A Frankenstein’s monster of intentional camp, Stage Fright stitches together a cutesy musical and a middling slasher movie; corny theater-kid gags (posters for Les Producerables and Arkansas!, references to “an all-drag Stephen Schwartz revue”) alternate with spurts of blood. When musical genre parodies work—as in the case of Phantom Of The Paradise or The Rocky Horror Picture Show—it’s because they embrace excess. Here, however, as with many readymade cult items, the main draw is the unlikelihood of the juxtaposition rather than its effectiveness.
Stage Fright opens on a high note (excuse the wordplay), with a gory murder set backstage at the premiere of a musical called The Haunting Of The Opera. The fake-out opening, in which a stabbing is revealed to be part of the show, brings to mind Dario Argento’s underrated Opera, as does the use of Steadicam later in the scene. Argento’s heightened murder-as-aria style seems like an obvious model for a slasher musical. Unfortunately, this prologue also turns out to be a fake-out, because writer-director-composer Jerome Sable is more interested in emulating the flatter American slasher films of the 1980s, and less concerned with intersecting music and murder than with periodically following one with the other.
The story picks up 10 years later, at Center Stage, a summer theater camp run by Roger McCall (Meat Loaf), one-time producer of The Haunting Of The Opera. Center Stage’s staff includes Camilla (Allie MacDonald) and Buddy Swanson (Douglas Smith), the children of the actress murdered on Haunting’s opening night. When the camp announces a revival of the musical set in feudal Japan as its summer centerpiece, Camilla auditions, landing the role once played by her mother. Predictably, people soon start turning up dead.
Stage Fright has a weakness for predictability; it practically revels in it. Sable and Eli Batalion’s lyrics are heavy on delayed rhyming punchlines, the bread and butter of hacky musical comedy. The characters are a mixture of stock characters and backstage stereotypes: the sleazy, pretentious director; the lisping moppet; the rising diva. Though its throwaway references are occasionally funny, the movie ends up failing as a parody of the slasher film, because it merely repeats and references the genre’s conventions without subverting them. Regardless of context or comedic intent, a mediocre slasher movie is just that.