Gleeful murder

Meat Loaf and a camp full of teens make musical mayhem together

Who wouldn’t want to see a movie where clones of the weenie kids from Glee get horrifically butchered? I’m sure ardent Glee fans would too so long as the accompanying film is a musical. It’s one of those genres that encourage rabid irrational devotion in fans and total indifference for anyone else. (Also see: theatre performance art etc.) Indeed whatever else Stage Fright might be — a slick inventive gorefest a clumsy whodunit — it’s a wall-to-wall gleeful collection of tunes the meta-sort that likes to comment on itself and revel in irony. Jazz hands!

The film opens with a baroque and greasy musical number featuring a masked killer stabbing an opera singer to death. But wait! It’s all part of the show a rousing Phantom of the Opera -esque clone called The Haunting of the Opera . And wait — is that Minnie Driver? Meat Loaf? What’s happening here?

Kylie (Driver) sings her heart out to stirring accolades only to be brutally murdered by another masked killer. (For real this time.) The film skips ahead 10 years where we meet Kylie’s daughter Camilla (Allie MacDonald) working at a musical summer camp called Centre Stage. The film kicks into musical high gear the sort that’s part talking part tunes. The dorky kids sing “Centre Stage where nobody calls us names!” and one counsellor proclaims “I’m gay but not in that way!” — as in musicals are gay but not y’know him. The singing ranges from generally bad (all of the kids) to great (Meat Loaf; Bat out of Hell for life).

Each year the camp prepares a lavish production of a famous musical in the hopes of landing a lucrative run on Broadway. This year camp producer (or director; it isn’t made clear) Roger (Meat Loaf) has tastelessly decided on the same musical Phantom rip-off. As the campers become obsessed with the show the typical jealousies and problems arise. There’s also a masked killer lurking in the shadows and campers begin to get dispatched in variously gory and creative ways. Who could it be — Meat Loaf’s ambitious producer? A camper jilted by losing an audition? Maybe it’s the creepy janitor who enjoys silently leering at the teenagers?

Who cares? It doesn’t really matter; these movies are all in the execution. Turgid plot complications aside what Stage Fright does it does relatively well. It doesn’t skimp on the gore murdering the doomed teens with inspired sadism. Though it’s not a direct remake of Michele Soavi’s ’80s giallo Stage Fright it has a lot in common with that Italian slasher favourite loaded with sordid sex a masked killer unintentional humour hidden identities and motives.

Mercifully everyone seems to be on the joke; Meat Loaf was born for this kind of role exuding perfectly timed choreographed seductive sleaze and even Driver has a lot of fun (briefly) hamming it up before she gets a knife in the gullet. Director Jerome Sable finds an effective balance between ’80s camp movie and slick bumbling horror flick filling the screen with claustrophobic spaces tinged with amber light and deep shadows.

Comedic horror musicals are a rare rare beast and Stage Fright ’s emblematic of why the genre (is there one?) is so problematic — too campy and goofy to be scary; too dark and gory to be more than lightly inspired joke. When it’s working however it’s smart and mockingly funny much more so than it appears often pausing for truly bizarre and weirdly dark moments that resemble a Slipknot video shot in soft focus. The hilarious and strange bits are fantastic; there just aren’t enough of them.

Easily the best part of the flick appropriately is the kabuki-masked killer heightening his “performance” with hyper laughs and cock rock-inspired throaty yelping. Now there’s a movie I’d watch for 90 minutes.

STAGE FRIGHT directed by Jerome Sable starring Minnie Driver Meat Loaf and Allie MacDonald opens on Friday May 9.