An old school slasher, smothered in Argento sauce and presented with 80’s neon-splashed sass
Cunning. Brutal. Fantastic.Boasting some clever conceits and a set of characters who conspire to put a new spin on the conventional clichés, Michele Soavi’s extravagant ’87 slaughter-fest, StageFright, wears its bloody influences proudly on its sleeve. Hitchcock and Argento are the most obvious references in this limb-lopping tale of an escaped nutter laying siege to a bunch of bickering actors trapped inside a warren-like theatre. But there are also nods to Carpenter, Bava and the American slasher cycle.Not as gory as many like to think, this still offers up a top notch bodycount as deranged former thespian Irving Wallace dons an enormous owl mask and embarks on a literal critics’ rampage, dispatching the doomed production’s cast and crew with pickaxe, drill, knife, chainsaw and fire-axe, carving a crimson swathe through their rehearsals. Visually striking, this is Soavi’s most respected offering besides Dellamorte Dellamore, and whilst no heyday Dario, brilliantly cranks up suspense with some inspired set-piece mayhem.
Indeed, the film is most memorable for its now classic sequence in which the killer redresses the stage with prosaically positioned victims, whilst battered and bloodied Barbara Cupisti attempts to retrieve the key to her escape from the floorboards beside his feet. It’s an insanely bravura sequence of purest Grand Guignol - breath-taking to behold and heart-stoppingly intense.
With StageFright, Michele Soavi (who even cameos as a James Dean-infatuated cop) injected new blood into the ailing stalk 'n slash genre. His dazzling visual style, exuberant violence and overpowering use of Simon Boswell’s pounding score definitely hail from his mentor Argento, but he is able to deliver all this with a youthful swagger that gives the mayhem a more MTV sensibility – certainly enough to distinguish his style from his influences. He plays with theatricality, cleverly manipulating his audience and bending as many conventions as he adheres to. Alarmingly 80’s in vogue, and somewhat classical in terms of a one-by-one pick ‘em off, its visceral aplomb and gutsy shock-value are just as powerful now as when blood-starved hack-fans first discovered it.
Ably taking the bloody baton from previous masked madmen (The Phantom of the Opera, Shatner-faced Michael Myers, hockey-visaged Jason Vorhees, Leatherface, Motel Hell’s pig-head etc), our owl-bonced nut-job carves an iconic image that takes slaughter on an agreeably surreal tangent. That glorious set-dressing, get-the-key sequence is a real stand-out that surely warrants repeat viewing even on its own, but the film does build momentum towards a nicely overwrought and warped finale, with its appreciative nod to Tenebrae. There are inconsistencies and silly bits aplenty… but what would a glorious Giallo flick be without such things?
John Morghen – possibly the most screen-butchered actor in Italian film history – and David Brandon, as the single-minded and contemptible production director, provide dependable focal points for a squabbling cast of ubiquitous screamers.
Soavi’s directorial debut is an old school slasher, smothered in Argento sauce and presented with 80’s neon-splashed sass. And it kicks the bloody bits off his mentor’s movies post Opera, for sure.
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