Michele Soavi's first directorial effort is Italy's response to the slasher craze of the 1980's. While Stagefright (aka Deliria) is a perfectly serviceable entry into that sub-genre, it also marks the emergence of one of Europe's most visually gifted lens man.
Stagefright is the story of a group of actors who are terrorized by an escaped lunatic (an actor as well!) who traps them in their isolated rehearsal space and plays a game of divide and conquer, hacking, slashing, and drilling his way through the nubile group until....well, that would be telling, wouldn't it?
While the plot of Stagefright can easily be surmised in less than a paragraph, the film's weak points are not so lucky. Stagefright suffers from a massive case of datedness, so much so, that it's actually rather distracting and quite laughable. Everything from the haircuts to the Swatch watches scream eighties and while I am more than aware that the film is a product of that decade, I'd be hard-pressed to find another film that suffers so much in comparison.
Soavi's direction, however, is another matter. The film is a by-the-numbers slasher, but has the feel of a classic giallo, with lots of P.O.V. stalking, clever false scares and some very bloody and inventive death scenes, all handled with expert precision by Soavi. It's a testament to the man's abilities that he was able to deliver such an effective thriller on his first outing (although he did have the luxury of honing his skills under the watchful eye of Dario Argento on a handful of the maestro's best films!), and hinted at the great things to come with 1988's The Church, 1990's The Sect, and the critically acclaimed 1994 film Dellamorte Dellamore (aka Cemetary Man).
Once again, however, despite the technical proficiency of its director, the film looks so dated it actually makes a serious viewing very difficult, if not downright impossible. All I can say is picture the Griswalds after their Italian shopping spree in National Lampoon's European Vacation, and you'll get the visual I'm after.
Anchor Bay has done something rather odd with this release, which may make purists think twice before purchasing. Stagefright was shot full frame, and matted for theatrical presentation, however, in its full screen video form, the viewer is actually seeing the whole picture, as is the case with most of Stanley Kubrick's works. Anchor Bay has released Stagefright in matted form, thus obscuring the top and bottom segments of the film. In some scenes the matting is obvious, and those who have seen Stagefright as it was originally filmed will be pulling out their hair wondering why this matting was done as well as why the film wasn't presented in both formats so that the viewer could choose how they watch it.
While this may be unforgiveable to some, the consensus is that Anchor Bay wanted to be able to preserve a 16X9 aspect ratio for widescreen televisions, and felt that the areas missing due to the matte were expendable, since what we are seeing IS after all what the theatrical release looked like.
Both sides have an argument in this case, so I'll leave it at that. As far as the rest of the DVD is concerned, well there isn't much to talk about. We get a trailer and Soavi bio pages, and nothing else. Basically bare bones stuff to round out a disappointing release.
While Stagefright is far from a classic, it is a fun movie and is very well crafted. The retro-factor is the killer here, since there are dozens of other films from the same period that don't feel nearly as dated. If you are a fan of Soavi then you need this for your collection, however those who are new to the director may want to consider getting the Italian Medusa DVD of the wonderful Dellamorte Dellamore (Region 2), or Anchor Bay's other Soavi release, The Church before taking the trip back in time with Stagefright.