So it is with State Fright, a horror/musical which premiered this March at South by Southwest, got a video-on-demand release in April, and finally received a limited theatrical release in May.
Stage Fright was not my choice, so I had not heard of it. If I had, I might have been turned off by the general reception to the film, which, according to Wikipedia was not good. Rotten Tomatoes gives it an aggregate score of 33%, and while I guess that doesn't surprise me, I found it pretty enjoyable.
Stage Fright begins with possibly my favorite "based on real events" disclaimer ever: "The film you are about to see is based on a true story. The names have been changed to protect the innocent, but the musical numbers are presented exactly as they occurred." The film opens in a theater, after a brilliant performance of The Haunting of the Opera. Kylie Swanson (Minnie Driver--who gets top billing in spite of maybe four minutes of screen time) takes her final bow, and returns to the dressing room to remove her makeup. An actor dressed as the Opera Ghost brutally murders her, and the subtitles transport us to "TEN YEARS LATER."
Kylie's daughter, Camilla, now works as a cook at musical theater summer camp. The camp is run by Roger McCall (Meat Loaf), whose career as a theatrical producer took a nosedive the night Kylie Swanson died and his production of Haunting crashed. Hoping to return to Broadway, McCall announces that this year's production will be The Haunting of the Opera, and Camilla, hoping to do her mother proud, auditions for the lead role of Sophia. The director of the show is enamored of her, and she wins the role, much to the surprise and annoyance of the other campers--she is the kitchen help, after all. The part is also awarded to the camp's top soprano, Liz. It's unclear which is to be the star, and which is to be the understudy.
Camilla has no stage experience, but she's a natural, and the director, Artie, pits Camilla and Liz against each other, dangling the impending opening night performance in front of them in an attempt to sleep with both of them. Camilla refuses, but she gets the stage anyway because a Broadway agent will be in the audience on opening night, and he wants to see the daughter of the great Kylie Swanson perform.
Which is too bad because when the curtain goes up, the Opera Ghost makes a reprise of his Big Night from a decade ago, discreetly slicing and dicing his way through cast and crew on his way to Camilla. He's very careful to hide his activities--the show must go on.
Glancing over my summary, I realize that I haven't really addressed the fact that this is a musical comedy. There are a lot of jokes and a lot of musical numbers, and it's fantastic; the people involved know the material they're lampooning better than most of their intended audience does. The songs are catchy, well-presented, and full of clever jabs at well-known stage musicals. I was very pleased because there are more horror musicals than you might expect, and the music is usually pretty mediocre.
The horror isn't bad, either. It's a slasher film, which isn't really my genre, but it's gory and the story works, which is about as much as you can ask from that kind of movie.
All in all, I liked Stage Fright a lot, and I'm not sure why the critics gave it such a lukewarm reception. It's short, it's light, it's fun--what's not to like?1
Here's the trailer.
1The answer is the Opera Ghost's songs, which are all screamy, crappy speed metal which again, is not my thing. Luckily, there's not much of it, and it makes for a good joke during the end credits.