Hello ladies and gentlemen, Muldoon here with a tiny thought jot on a rather fun film: Jerome Sable's operatic horror flick STAGE FRIGHT. Now all cards on the table, this year's SXSW has been packed to the brim with all sorts of curve balls, programing that seems to be more my speed than past line ups, so right off the bat I've got to give some lovely kudos to the SXSW programmers. While every year it gets bigger and bigger, it's refreshing to see the programming still remain top-notch.
Yesterday, I got off work and immediately hauled ass to the Marchesa to catch whatever they had showing at the 7:00PM slot. I arrived to find out it was STAGE FRIGHT. So that's all the info I had going into this thing. "Muldoon, don't you check a film's synopsis before devoting 90 minutes of your life to a flick?" Nope. So with that blissful ignorance, I was strapped in and ready for whatever would come my way. "Holy hell." What followed was an hour and a half of pure enjoyment, a cheese soufflé of fun. (Warning: If you're looking for spoilers/a play by play - you won't find them here.)
It's a rather generic setup:
Starry-eyed teenager Camilla Swanson wants to follow in her mother's footsteps and become a Broadway diva, but she's stuck working in the kitchen of a snobby performing arts camp. Determined to change her destiny, she sneaks in to audition for the summer showcase and lands a lead role in the play, but just as rehearsals begin, blood starts to spill, and Camilla soon finds herself terrified by the horror of musical theatre.
So the ol' "Tragedy struck ten years ago on this exact same day, same play, same everything..." Seems like a yawner, right? Nope. Somehow Sable's been able to dance that delicate line of giving us what we've seen before, but in a whole new way - a way that's utterly enjoyable. The film's lead "Camilla" (played by the ever so lovely Allie MacDonald) is the perfect conduit for us to experience what being on that stage must be like, what running from a psychopathic killer wearing a mask must feel like, and what being at the beck and call of a sleazy director must feel like. She makes us feel. So in an odd compliment, it really didn't seem like anyone was calling it in on this film. That level of solid performances doesn't stop with the young leads, but carries right over to Meatloaf (The producer who's hungry to get back on top) and Minnie Driver (in a role that's slightly larger than a cameo). Everyone brings their A-game and it shows. At first glance, once my brain made the connection of "Muldoon, that's freaking Minnie Driver on screen and she's letting them have their horrorish way with her" I was confused at why an actress of her level would do a horror musical like this. Welp, she clearly trusted Sable and company, rolled the dice, and I think secured her a spot in a future cult classic. Now, clearly films like ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW or REPO: THE GENETIC OPERA come to mind when you hear this is a "horror musical" and that's fair, but as I watched, I couldn't shake films like VALENTINE, CAMP NOWHERE, and SCREAM out of my head (along with a healthy serving of TODD AND THE BOOK OF PURE EVIL).
The humor is on point and consistently delivers that "out of left field" style double punch, where just as you think "oh, I get it" boom! they smack you with a quick double tap of funny, kind of like what COMMUNITY does (INCEPTION with jokes). That's what separates this film from the rest; there are so many moments that go that one extra step that really seal the deal. In the hands of a lesser director (or lesser cast for that matter), this film would've been a flat "isn't that funny... no need to watch that again" one off, but instead what you get is a melodic blend of gore, music, and whimsical fun. Would I drop $9.00 to see this thing in theaters? Yep. Great date movie with a dash of something for everyone - a rarity.
The film screens at 11:15 at the Ritz (Second screen) today - Wednesday - if you're in town for SXSW. If not, have no fear - the folks at Magnet swooped this puppy up and are releasing it on iTunes April 3rd and in theaters May 9th. In case it's not obvious, I highly recommend checking it out!
- Mike McCutchen