A musical/slasher-movie combo sounds like heaven, but debuting writer-director Jerome Sable never quite fulfills his clear ambitions with "Stage Fright." Oh, he certainly is on the right track, what with full-blown song-and-dance numbers splittingand, in some cases, sharingtime with scenes of a masked killer slicing up a performing arts summer camp. One part 2003's "Camp
," another part 1980's "Friday the 13th
," the film forever plays as if it's on the verge of breaking out. The dumpy script, however, gets in the way. The core whodunit mystery is lame and predictable. The characters (save for perhaps the female protagonist) are either uninspired stereotypes or so misused that their physical appearance stands in as their sole personality trait. The sky was the limit on how Sable could have taken advantage of his setting, his untapped ensemble, and his genres of choice, but the outcome fails to deliver as one hopes. Sometimes humorously biting but never genuinely scary, "Stage Fright" goes about its business with a modicum of stylistic pizzazz. What it doesn't do is give the viewer a convincing reason to care.
Ten years ago, famed actress Kylie Swanson (Minnie Driver) was brutally murdered backstage after a performance of her musical "The Haunting of the Opera." Now, her two children, Camilla (Allie MacDonald) and Buddy (Douglas Smith), work as lowly cooks at a summer camp called Center Stage run by her former business associate Roger McCall (Meat Loaf Aday). When smarmy director Artie Getz (Brandon Uranowitz) announces that this year's limelight production will be a revival of "The Haunting of the Opera" set in feudal Japan, Camilla experiences a deep desire to walk in her mom's footsteps and try out for the lead role. She wins the partalbeit alongside the shameless Liz Silver (Melanie Leishman)but as opening night looms and Camilla is faced with the unfair politics involved with getting ahead, a singing psychopath in a kabuki mask sets out to paint Center Stage blood red.
"Stage Fright" is not without its charms, from a satirical opening song as campgoers with a flair for the dramatic announce their arrival, to a murder set-piece where the killer vocally mimics the beat of the tune being simultaneously played on stage. The spare parts should join together in blissful, grisly, off-center tandem, but the writing outside of the music and lyrics by Jerome Sable and Eli Battalion feels like that of a first draft. Allie MacDonald (2012's "House at the End of the Street
") is a sympathetic enough heroine (even if her supposedly great voice is questionable), but she gets no support from half-formed supporting co-stars and a plot that wants to be silly and taken seriously all at once. Tension is lighter than it should be as the third act arrives, leading to that old, unreliable Talking Villain Syndrome where the culprit is unmasked and then spends more than a couple minutes explaining his/her motives. Anyone in search of a more confident, soulful croon-and-shock horror indie need not look any further than actor-turned-director Vincent D'Onofrio's 2011 opus "Don't Go in the Woods
." For an enthusiast of horror and Broadway like myself, it is disappointing to root for "Stage Fright" and keep getting let down by the scattershot results.