The Movie Waffler BluRay Review - <i>Stage Fright</i> (1987) | The Movie Waffler

BluRay Review - Stage Fright (1987)

The members of a theatre troupe are stalked by an owl-masked killer.

Directed by: Michele Soavi
Starring: David Brandon, Barbara Cupisti, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Mary Sellers

Dario Argento's protege's debut comes to bluray in a limited 3000 copies edition, and marks the inaugural hi def release from Exposure Cinema, a low budget gem that has been carefully cleaned up and augmented with a set of extras that wouldn’t be out of place from the current trendsetters in UK cult cinema, Arrow.
A slasher cupcake with Giallo frosting, Soavi places the majority of his film in an old theatre. Take one group of dancers with a martinet of a director in Peter (Brandon), who are running final rehearsals for a dance musical serial killer spectacular (complete with Marilyn Monroe impersonator blowing a mean sax). Peter possibly picks the worst time to lock his cast in for the night, as he has also locked in escaped psychiatric patient Irving Wallace, once an actor, now a murderer.
If you have ever watched Fame or A Chorus Line and thought they would be improved no end by the inventively brutal slaying of the cast, then this is the film for you. Coherent narratives have never been at the forefront of most Italian genre films, relying on visual panache and a penchant for visceral gory action front and centre instead. Stage Fright is narratively more coherent than most, and by using a confined space, at least has a spatial awareness and grounded location that makes sense, storytelling wise.
As a disciple of the maestro Argento, you would expect a certain felicity with the camera, and in this Soavi does not disappoint. This is a remarkably assured debut with a rich colour scheme and expertly crafted murder scenes. It is his most controlled film, and arguably his best (Dellamorte Dellamore nearly wins, but is a wayward, uncontrolled mess with great scenes). Simon Boswell’s 80s electronic score helps maintain tension in a way that say Lamberto Bava’s Demons, with its use of Go West as the harbingers of a demonic apocalypse patently didn’t. (We Close Our Eyes now scares me on two levels).
A slasher movie lives or dies on the inventiveness of its individual murder scenes, Owl masked killer Wallace may not do any drive by hootings, but he is remarkably adept at taking out the cast with whatever comes to hand, be it power drill, pick axe or old school knife. One of the great pleasures of Italian genre cinema is how much pleasure and inventiveness is put into these sadistic murders. There are no abashed cutaways or apologies for the more squeamish in the audience. This might not be the goriest of Italian horrors, but there are some moments that linger. One scene in a shower cubicle is both tense, scary and melancholy, while a grizzly tableaux of dead bodies and bird feathers has a wonderfully macabre dreamlike quality. Exposure have released the uncut version, which is slightly stronger than the trimmed original release way back in those VHS days.
The acting is somewhat perfunctory, with a mixture of accents and dubbing, but Brandon gives good asshole and Cupisti makes a spirited and empathetic final girl. Giovanni Lombardo Radice continues his tradition of being brutally offed in every Italian film he has appeared, and James Sampson plays (with the exception of Hong Kong Phooey) the only heroic janitor in the history of horror cinema.
It may be slightly rough around the edges, but it has a panache and style that puts more expensive thrillers to shame. Soavi seems to be a diminished presence in Italian cinema, with most of his work relegated to TV movies, which is a great shame; with the decline in quality of Dario Argento’s later work, Italian horror is crying out for a new heir apparent.
A great first bluray release from Exposure that is a must for fans of the genre, and augurs well for future releases.
A Plethora of extras for this release. A 30 minute interview with the director and cast, in Italian with subtitles, which has some interesting snippets about Joe D’Amato and his working methods, as well as Soavi’s interesting approach to actor safety. Beloved Italian horror aficionado and critic Alan Jones shares his always insightful and enjoyable passion for the film. A nice 20 minute interview with perennial victim Giovanni Lombardo Radice.
The meatiest extra on offer is a made for television hour long look at the work of exploitation producer Joe D’Amato and his varied but always interesting career. A booklet, which was not available for review, and a lightly entertaining if somewhat pointless look at VHS collectors of old school horrors, which is somewhat hyperactively put together.
Picture and 2:0 uncompressed stereo sound are of exceptional quality considering the original budget and age. A thoroughly impressive release.