Stage Fright (2014)

“I’m going to reinvent the entire production and cover it with a postmodern face.”

So says Artie Getz (Brandon Uranowitz), a pretentious director of musical theatre brought into Center Stage Camp to get their latest production noticed by Broadway before the camp’s manager Roger McCall (Meat Loaf) is overtaken by debt. What Artie has in mind is revamping The Haunting of the Opera (already itself a postmodern pastiche of Phantom of the Opera, and with a story that mirrors the film’s overall plot) into a kabuki musical set in feudal Japan. It is an idea no less inherently preposterous than dressing all the tropes and cliches of (teehee) camp horror in the guise of a full-blown comedy musical. Which is to say that Stage Fright reinvents hoary genre through witty libretto (both on and off stage), and never stops reflecting upon its own artifice – in the postmodern way.

The camp’s kitchen help Camilla Swanson (Allie MacDonald) craves the limelight and will do anything for the lead part in The Haunting of the Opera, even if, ten years earlier, her mother Kylie (Minnie Driver) was murdered on the opening night of the same production. Meanwhile a (kabuki-)masked, deathmetal-playing figure is slicing and dicing his way through cast and crew – and with seemingly every male on set wanting a piece of Camilla, the identity of the killer may not come to light until the fat lady sings.

Stage Fright mashes the gory whodunnit set-pieces of every slasher you’ve ever seen with the let’s-put-on-a-show glee of, well, Glee, while throwing in easter-egg allusions to, inter alia, Psycho and Carrie. In a film world full of unoriginality, director Jerome Sable and his co-writer Eli Batalion have found themselves a schtick. Their much-celebrated short The Legend of Beaver Dam (2010) was also a musical comedy and a spoof of ossified genre gestures – and while this approach perhaps feels a little stretched when revived for feature length, it certainly represents an individual, new voice in horror, if not an entire chorus of voices. Some viewers may share the masked murderer’s (sung) views on the film’s adopted form (“Shut your fucking face!/Your musicals are full of shit!/Every single day/you people make me sick!”), but in the polyphony of layered ironies to be found here, every viewer ought to be able to find at least one tune to which they can happily sing along.

Anton Bitel