Jerome Sable’s debut feature Stage Fright is an amusing musical/horror blend that’s part Glee rip-off and part throwback to the slasher films of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. It’s an interesting choice for the opening night of the Sydney Film Festival (though it’s not the Opening Night Film, technically) and the Freak Me Out program – it’s a solid debut from Sable that’s often funny and occasionally effective, it’s also undeniably odd, which is never a bad thing for a film to be in the Freak Me Out program. Unfortunately, it’s just not as good as it could be and too much of the peripheral components of the film feel phoned in.
It would be disingenuous to suggest there isn’t great stuff here; the film opens with a prologue that sets up the mythology of the film, which is immediately followed by one of the most inspired and amusing songs I’ve ever heard in a musical, easily up there with Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s work in South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut and Team America: World Police. The rest of the songs are pretty good but unfortunately once this benchmark is set, it’s never achieved again. The first half of the film (post-prologue) is fairly decent as a parody of Fame/Glee and their subsequent rip-offs and reimaginings – although it occasionally falls a bit too far on the side of recreation instead of send-up. In the second half of the film where the Horror really needs to come to the forefront and hit a few home runs, it falls short. It’s clear that Sable is a fan of both Horror films and Musicals. He includes numerous visual references to De Palma’s Carrie, and the casting of Meatloaf is an obvious reference to his performance in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. In spite of him playing what is arguably the second most prominent character in the film Sable doesn’t really do anything with Meatloaf – I sat there for the duration of the film waiting for the huge crescendo that would eventually lead into a Meatloaf number; unfortunately it never comes. The villain is amusing and their forth-wall breaking asides, although bizarre, are genuinely very funny but their actions and motivation seems completely ridiculous given what we know about them. Sure, you could brush that off with an excuse like “it’s a Horror-Comedy, what do you expect?” but that’s not reasonable. There’s no reason that films shouldn’t be expected to be effective just because they belong to certain genres, especially when you’ve got successful examples from the same area of cinema like Evil Dead II and The Loved Ones – not to suggest that the content of those films is similar to that of Stage Fright (because they aren’t), I only bring them up to point out that it is possible make great Horror-Comedy that is equal parts entertaining, shocking and terrifying and our expectation shouldn’t be otherwise.
In summation, as a slasher Stage Fright doesn’t quite cut it; while there are a lot of laughs to be had, Sable’s flick is too light on the horror elements to justify their inclusion. It does feels somewhat unfair to give this a ‘Not Recommended’ because I did really enjoy it, moreso than The Double – which I was similarly conflicted over rating. All of the film’s moving components don’t quite come together effectively, and often work significantly less effectively than they should. Don’t let this discourage you from seeing the film though; if any of the above sounds interesting to you I urge you to seek this film out because you’ll probably have a great (or, at least, good) time. This film shows great potential – if there’s one thing I can definitely recommend, it’s whatever Sable comes up with next.