Posts Tagged ‘Stage Fright’

Stage Fright (2014)

October 31, 2017

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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Stage Fright (1987)

October 31, 2017

90 minutes – Unrated but definitely Rated R for violence, brief nudity, language, and attrocious theater acting.

Stage fright is actually probably my biggest reoccurring fear. Talking in front of people is intimidating for many reasons. The least of those reasons is actually a fear of judgment. I do fear what some others might think when my ideas and personality are coming out of me in real-time. Nobody wants to say the wrong thing to the wrong group of people and feel that negative energy in response. A bigger fear for me is that I might screw up an look foolish which is related to the first fear but a little bit different. Most people are actually forgiving when it comes to verbal flubs or forgotten memorization so it is a somewhat unreasonable fear but it is that fear that keeps our concentration on point. The real fear is of the spotlight. I really do not like it when too many people pay attention to me. As an introvert, that sort of things is draining like being the only one under the desert sun. In a way, I fear success. If I succeed, I will have to do it again. As I have gotten older, I have gotten better at speaking in public and shaking off the fear.

I remember being a theater kid as an isolating experience. Theater is a collaborative art form but you are only collaborative with the other people working on the show you are working on. You spend time together during rehearsals but each person is fulfilling their role so there is not much time for socializing. I started on the crew which feels even more isolating because I spent a lot of time watching the show from an enclosed booth alone or with another person. When I joined the stage management team, there was a lot of time spent alone before or after rehearsals getting the rest of the work done. Time spent sweeping or putting tape on the floor in a completely empty and eerie rehearsal space. More than anything, the theater experience separated me from the world around me. Even when I went out into the real world, it felt alien. Non-theater classes felt different and strange and it was nearly impossible to make friends outside of the make believe fantasy world of theater.

This movie is about a theater group that is trying to put on a production about a masked killer. Unfortunately, there is also a real masked killer walking around. The movie is very eighties with new wave beats and a sweet saxophone. The makeup and costumes are clearly very eighties as well. The show is also supposed to be ‘edgy’ and ‘avant-garde’ which is usually code for ‘too up its own butt’ or ‘just plain bad’ for me. That is fine, I get to sit through the movie and not the play they are making. The movie has great production values. Lighting stands out above everything as everything is lit so well. I’m not sure how intentional it is, but every shot looks very much like theater lighting. Everything is a little too crisp, a little too bright which actually works for this movie especially since most of it takes place in a theater anyway. A new wave/synth soundtrack is very much in line with a lot of horror movies of its day. I also really liked the special effects of the inevitable violence.  They are spot on and beautifully done. Each death is theatrical without being too over the top.

In this movie, we meet probably the world’s cattiest theater group. I have worked with several theater groups and most of them are fairly chill even during crunch time. These people are constantly sniping at each other. In my experience, you were unlucky to get one of these people on your cast but this show has pretty much an entire cast full of unreasonable people. None of them stand out but that is only because none of them are famous and they are equally good at setting up a playground for the killer to play in. The killer is largely silent but he is using the old faithful tool of the slasher film: a mask. Like most, the mask seems silly at first but the killer really makes it work for him. Once the action starts, the cast’s collective IQ drops and death is imminent. While I wish death on nobody, these Halloween months have taught me that they can really try to make it easier to watch people get killed. Watching people lose their minds with fear is really fascinating, at least in this movie.

Overall, I liked this movie. While some parts dragged a bit, there was never a shortage of action. The movie follows two Italian traditions that I am barely familiar with. It is a combination of the Giallo and Italian Horror subgenres. However, it did not feel so simple as that. The movie starts as a slasher movie but the last third of the film becomes more slowly paced and is much more of a tense thriller. While the acting may not be top notch, its melodramatic air definitely makes for a good change of pace for a horror movie.


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