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Meat Loaf Gets ‘Stage Fright’

Occasional local can’t save this midnight mess
Raoul Hernandez, 4:20pm, Wed. May. 28
Meat Loaf and Allie MacDonald in a scene from ‘Stage Fright.’

When is a film so bad that it’s good? Cinephiles still cite 1995 Paul Verhoeven/Joe Eszterhas wreck Show Girls in the latter category, but even inebriated, yours truly didn’t find any humor in its schlock. Though an unabashed Meat Loaf fan, I couldn’t rally even one star for his new film Stage Fright, opening locally in two midnight screenings this weekend.

A last-minute downgrade locally from a general opening to a pair of 11:55pm showings Friday and Saturday at the Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline, the new celluloid heap thus became a Chronicle “Special Screening” instead of a first run. Given my take on Stage Fright, that makes perfect sense – only it also downgraded my critique to a straight-to-the-web bludgeoning. Here, then, is the review you won’t find in tomorrow’s paper.

After his induction into the Texas Film Hall of Fame in 2012, Meat Loaf, who owns a house here, sat down for an extensive interview to promote his ACL Live at the Moody Theatre performance two years ago next month. We’d spoken at the Moody previously for his HOF induction, and combined with our hour-plus chat, which still hasn’t seen the light of day, I can say without any reservation that the Dallas-born singer once known as Marvin Lee Aday remains a true Texan: friendly, forthright, keen.

He’s the sole bright spot of Stage Fright.

Stage Fright
D: Jerome Sable
with Meat Loaf, Minnie Driver, Allie MacDonald, Douglas Smith
R, 89 min.

Baaad sign when the pitch line to get a film made doubles as promotional publicity for the finished product. Besides, Scream meets Glee becomes a millstone for Stage Fright, given that those franchises proved their worth, while this mess will sink like a weighted-down corpse. Introducing goofy, set-piece sing-alongs to a by-the-numbers slasher “plot” (better “outline,” maybe) sounds like a scream, but once the kids arrive at camp, the musical half of the story recedes to virtual invisibility in favor of gleelessly gross-out murders and a-melodic interludes with the killer. Black cloak and hoodie’s homicidal all right. That’s what the heavy metal soundtrack signifies after all, yet its claptrap execution makes real Scandinavian black metal sound like Annie.

Casting The Rocky Horror Picture Show bludgeoning victim (and occasional Austin resident) Meat Loaf as head counselor and mentor to the Swanson teens (MacDonald and Smith) – whose mother (Minnie Driver), a theatre actress, was eviscerated in her dressing room when they were kids – proves the only winning touch here, though he’s only given one true solo and, even then, the film’s criminal lip- and sound-syncing undercuts all the numbers. At best, Driver’s got a cameo here, which leaves most of Stage Fright in the newly discovered hands of MacDonald as Camilla Swanson – who’s dying to sing lead in a camp musical about her parent’s unsolved murder – and her casting-couch director Artie Getz (Brandon Uranowitz).

A bloodbath of cinematic allusions governs the set design, from overt paeans to Carrie and Friday the 13th to darker Seventies/Eighties fare (The Silent Scream, perhaps), and in the third act, the play-within-a-play trope actually works. By then, of course, it’s far too late; if this were on late-night cable television – which Stage Fright ultimately resembles in its episodic liberties with story and verisimilitude – you wouldn’t last 20 minutes.

“Hey Little Mermaid, more work, less singing,” cracks Camilla’s brother Buddy (Smith). Here, here. Someone please drown this kitten.

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