Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Say hello to a new breed of genre jumper: Jerome Sable & Eli Batalion's STAGE FRIGHT

WTF (to use a much-loved, internet-speak acronym)! Here comes a little movie that attempts a blend of musical, comedy, romance and horror/ slasher -- along with some satire regarding the most popular score of a certain famed composer of British musicals. The result is titled STAGE FRIGHT, a genre-jumper of major proprotions but minor pleasures, created, so far as I could see, with nary a nod in the direction of Mr. Hitchcock and his film of the same title. That's all right: The kids who seek out this movie would have little patience with the kind of suspense, flavor and sophistication of the "master." What they'll get instead should satisfy at least their craving for gore, if not so much their need (if indeed they have one) for comedy and laughter.

The perpetrators of this oddball endeavor are Jerome Sable (writer/director/co-composer/lyricist) and Eli Batalion (co-composer/lyricist). The two are shown above, with Sable on the left, enacting what looks like one of the scenes from their movie. So how does one blend coherently all these genres? That remains a good question because our twosome hasn't quite done it, though the pair does manage to come up with some choice individual moments and scenes.

Take the beginning, which looks like nothing so much as a deserted street in nighttime London, with a killer on the loose. Fooled you! And so theatrically, too. From the opener, that does indeed end with a horrifc murder, we move ahead ten years and into a summer drama camp where the kids burst into song at the drop of a hat or the stop of a bus, and sing about their year away from each other since last summer.

"I got beaten up a dozen times, for singing Stephen Sondheim rhymes," one young fellow bleats, and, hey, we're laughing already. But this kind of humor doesn't last very long, and we're back to the plot about the twin children of a musical comedy star (a game Minnie Driver, above and further above) now working for the late star's producer (a quite good and also game Meat Loaf, below, center) who runs the summer camp and hopes to produce again this musical, The Haunting of the Opera, which closed on opening night, due to its star's demise.

And yes, they're going to produce that musical here at camp, starring the now-grown daughter of the famed diva (Allie MacDonald, below, left, with Douglas Smith, who plays her grown brother) and invite the famed NY Times critic who liked it the first time 'round. But something/someone nasty is afoot, and, yes, the bodies start piling up. Eventually there's gore galore, and, truth to tell, Mr. Sable does serve up a couple of very juicy murder set pieces. Look for a Carrie touch here, too.

The score itself is so-so standard -- meant at times, I think, to make fun of the work of Andrew Lloyd Weber. It does this, capturing that certain junkiness the composer serves up but without anything like his better melodies that do seem to work wonders on many audiences.

The biggest problem with Stage Fright is that it simply ought to be much funnier that it is. The witty lyrics come and go (mostly the latter), the characterizations are one-note and leave little room for the kind of expansion that good actors could bring to them. So the movie relies finally and mostly on the gore and killing. And since these are things we've now seen ad infinitum, audiences wanting more will likely feel cheated.

The film is said to owe its very being to a famous short, titled The Legend of Beaver Dam, made by the same pair of filmmakers/composers and also said to be quite good. The ability to hold an audience for a full-length film as opposed to a 12-minute short, however, is something else. (That's Ms MacDonald again, above, in push-up costume for opening night.)

Do stick around for the end credits, though, because you'll hear another of those funny songs -- this one thanking you "for watching these credits, and wondering just how you are viewing this movie. We hope you're not pirating it." Stage Fright, from Magnet Releasing and running 88 minutes, opens in seven cities this Friday, May 9 (here in NYC, it'll play the Cinema Village), Click here to see all currently scheduled playdates.

All the photos above are from the film itself, except for 
that of the filmmakers, which is by Vince Gonzales.

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