The Movie Waffler Re-Release Review - STAGE FRIGHT | The Movie Waffler

Re-Release Review - STAGE FRIGHT

stage fright review
An escaped lunatic butchers a theatre troupe.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Michele Soavi

Starring: Barbara Cupisti, David Brandon, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Mary Sellers, Robert Gligorov

stage fright DVD

The last great year for Italian horror, 1987 gave us Dario Argento's Opera, Lamberto Bava's Delirium and Lucio Fulci's Aenigma. It also saw Argento protégé Michele Soavi make his directorial debut in confident fashion with backstage slasher Stage Fright.

While the aforementioned Italian filmmakers were stuck somewhat in the '70s, rehashing Giallo tropes, albeit to great effect in Argento's case, Soavi's debut is very much a product of its time, influenced as much by American horror as that of his own nation. With its garish make-up and fashions and Simon Boswell's John Carpenter meets Candy Dulfer synth n' sax score, Stage Fright positively screams 1987.

stage fright review

The film centres on a b-grade theatre troupe rehearsing what one of them laughably describes as an "intellectual musical." The production is essentially an '80s slasher movie for the stage, and it's overseen by put-upon pretentious director Peter (David Brandon). With just three days to opening night, things aren't going so well as Peter is saddled with a talentless bunch of hacks and a tight-fisted producer.

When the show's leading lady Alicia (Barbara Cupisti), sprains her ankle, she sneaks off to the nearest hospital with wardrobe girl Betty (Ulrike Schwerk). Said hospital also happens to be housing convicted serial killer Irving Wallace (Clain Parker), who somehow breaks free from his cell (conveniently occurring offscreen) and secretly takes a ride back to the rehearsal stage with Alicia and Betty. When Wallace butchers the latter, rather than calling it a day and shutting down rehearsals, Peter decides to exploit the publicity and insists his actors stay the night for intense rehearsals. What he doesn't realise is that Wallace is in the building with them.

stage fright review

What follows is a tight, well-crafted exercise in spam-in-a-can horror filmmaking. Soavi proves he picked up a thing or two in his time working as an assistant director for Argento as he stages suspense sequences in stylish and effective fashion. The highlight comes towards the end with the tensest sequence involving a key since Hitchcock's Notorious.

Despite being one of the sillier villains of '80s horror, Wallace clad in a giant owl mask manages to provide plenty of menace. The masked Wallace is played by Italian horror staple Luigi Montefiori aka George Eastman, who also penned Stage Fright's script, and he's a suitably hulking presence. What's creepy about the owl mask is that you can't see Wallace's eyes, so you're never sure if he's looking in the direction of his potential victims, or in one key moment, whether he's awake or asleep. In the climax, Soavi uses the mask's floating feathers in a manner that suggests the action is playing out in a rather sinister snow globe.

stage fright review

Coming in at 90 minutes, Stage Fright doesn't waste a second of screen time. Everything is set up within the first 15 minutes, including crucially the geography of its confined setting, and then the bloodshed begins. Soavi is happy to play some of the death scenes for laughs, with limbs and heads hilariously lopped off and a great shock involving a body torn in half that would be much imitated in successive horror movies.

Watching Stage Fright in 2021, what's surprising is how many of its characters are coded as queer. Add this to a black character playing a pivotal role and were Stage Fright released today it might be hailed as a progressive step forward for genre cinema in some circles, though I doubt any of this would have occurred to Soavi at the time.

Stage Fright
 is on blu-ray and VOD from December 27th from Shameless Films.