistant director, Jesse Daniel Glass; casting, John Buchan, Jason Knight, Bernard Telsey, Tiffany Little Canfield.

With: Allie MacDonald, Meat Loaf, Minnie Driver, Douglas Smith, Brandon Uranowitz, Thomas Alderson.

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