User login

StageFright (Blu-ray)

Review by: 
Head Cheeze
Release Date: 
Blue Underground
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
Michele Soavi
David Brandon
Barbara Cupisti
Giovanni Lombardo Radice
Clain Parker
Bottom Line: 
Click to Play

After serving as an assistant director and occasional actor in several Italian horror films throughout the late seventies and early eighties, Michele Soavi was given the chance to helm his own film with 1987’s StageFright (aka; Deliria/StageFright: Aquarius),   Italy's response to the slasher craze of the 1980's (which, itself, borrowed heavily from Italy’s gialli films). Atmospheric and colorful (in that big and brassy “80s” way), Stagefright  is an admittedly flawed film, but also marks the emergence of one of Europe's most visually gifted and woefully underappreciated directors.

The film opens with a gaudily dressed woman stumbling in terror through a surreal looking city street straight out of a 80s music video. We soon see that this is a rehearsal for a high concept musical about a killer known as “The Night Owl”. The rehearsal is cut short when mercurial director, Peter (David Brandon), takes issue with his star, Alicia’s (Barbara Cupisti), performance, and, after chastising her and her fellow cast mates,  sends them all on a break.  Alicia, however, has twisted her ankle, and, egged on by wardrobe girl, Betty (Ulrike Schwerk) sneaks off to have her injury examined at the closest medical facility, which happens to also be a mental hospital. Once inside, Alicia sees a man handcuffed to a hospital bed, and the attending physician tells her it’s none other than Irving Wallace (Clain Parker) – an actor who recently suffered a psychotic break and murdered sixteen people.

Alicia has her ankle “fixed” and she and Betty return to the studio but they’re not alone! It seems that Irving Wallace has hitched a ride with them, and, while Alicia is inside being fired by Peter for leaving without his permission, Betty is murdered in the parking lot by the escaped lunatic.

The police arrive, and as they go over the crime scene, Peter hatches a plan to make this murder work for his play, deciding to rename his “Night Owl” character Irving Wallace, and cash in on the tragedy. He sends home everyone but his principal performers (including Alicia, despite firing her earlier), and locks them all in the studio so that they can cram in extra rehearsal in hopes of opening the play even earlier to take advantage of the media frenzy surrounding Wallace. Of course, this all proves disastrous as Wallace, himself, is hiding out in the studio as well, and thus begins a game of divide and conquer, with Wallace hacking, slashing, and drilling his way through the nubile group until....well, that would be telling, wouldn't it?

StageFright is a by-the-numbers slasher, but also 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). However, despite the technical proficiency of its director, the film’s neon aesthete, hilariously dated fashions and hairstyles, and incredibly silly dialogue (not to mention the fact that the killer dresses like an owl) makes this a difficult film to take seriously. It’s a visual treat, however, and even more so now that the film’s been brought to Blu-ray courtesy of Blue Underground.

Much like Synapse Films, Blue Underground have been putting quality over quantity, judiciously releasing titles to Blu-ray and putting an extreme amount of care into each release (as evidenced by their recently released Hell of the Living Dead/Rats double feature). StageFright continues that trend, with a striking and vibrant 1.85:1 transfer that reproduces the film’s wild color palette quite nicely. The image crisp and sports a nice amount of fine detail, and contrast is well-balanced, with deep, true blacks. The image has a fine sheen of cinematic grain that lends it all a welcome filmic quality. The accompanying audio tracks – both a 5.1 and a 2.0 DTS HD Master Audio track – are equally potent, but the former offers a slightly more spacious sounding mix.

While the previous DVD releases from both Anchor Bay and Blue Underground were mostly barebones affairs, Blue Underground dug up a nice collection of new goodies for the StageFright’s Blu-ray debut, with several interview featurettes including Theatre Of Delirium – An Interview with Director Michele Soavi; Head Of The Company - Interview with Star David Brandon; Blood On The Stage Floor - Interview with Star Giovanni Lombardo Radice; The Sound Of Aquarius - Interview with Composer Simon Boswell; and The Owl Murders - Interview with Make-Up Effects Artist Pietro Tenoglio. Also included are the film’s theatrical trailer and a poster & stills gallery

Despite it's dated aesthete and some clumsy scripting, StageFright is a fun, gory, and very well-crafted slasher.  While it's certainly not among the best Italian horror films, it's importance as Soavi's debut can't be overlooked, and Blue Undeground’s Blu-ray presentation does the film justice with a killer transfer and a great collection of interesting bonus features. 

Your rating: None