Release Date(s)1987 (September 23, 2014)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B-
By the time Michele Soavi directed StageFright, his first full-length feature, he was already a familiar presence in the Italian film industry. He began as an actor, appearing in movies like City Of The Living Dead for Lucio Fulci, then transitioned into a role as assistant director for Dario Argento and Lamberto Bava. With mentors like that, who needs film school?
StageFright (or, as its onscreen title calls it, StageFright: Aquarius…your guess is as good as mine) is a fairly modest shocker. A theatrical troupe is rehearsing an avant-garde (and very 80s) dance piece about an owl-masked killer. When the show’s star Alicia (Barbara Cupisti) hurts her ankle, she and a wardrobe mistress (Ulrike Schwerk) sneak out to the nearest hospital for treatment. Unfortunately, the nearest hospital turns out to be a loony bin where notorious serial killer Irving Wallace is being held. Alicia gets her ankle looked at but Wallace hitches a ride back to the theatre with them. With the entire ensemble locked inside, Wallace puts on the oversized owl mask and goes dancer hunting.
Now if that seems like an awful lot of convoluted machinations just to get the killer locked into the theatre with his victims, you’re right. The first half hour or so of StageFright is pretty clumsy. We have to establish a lot of locked doors, missing keys, tyrannical directors (the one played by David Brandon in the movie, not Soavi himself), starving actors and torrential rainstorms to justify why these people are still here and why they can’t just leave or summon the cops parked directly outside for help.
But Soavi is nothing if not a stylish director and once Wallace puts on that owl mask and things get going, the movie hits some real highs. The murder and mayhem scenes are creatively staged, bloody and often way over-the-top. StageFright culminates in a very theatrical sequence with deep, colored lighting, posed corpses and feathers wafting through the air. It’s bizarre, weirdly beautiful and genuinely suspenseful. In moments like these, you can see the technique that Soavi would later develop into the cult classic Dellamorte Dellamore (a.k.a. Cemetery Man).
Blue Underground brings StageFright to Blu-ray with a very strong HD transfer. The rich colors are the strong suit of the image. It could maybe use a little bit more fine detail but overall the video is very pleasing. Audio options include 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD mixes (both in English) and they’re fine. Extras include five interview featurettes ranging from 19 to 11 minutes. Soavi gets the most time and he provides interesting background on both his career and the production of the film. Actors David Brandon and Giovanni Lombardo Radice share their memories of the film and Soavi (both actors had worked with him prior to StageFright). Finally, we hear from make-up effects artist Pietro Tenoglio and composer Simon Boswell. The theatrical trailer and a poster/still gallery wrap up the disc.
Michele Soavi continued to hone his talents as a director and although he hasn’t made a horror movie since the brilliant Dellamorte Dellamore in 1994, he’s been very active on Italian television. I highly recommend seeking out his outstanding 2001 mini-series Uno Bianca. StageFright is very much a first film but its best moments clearly mark Soavi as a talent to watch. If he ever decides to come back to the horror genre, fans like me will welcome him with open arms.
- Adam Jahnke
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