George Eastman & Shelia Goldberg
Giovanni Lombardo Radice
YEAR OF RELEASE
February 8th 1987
A weird Owl face
A poor victim gets drilled right through the back while leaning against a door!
A troupe of actors are rehearsing a musical about a mass murderer known as the Night Owl. When the show’s leading lady Alicia sprains her ankle she along with wardrobe mistress Betty sneak out of the rehearsal to go to see a doctor. With only a mental hospital as the closest medical facility, the girls seek out help from one of the psychiatrist’s on duty but while Alicia is having treatment, Betty notices a restrained patient on a bed lying in a room behind bars.
The doctor tells them that it is Irving Wallace, a former actor who went berserk and killed over a dozen people and now locked away forever, never to be released! The girls trot off back to the their rehearsals but they have a follower! Wallace has managed to kill one of the attendants and has broken free and somehow managed to hide in the backseat of Betty’s car!
Once they arrive back at the theatre to the rage of the director who was unhappy at their unauthorised absence, the angry confrontation leads Alicia to be fired and while she packs her bags and gets ready to leave, she makes a terrifying discovery in the parking lot..
Soon the cast are in great danger, locked in the theatre and with no escape, a nightmare murder spree begins where Wallace is centre stage, where blood fills the camera and screams are heard through out the night!
Can Alice survive the mayhem?
Stagefright is a Slasher that appeals across two genres, one which delights Slash fans and the other for those in love with everything Giallo. Stagefright is also famous for being the starting point of Italian Horror legend Michele Sovai, a man well known in 1987 for his connections with a certain Dario Argento in which his work has a second unit director on several of the great man’s pictures brought him a chance to make his own horror movie!
Before that he was also a well known horror actor, appearing in City Of The Living Dead and Phenomena so his first film set around a core of characters of actors and a director seemed a good fit, here is a man who knew his horror, knew how actors feel and how at times a director can despair and rage when things go wrong! Not that Stagefright is a movie deep in character building, it is one of the most formulaic slasher films out there but its so wonderfully filmed that you can not help but fall in love with it! Maybe the love that is lavished on this is because the shadow of Argento looms large all over it! It so rich of colour with so much care put into the production and with a lavish soundtrack, like Suspira, it seduces you from the moment it starts, all the way to the bloodbath climax!
We start though with a black cat running through the stage, a bad omen if there was one and we greeted with what seems a dodgy theatre play being directed by Peter Colins (David Brandon-Photo Of Gioia) who is frustrated by the direction his play his going!
The play itself is called The Night Owl, a horrible story about a murdered woman (a slut) who gets murdered at the hands of a man who then manages to comes back to life, rapes the murderer and then kills him. With a story like that, you can see the struggle that Peter has but then he is so unlikeable that any sympathy is way out of the window and in reality you can not wait for his death scene to appear!
His demands and unsympathetic nature brings the chaos to the plot, I mean the gang find one of their numbers outside slaughtered and instead of sending his workers home, what does he do? demands their put their anguish to good use, makes them work the night and not only that, locks them in the theatre and hides the only key that unlocks the door!
This of course is a very wrong idea, especially when there is a mad killer on the loose but not once do the gang think that the killer could be in the building with them. “We be fine because there is a police patrol car outside” but what good are they when its raining and they can not hear the screams that are coming from inside!
The rehearsals continue despite everything else and the the obnoxious Peter even makes changes to the story in which the killer of the show is now named Iriving Wallace, a ploy in which he believes will have many people queuing around the block. Of course we the viewer know that the “real” Wallace is in hiding, looking from the shadows. Unlike most slash films, we actually get to the see the face of this mad man, but soon he heads for the genre cliche as he kills the actor behind the costume of the Night Owl and then wears the suit himself! Of all the slasher films I have seen, this is probably the most outlandish designs, a man dressed in a huge owl outfit is so grand and big that its typical of Italian horror, bigger and louder and brassier, I mean you will not spot Michael Myers hiding in the dark, but a big owl head! Fantastic!
With the demands of the director being met and scenes getting rehearsed, its here that the full horror gets revealed to the actors has Wallace comes on stage, dressed in the part and kills one of the women in front of their eyes. Its here the film stops the build up and comes into all full slash mode!
Stagefright is probably one of thee underrated slash films that was born on the wrong time scale of the slash boom! Even in 1987 fans were beginning to tire of the same template and somehow the film got lost in the mix! Over the years its developed like many a cult status but to be fair to the film, its not one of those that are terrible, but watchable! Stagefright holds it own and can be considered one of the few best to come out at the dying stage!
The killings are brutal and gory and Sovai manages to create some real good tension pieces that have been overlooked over the years! Simple tasks like “finding the key!” give an edge to the story and surprisingly Sovai does not pile on the gore to please the horror fans or the genre, at times he believes in old fashioned horror elements like a stroke of lightening followed by the sound of thunder which echo’s around the empty theatre.
There script was written by Joe D`Amato, under the pseudonym D`Amato, who remember, directed one of the few horror XXX porn films: “Porno Holocaust.” and while slash fans will love Stagefight I have to mention that Sovai followed this up with the quite wonderful and very underrated Cemetery Man, its not a slasher but I thought it was important to mention it!
While the ending leaves a lot to be desired, its a case of logic going straight out of the window, the build up is fantastic, a slasher that deserves to be there with the good un’s, its not a classic by any means and it does owe a lot to Demons a similar themed horror by Dario himself, but it was one of the last great offerings of a golden era and one film that all slash fans should not be without!