Ten years ago, Kylie Swanson (Minnie Driver) was a star of musical theatre, and headlining the international success of The Haunting of the Opera, a musical with a horror theme. She came off stage one night walking on air at the reception she had been awarded, and in the dressing room her two children were waiting to congratulate her, as was her manager, Roger McCall (Meat Loaf). Kylie gave her daughter Carmilla her autograph on a photograph and ushered the kids out so she could see about changing, but once she thought she was alone, the actor who played the masked villain of the show crept up behind her and embraced her. She was flattered, but did not realise he wasn't who she thought he was - this was a genuine villain, and he had a knife!
Although there had been horror movies with strong music themes before, none too many had gone quite as far with the concept as Canadian director Jerome Sable did with Stage Fright, not the most original of titles but one which was undeniably apt as it married the very distinctive style of operatic musicals with the equally operatic (though less musical) style of grand guignol. He was yet another filmmaker who came of age in the early twenty-first century to credit John Carpenter as an influence, and here you could see the blatant Halloween tribute in the slasher form, but also the sense of humour that he had displayed over his canon, and was perhaps underrated when it was the suspense and action Carpenter was most admired for.
So if you appreciated bloody shocks, trilling singing and daft, irreverent humour in a Big Trouble in Little China fashion, which admittedly was a Venn diagram with a very specialised intersection, then you would likely embrace Stage Fright. Minnie Driver fans may be disappointed given she appears to have been involved mainly as a favour for an extended cameo at the beginning, but Meat Loaf fans would enjoy seeing him getting a role requiring him not only to act but to belt out a few tunes as well, for his character has in the intervening decade set up a camp which teaches theatre kids the tricks of the trade. Indeed, this was fairly indebted to the similarly-set musical of around ten years before, Camp, which had introduced Anna Kendrick to the movies.
There were those who thought that cult hit could really have done with the addition of a Friday the 13th killer stalking the precocious stage schoolers, and if you were one who could sympathise with that point of view then Stage Fright was the answer to your prayers (assuming you had nothing better to pray about). When we catch up with the plot, Camilla has grown up to be an assistant in the kitchens, played by Allie MacDonald (herself a veteran of musical theatre - yes, she was an Annie), a hesitant but talented young lady living in the shadow of her mother's violent demise. Her brother Buddy (Douglas Smith) works there too, as Roger is looking out for them both, but his camp is not operating as successfully as he would like, and to find a genuine star would be the boost he needs.
As a musical, it was a curious mix, as sometimes the cast would burst into song as per the traditions, yet at others they would be acting as if in a horror, as they were, and then yet more times they would be delivering a line of often very funny jokes, all of which could have resulted in a real dog's breakfast. Somehow, Sable's confidence with his material guided the movie to some very entertaining scenes as the resident budding director, Artie (Brandon Uranowitz), a boy with no aversion to the casting couch even at that tender age, wishes to stage of The Haunting of the Opera, only Japanese-style. Camilla, though not a student, feels she is right for the role, and MacDonald brought fragility concealing an inner strength the best final girls possessed, not to mention an ability to deliver the showtunes. However, there's a killer about, and he sings as well in heavy metal bellowings, making for an experience at once highly individual, maybe not too accessible either, but just wacky enough to hit the right notes with the cult crowd. Keep listening to the lyrics over the credits.