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Friday, January 28, 2022

‘Stage Fright’ – The Horror Musical Starring Meat Loaf That Deserves a Fresh Watch [Hidden Gems]

The death of a celebrity can hit hard, but fans can find solace in the art they leave behind. In the case of Meat Loaf, who passed away last week, his legacy includes one of the best-selling albums of all time (1977’s 14-time platinum Bat Out of Hell) and the ultimate cult movie (1975’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show), to name a few.

While he was predominantly known for his music – having sold more than 100 million albums over the course of his 40-year career – Meat Loaf considered himself an actor at heart, as he got his start on the stage. He went on to appear in dozens of films and TV shows, ranging from Fight Club and Wayne’s World to South Park and Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny.

Outside of Rocky Horror, his notable forays into the genre include Masters of Horror (Dario Argento’s “Pelts” from 2006), Tales from the Crypt (1992’s “What’s Cookin’,” directed by Bordello of Blood‘s Gilbert Adler), and Uwe Boll’s much-maligned 2005 BloodRayne video game adaptation.

The horror musical Stage Fright is an unsung – no pun intended – horror effort in which Meat Loaf’s music and acting fortes crossed paths. Not to be confused with Alfred Hitchcock’s 1950 murder-mystery or Michele Soavi’s 1987 Italian slasher of the same name (both good in their own right), this Stage Fright is a comedic slasher musical from 2014.

The Canadian production marked the first – and, to date, only – feature written and directed by Jerome Sable (ABCs of Death 2), who co-wrote the music and lyrics with Eli Batalion. The pair previously collaborated on the 2010 festival favorite short The Legend of Beaver Dam, a similarly campy horror musical that works as something of a proof of concept for Stage Fright.

Sable immediately asserts a tongue-in-cheek tone with the film’s opening text: “The following is based on true events. While the names have been changed to respect the victims and their families, the musical numbers will be performed exactly as they occurred.” The obligatory opening kill is subverted with the reveal that the viewer is actually seeing a stage production – the opening night of The Haunting of the Opera – only for Broadway star Kylie Swanson (Minnie Driver, Good Will Hunting) to be murdered backstage following the performance.

10 years later, the show’s producer Roger McCall (Meat Loaf) and Kylie’s now-teenage children, Camilla (Allie MacDonald, House at the End of the Street) and son Buddy (Douglas Smith, The Bye Bye Man), run a musical theater camp. After being picked on all year for their interest in performing arts, attendees find a sense of belonging at the camp. Sure, the sanctuary is short lived once the horror begins, but it’s something anyone who’s ever felt like an outcast – musical theater kid, horror fan, or otherwise – can relate to.

Desperate to get his career back on track, Roger decides to put on The Haunting of the Opera once again, this time set in feudal Japan, and Camilla brushes off her camp duties to go out for the leading role – the same one played by her mother, of course. The body count increases as opening night approaches, with a masked killer who dons the Opera Ghost costume from the stage show killing off campers.

Stage Fright‘s ambitious melding of horror, comedy, and musical doesn’t skimp out on any of the ingredients. There are several gory, creative kills, and the musical numbers are legit. The lyrics may be funny, but the songwriting is taken seriously and, unlike a polished Hollywood production, all of the singing is performed live. A few jokes may be considered politically incorrect in today’s climate, despite only being eight years old, but some of the humor still lands. The whodunit angle is the least successful aspect, heavy handedly framing red herrings like Scooby-Doo villains.

While the other characters regularly break out into typical show tune-style songs, the killer is accompanied by headbang-worthy heavy metal – and it works! Multi-hyphenate Rick Miller (Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones) provides his voice, which ranges from a gruff rasp as he spouts Freddy Krueger-esque puns to a Vince Neil-esque caterwaul when he sings. Stunt performer John Stead (It, Dawn of the Dead) – who also served as stunt coordinator on the picture – is behind the mask.

“All of life’s a song to sing / So sing with all your heart” is an oft-repeated musical refrain in the movie, and Sable did just that with Stage Fright. His passion for musical theater is on full display in both plot and music, and so too is his appreciation for horror. A handful of nods to genre classics – Hellraiser, Carrie, and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre among them – are peppered throughout the film. Stage Fright‘s title treatment is even in John Carpenter’s signature Albertus font in tribute to the horror master.

Stage Fright is low on the list of things for which Meat Loaf will be remembered, but his involvement is more than a mere cameo; his character is integral to the plot and he belts out a couple of tunes. Driver, who co-starred in Joel Schumacher’s 2004 film adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera, was a clever bit of stunt casting considering the obvious parallels between Andrew Lloyd Webber’s famed musical and The Haunting of the Opera. She only appears in the opening scene, but the Academy Award nominee was not afraid to get bloody.

MacDonald has the screen presence to fill the shoes of the final girl archetype and the pipes to pull off the musical numbers. She’s had several strong supporting roles and continues to work regularly, but I’d love to see her get another chance at the lead. Future Schitt’s Creek superstar Dan Levy, younger but still instantly recognizable, has a one-line part as a red carpet reporter.

Three-time Tony Award nominee Brandon Uranowitz serves as the camp’s sleazy stage director, character actor James McGowan (Suicide Squad) plays a big-shot Broadway agent, and Melanie Leishman (Todd and the Book of Pure Evil), Ephraim Ellis (Degrassi: The Next Generation), and Canadian Idol finalist Steffi DiDomenicantonio are among the campers.

Stage Fright premiered at South by Southwest in 2014 before being released on VOD and in limited theaters from Magnet Releasing. Critical response was mixed at best – it currently sits at 37% on Rotten Tomatoes – but fans of offbeat horror-musical mashups like Phantom of the Paradise, Anna and the Apocalypse, Repo! The Genetic Opera, and Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead will find plenty to enjoy.

Stage Fright

The post ‘Stage Fright’ – The Horror Musical Starring Meat Loaf That Deserves a Fresh Watch [Hidden Gems] appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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