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Stage Fright (DVD Review)

Stage-FrightTo start off, this is a review of the 2014 film Stage Fright and not the 1987 horror film that will be releasing on Blu-ray from Blue Underground this fall.  When word first came to me about Stage Fright, I got pretty excited.  A slasher film done as a musical!  Oh hell yes.  Seems like a devious Brandon Peters dream come true.  This past Spring it was released wide on VOD where I was able to rent it.  The film started off with a great big bang, but as it wore on, slowly just kind of drifted past the greatness of its first act.  When Brian White (aka Blu-ray Jesus) offered this one up for review, I was eager to give this film a second shot with knowledge of knowing where it was leading this time.  The first time’s mild disappointment may have been because it wasn’t the film “I” wanted it to be and with this second viewing I could accept it more for what they did give me.

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Film 

Ten years ago, Broadway actress Kylie Swanson was brutally murdered backstage after a performance of Haunting Of The Opera.  In the years since, her children (Camilla and Buddy) have been raised by her former lover and producer Roger McCall.  Roger runs a musical theater summer camp on the verge of becoming bankrupt.  In a chance to save the camp and his career he decides to put on Haunting Of The Opera, to which Camilla wants to step into her mother’s footsteps and audition for her mother’s role.  Meanwhile, a Kabuki masked killer roams the campus of the summer camp.

When I first heard of Stage Fright, I was told it was the “slasher musical”, so I was absolutely pumped.  This was going to be something fresh for the genre.  Well, when I first say it I thought the movie opened fantastic, but started going downhill fast toward the end of the first act and felt like something else entirely, not a slasher.  However, upon learning more from the bonus features before this second viewing, things made a lot more sense.  The creators were first and foremost trying to create a parody of theater students and camps growing up using the musical format to tell the story.  The slasher aspect was merely the backdrop or twist to add to their story.  Going in with now knowing this in mind, it runs a lot better, but still has trouble finding a balance between the two.

This film opens up amazingly.  Our opening kill is pretty quick, but its pretty brutal and grabs your attention.  We are then taken to a fantastic musical number that feels like they turned Sleepaway Camp or The Burning into a musical.  I was wanting this from the film so I was incredibly drawn in.  And it absolutely works.  However after this, the musical numbers don’t come as often and there’s really no kills.  We then move into a parody of theater productions, the behind the scenes drama, casting and rivalries.  Its all fun and gives us time to learn the characters.  If this movie does do right, its that you are familiar with all the characters as deep or as one note as some may be.  Overall they are fun.  But in the meantime, the slasher aspect is introduced and none of them are dying.  We just have the killer randomly sitting in a dark room sounding like Dee Snider belting it to some generic metal chords.

Stage Fright somewhere in the second act also forgets its a musical.  Not only do the kills not start until the final half hour of the movie, but the musical aspect tones itself down too.  And while the film finishes out like a perfect homage to the early 1980s slasher movies, its not being true to itself.  Where there’s the final girl chase, there should have been some sort of duet to play it by.  It feels as if this comedy all of a sudden wanted to be taken as a serious horror film for its last reel.

I may have appeared pretty harsh about this film, but it was the first leap into a slasher musical and I don’t think they landed quite well.  Anything from here out will be a copycat or not the first one done even if its better.  This film is a pretty fun movie and I enjoyed it much more the second time knowing what I was getting into.  But, I want my review here to seem more of something as a disclaimer before watching the film, because I would have liked to know these things going in as well.  Its got a pretty good cast, having Meat Loaf here is an excellent addition even if he does feel a tad underutilized.  And its always fun to see Minnie Driver, even if it is a cameo.  Slasher fans surely will get a kick out of this one, but I can’t help but think someone could have done this a bit better.

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Video 

Encoding: MPEG-2

Resolution: 480i

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

Clarity/Detail: This is about as good as a DVD can be.  You can see some detail and the image is clear and coherent.

Depth:  Some but not much.  There’s good instances every time we have shots of a theatrical production going onstage.

Black Levels:  Blacks are a tad light.  There is some crushing throughout, with detail hidden.

Color Reproduction: Colors are solid.  The facial painting and Kabuki outfits stand out as well as the red blood and paint used.

Flesh Tones:  Consistent.  And impressive amount of facial detail for a DVD.  You can make out skin blemishes and stuff under the makeup.

Noise/Artifacts:  Clean.

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Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Dynamics:  To imagine what the Blu-ray of this sounded like.  This isn’t half bad but the compression keeps it from letting loose.  First and foremost the music sounds great.  Also the sound effects of slashing and kills is cranked up for effect.

Low Frequency Extension:  Mainly enhances the metal music and some thumping in the kills.

Surround Sound Presentation:  Used to create a concert effect, even if it does sound a little minimal.  And if you listen closely there are some good ambient effects present.

Dialogue Reproduction:  Loud and clear.  The singing trumps all but isn’t over-bloated.

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Extras 

No digital copy or anything extra comes with the disc.  I feel these bonus materials are very satisfactory and cover everything a fan would want to know.  The only thing I would change is a feature to allow the sing-along so you could watch the whole feature with it active instead of just select songs.

Commentary With Writer/Director/Co-Composer Jerome Sable And Co-Composter Eli Batalion

The Making Of Stage Fright (SD, 9:18) – A pretty detailed, for under 10 minutes) look at the production with the co-composers (one being the director).

Deleted Scenes (SD, 3:43)

In Memory Of A Fallen Camper (SD, 1:59) – There was originally a character in the movie that thought she was the second coming of Liza Minnelli.  All here scenes and references were cut, but they’ve been restored here.

The Evolution Of The Set Design (SD, 1:36) – A montage of preproduction paintings of the sets and then showing them used in the film.

Stage Fright Sing-Along (SD, 17:59) – The film’s musical numbers, now with lyrics on the screen and a bouncing Kabuki mask to help you sing along.

Interview With Writer/Director/Co-Compser Jerome Sable And Co-Producer Eli Batalion (SD, 17:06) – This is a different interview than that of the Making Of (which looks like it was taken during shooting).  The interview is definitely in post and a bit more reflective and in depth.

AXS TV: A Look At Stage Fright (SD, 2:57) – A short little promo video for the film on AXS TV.

Trailer (SD, 2:08)

Also From Magnolia Home Entertainment – Trailers for Nymphomaniac, Filth, The Protector 2, The Sacrament, Chideo, AXS TV

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Summary 

If DVDs are your thing pick it up.  But if you have a Blu-ray player, there’s no reason to get the DVD.  Something like this was meant to be heard with lossless audio cranked up.  For those who don’t care for those sort of things, this DVD will suffice.  It uses the best of what a DVD could bring and features a plate full of extras that will fill you up enough that you won’t have room for dinner.  This is a fun movie and a look at what a slasher musical could be.  I say somebody tries again with this type of thing.  But for now, Stage Fright will be the one and only.  And for that, its not bad at all.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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