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STAGE FRIGHT – Movie Review SXSW 2014

Review by Todd Sokolove
Written and Directed by Jerome Sable
Produced by Ari Lantos, Jonas Bell Pasht
Music & Lyrics by Jerome Sable and Eli Batalion
Stars Allie MacDonald, Douglas Smith,
Brandon Uranowitz, with Minnie Driver
and Meat Loaf

Psycho author Robert Bloch once stated “there’s a thin line between horror and hilarity,” but he was hardly the first to point it out.

Though the mash-up of Horror and Comedy pre-dates film, filmmakers have been merging the genres successfully for decades.

Sometimes the laughs are sprinkled sparsely for relief, but often times for full-on high meta camp.

Stage Fright is one of the better films I caught at SXSW, and certainly the most entertaining.
Premiering this Thursday, April 3rd on iTunes and On Demand, and in theaters May 9th, it is a film so campy, it’s actually set in a camp.  A musical theater camp for kids, no less.

The movie takes a deep stab at both killer-on-the-lose conventions and overzealous-musicals, hitting both targets with glee.

Coming off of the success of the cult musical short The Legend of Beaver Dam, Jerome Sable and Eli Batalion used that prior collaboration as a model, resulting in the interest of a feature film.  It also attracted the interest of Minnie Driver for a bit, though integral, part, and Meat Loaf in his first major musical role on film since The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The big players might bring audiences in, but relatively new Allie MacDonald (House At The End of the Street), is someone to remember.  She carries the film both dramatically and musically, fully understanding how to anchor something so incredibly campy.  She is both scream-queen and diva, and that’s not an easy task.

The film itself is a goofy homage to 70s and 80s slasher films, with, I believe, massive attention on Sleepaway Camp.  References to Friday the 13th and Carrie are thrown in for good measure.  But this is not-just-another satire on scary movies.

Since it’s been-there-done-that territory for Horror-Comedy, the filmmakers are wise to keep Stage Fright to being its own thing, but with Jazz Hands.

Red herrings abound, but so do the musical numbers, starting with a hysterical introduction to the character clichés found in a musical theater camp.  Of course, since there’s a show to be performed by the end of the story, there’s also the “show-within-the-show” lead up.

The satire abounds too, as the camp is forced (presumably for licensing issues) to perform slightly altered versions of popular Broadway musicals.  Their big show for this summer is Haunting of the Opera, with Kabuki influence.  It makes for one bad-ass looking killer though, who customizes buzz-saw blades with finger grips for easy slashing.  

I’m a sucker for a good mix of Horror and Comedy.  It’s just that I like them to have one foot firm in both.  Stage Fright has plenty of laughs, but also plenty of gore (and a handful of seat-jumping scares).

To quote a classic satirical musical, it’s the best of all possible worlds.

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