Stage Fright

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I can’t figure why exactly slashers and musicals are something that’s been tried now twice. Once here, and once in Don’t Go In the Woods. I mean, Nazis and zombies, that just makes sense. But I can’t figure out what slashers and musicals share, exactly. And, maybe it’s not slashers in particular, even. We’ve already had Cannibal: the Musical, haven’t we? Maybe horror is just something we like to see strained through the musical. If it is something particular to the slasher, though . . . what, right? Is it that they’re both pretty formulaic? Like, gleefully formulaic? Could be. Or—this is sounding more likely to me—I bet it’s the fact that each rely so heavily on set-pieces. Musicals have sing-alongs every X minutes, and a slasher’s guaranteed to deliver an over-the-top kill every X minutes. Which is different than ‘formula,’ of course. Formula is kind of like ‘recipe’: put these characters in that situation, and the same thing’ll cook up each time. And that’s not at all bad, either. A lot of people indict slashers for this very reason, whereas I see that as their strength, maybe even their saving grace. But, yes, I think that’s it: a slasher and a musical, no matter what else is going on, we’re getting a specific kind of scene ever few minutes. Their rhythm is the same. And they’re each exuberant, and unselfconscious. They’re not ashamed to let a person sing their inner thoughts, they see nothing wrong with going into unnecessarily graphic detail about how exactly the knife enters the eye-socket.

They’re chocolate and peanut butter.

sf0And, yes, Don’t Go In the Woods (2010) is kind of reviled (and not to be confused with 1981’s Don’t Go In the Woods, though that does rely on a particular song as well . . .). What about this Stage Fright, though? First, though, don’t confuse it with Curtains, or with Argento’s Opera, or with Flesh & Blood, or with Scream 2, though of course they all share that Black Swan/theatre set-up. And, as for why theatre and slashers so often have gone hand in hand: the masks, yes? The, you know, the theater of it all, the grand ‘production’ this slasher is going through, in order for everybody to cue into his or her important backstory. Even Deathtrap had a lot of bloody fun on- and off-stage.

And—okay, for this slasher, it’s being paired with A) the musical, and B) the actual theatre. What else? Well, what’s the slasher’s natural stomping grounds, right? Camp, of the Sleepaway kind, of the Crystal Lake kind.

A bunch of theatre kids are isolated from parents and authority and pitted against each other in order to stage a perfect, save-the-camp play. Only, some masked killer’s killing people, for very giallo reasons, it would seem.

Also, I should say, before I deliver any kind of verdict here, that I’m the only person I’ve found so far who, the first time I watched Rock of Ages, went back to the main menu, and hit play again, and then, after that, inhaled every single extra/special feature, and listened to all the commentaries, and did everything I could to please let that movie live forever in my head and my heart. Granted, it’s way strange hearing my hair band gods’ songs coming from people who don’t seem to fit those voices, or that delivery, and, yes, not all of the songs would have actually been sung aloud, did people actually sing aloud like that. But still: the musical. I love the way they work. I loved the way Rock of Ages worked.

I should also say that Meat Loaf, as near as I’m concerned, is the best performer of his own music there’s been. The dude’s opera in-person; his every move is towards the over-dramatic, to be sure the people way back in back can get every nuance. I’ve got all his music videos pretty much memorized, and his Bat Out of Hell series, I’ve bought that so many times. They’re the albums I’ve listened to the most in my life, by far.

the inevitable love child of Michael Myers and Jigsaw

So, yes, Stage Fright, it’s pretty much made for me. It’s got Meat Loaf in some superfake mustaches, it’s got Minnie Driver in the Drew Berrymore role, dying in a beautifully grisly way, and it’s got that Cheerleader Camp logic, of: So, somebody died. Let’s wait until Monday to worry about that, what do y’all think?

And that’s just the tip of the machete.

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It’s also got Argento’s sensibility when it comes to kill scenes: lay hard on the guitar when the knife’s going in, it’ll make everything so much cooler. And, just when you think it can’t get any cooler? Well, what if the slasher, say, pulled out his own guitar, stepped into his power stance over his latest victim, and laid down a face-melting solo?

But perhaps the coolest part of it all for me, it’s after Meat Loaf’s first musical number—and this is after the movie’s already established for us that it’s in a mode where people can spontaneously fall into song, and that’s not weird at all. But, after Meat Loaf’s kind of introductory song, the coolest thing happens: everybody starts to clap for his performance. Which is to say this wasn’t him ‘singing his heart,’ this was him singing within the musical. It’s a trick I’ve never seen done. And Stage Fright, it’s chock full of fun like that. There’s Pinhead gags, there’s obligatory Carrie gags, there’s somebody saying “pieces” in a way that has to be a reference to the 1982 movie of the same name, there’s post-kill one-liners that would make Arnold blush, there’s the early-on promise of the big massacre at the end (and even a countdown to it), there’s a third-reel body dump nearly as good as any of Jason’s spring-loaded corpses, there’s some high-quality kills with a variety of instruments—and, I lied: my favorite little trick? It’s when a certain person pulls the phone cord from its junction on the outside of a cabin. Which is just what you do in a slasher. But what you usually don’t get with that, it’s the faint sound, then, of a busy signal. Which is of course what anybody who calls is going to hear. It’s not the sound that ripped-out cable’s going to make. That cable’s not making any sound at all.

But we’re in slasher-land, here. We’re in a place where the sound leaks from the cables like blood, and seeps into our ears, and we hardly even notice.

Stage Fright is hiliarious and gory. And that’s exactly what you want in a slasher, I think. It’s exactly what I want, anyway. And, not to overspoil—stop here if you’re worried—but it’s got a closing gag that’s so well-timed it actually made me flinch. And it only works because the structural cues Stage Fright‘s got going on, they lull me one way. But surprise. In the slasher, there’s a jack-in-the-box around every corner. And it’s usually holding a knife. If you’re lucky, it’s holding two.

[ that whole commencement speech: here ]

 

  • Stephen Graham Jones

    oh, man, just seeing DreadCentral’s write up of this. had no idea it was the Beaver Dam dude. LOVED Beaver Dam. and, also, I should have namechecked what-all they namechecked in their opening paragraph, but alas, you can’t namecheck them all. http://www.dreadcentral.com/reviews/stage-fright-2014#axzz321N7ssc9