Stage Fright (2014)

82 minutes – Rated R for blood, violence, sexual situations, music, and Meat Loaf.

I have worked in theaters that I thought at the time were haunted. For years, I worked for free at the Fells Point Corner Theater. The building is an old fire station that was converted to use as a community theater in an old part of Baltimore. As such, the brick building was quite old. In the rear of the building, there was a set of ancient stairs that were never lit but were the fastest way to get from the third floor to the second floor out of view of the audience. I would walk through almost perfect darkness and I imagined ghosts very near me every time. There was also the rehearsal space in college called The Little Theater which was rumored to have been haunted by a woman named Jane who used to manage the building. People claimed she was the reason behind the radiators always being set too high. They also said that mysteriously curtains would be drawn by ghostly hands. People in theater are superstitious anyway so these sorts of things easily caught on. I never met a ghost but I believed they were there.

The combination of the horror and the musical genres seems to be a bit strange at first glance. However, there is a long history of horror musicals. The very first stage musical I ever saw was Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. That show scared the heck out of me as a little boy because it was so tense and there were some great scares including the infamous chandelier crash and an onstage hanging. In the Venn diagram of horror and musicals, the part of horror that often does not overlap is a little thing called subtlety. Musicals are big and presentational and do not often leave room for subtle, psychological horror. That is why most of the horror musicals I have seen have leaned hard into the more darkly comic elements of horror. Little Shop of Horrors is a great example, embracing the goofy B movie elements horror and science fiction used to have at the time. More recently, Evil Dead: The Musical captures the campy nature of a classic horror/comedy/action series of movies. The scares are not exactly scary but there is a gruesome creepiness pervading the whole thing.

The movie stars Allie McDonald, who is great as a young Broadway hopeful working at a performing arts summer camp who wants to get noticed. She is instantly likable and I wanted to see this young ingenue succeed. She is the daughter of a Broadway legend who is played by Minnie Driver. The head of the camp is played by Meat Loaf himself, a veteran of movie musical/horror mashups. McDonald’s twin brother is played by Douglas Smith, who is just trying to work for the camp in an effort to save and move on with his life. The three of them are backed up by a goofy gang of misfits and downtrodden kids who go to summer camp in order to have a place where they will not be picked on. The singing is absolutely great but what really sells are the clever and dark lyrics from the songs. Even songs that are supposed to be happy end up being touched by the horror. The musical within a musical is The Haunting of the Opera and they make that parody/tribute very clear. There are also a ton of references to other musicals and the culture that surrounds theater. Also, harkening back to my youth, there is definitely a clash between musicals and heavy metal.

Of course, this is still a horror film and while there is kind of a slow burn, it does get to the horror part along with the musical part. The movie sets up a good ratcheting tension until something has to give and then it gives. The movie has great tributes to movies like Sleepaway Camp, Friday the 13th, and (maybe unintentionally) the 1987 version of Stage Fright. The special effects on the kills are great. While a lot of it is computer generated, it was very well done. The deaths are creative and they really went in directions that I was not suspecting. After watching so many horror movies (30 so far this October alone) it is really neat to still be surprised and entertained. What I loved the best about the horror aspects actually was that it was a mystery. I kept trying to figure out who the killer was and my list kept growing instead of shrinking. I love a good mystery especially when the movie does a good job of not giving the way ending. (An ending I won’t give away here either).

Overall, I loved this movie. It was way more clever and fun than I thought it was going to be and I came in with some decent expectations. Maybe it is my history with theater or maybe it is my love of dark humor and horror but this ended up being a really great movie for me. I laughed a lot during this movie which is a great way to officially end this yearly challenge to myself. The movie is goofy and silly but then it takes nosedives into the realm of horror only to come up for breath again.

(Alright, consider this a curtain call for Halloween 2017. I really enjoyed this year even more than last year. I think I am getting better at selecting movies that I think that I will enjoy versus movies that I feel I have to cover because they are iconic. While this post kind of wraps things up, I have a tiny encore on Thursday. Now, I am off to go watch Fright Night (1985) at my cousin’s house which will officially make 31 horror movies. Break a leg this Halloween and stay safe!)

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