Director – Michele Soavi
Cast – David Brandon, Barbara Cupisti, Clain Parker, Domenico Fiore, Robert Gligorov, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Loredana Parrella, Martin Philips, James Sampson, Ulrike Schwerk, Mary Sellers, Jo Ann Smith, Piero Vida, Mickey Knox, Richard Barkeley
Release Year – 1987
Reviewed by John of the Dead
I first heard of Italian director Michele Soavi when I became obsessed with Dario Argento’s work and learned that Soavi is considered by many to be his protégé. Instead of starting at the beginning of his filmography, I started with his final horror effort, Cemetery Man, and then watched his pseudo sequel to the Demons series, The Church. Soavi learned from a few of Italy’s finest horror directors, serving as assistant director to Argento for Tenebre and Phenomena, then he reprised this role for Lamberto Bava’s Demons. After working for another mentor, Aristide Massaccesi (AKA Joe D’Amato; Anthropophagus), Soavi was finally given the chance to direct his own film when Massaccesi, provided him with Stage Fright. Armed with an engaging story with a miniscule budget, Michele Soavi achieved greatness by giving us one of the greatest giallo films of all time, and opened the door for his solid future endeavors.
While rehearsing for a small-town production of a play, a group of struggling actors find themselves trapped in the theater as a masked killer murders them one by one.
I have a personal affection for horror films that take place in theaters, as well as those that provide a nowhere to run scenario. Writer George Eastman (Anthropophagus) employs both of these tactics, and very quickly immersed me into the film with the first kill at the 17 minute mark. He does so by making this kill a jaw-dropping one that is sure to throw you for a loop, and the highly engaging first act does not end there. A pickaxe to the face a few minutes later marks the first actor death and from then on out I was witness to one of my favorite giallo / slasher experiences. Donning an owl mask from the production, the killer hacks away at the once unsuspecting crew and does so in marvelous fashion. Dismemberments and decapitations grace the screen, and they are provided by a slew of hand-welded weapons. The owl mask is sure to draw comparisons to Argento’s animal themed films, and I found it uniquely terrifying. Overall the story is a simple one whose adornment of awesome kills from an enjoyable killer result in a high payoff.
Michele Soavi’s direction is superb and he expertly brings Eastman’s story to life in vivid fashion. The sets and atmosphere are highly engaging treat to the eye, and Renato Tafuri’s cinematography allowed me to envelop myself into the situation the actors found themselves in. His execution of the killer is amazing and definitely the greatest highlight of the film. He really is just a casually dressed man with a large owl mask over his head, but the little things Soavi did brought him to life. His mannerisms were spooky and his gruesome actions brought amazing terror to the screen. As customary for such films, the gore is live-action and copious at times. With this being a minimalistic film I was surprised at the quality of the kill sequences, as well as the brutality of it all. It is obvious that the film’s resources were allocated to the elements that mattered most, and I applaud Soavi for giving us an amazing film in his debut direting effort.
Overall, Stage Fright is an amazing Italian horror film that I highly suggest you check out, especially if you fancy giallo and slasher flicks. The story is engaging and is adorned with numerous kills that provide the utmost in the carnage we expect from these films. Soavi’s expert direction brings these incredible scenes to life and he proves to us all that he really did learn from the best in the sub-genre.