BLU-RAY REVIEW: STAGEFRIGHT / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: MICHELE SOAVI / SCREENPLAY: GEORGE EASTMAN, SHEILA GOLDBERG / STARRING: DAVID BRANDON, BARBARA CUPISTI, GIOVANNI LOMBARDO RADICE / RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 22ND
An oft-forgotten relic from the height of the video age, StageFright (or StageFright: Aquarius as it's sometimes known) gets a welcome uncut reissue in HD courtesy of Exposure Cinema, and it's a package well worth checking out!
As emotions at the rehearsals for a musical stage production called The Night Owl, in which the murderer wears a large owl's head, get strained, an escaped killer (who just so happens to be an actor who went crazy and massacred his fellow thespians) gate-crashes the theatre, locking them all in, and proceeds to pop them off one-by-one. Wearing the grotesque owl-head costume of the leading man, the murderer, chops, slashes, drills, and decapitates the troupe, while those still living attempt to escape.
It's a fairly standard slasher set-up, but the addition of a number of things raises StageFright above the mediocre. The first is obvious; the instantly creepy and memorable costume the killer wears. However, we also have to take into account the fantastic visuals both director Soavi (a protégé of Dario Argento, and it shows) and cinematographer Renato Tafuri bring to the proceedings. There's a plethora of stunningly beautiful shots, with the camera swooping across the theatre stage like the proverbial night owl. Plus, the pedigree behind the film goes even deeper. Radice (billed under his Anglo-name, John Morghen), was already famous for such horror classics as The House on the Edge of the Park, City of the Living Dead and Cannibal Ferox, and is instantly recognisable. In addition, behind the scenes, George Eastman, the foetus-eating wrong 'un from Anthropophagus - the Beast, wrote the script (although the dialogue was extensively re-done) and apparently played the killer when the owl-head is on, and it's produced by that film's director, Joe D'Amato. That it's not more well known is quite a sin.
Despite (or maybe because of) the ludicrous dubbing - Radice's camp dancer is a scream; literally - there's a lot of fun to be had, and the pomptastic '80s synth score is as rousing as any of the more famous Italian classics. The killings are perhaps not as elaborate as those committed to celluloid by Mario Bava, Argento, or Lucio Fulci, but are impressively bloody nonetheless. It's also still remarkably suspenseful, and a number of now-clichéd jump scares still actually succeed.
However, the release is an essential purchase by virtue its array of extra features. The Blu-ray boasts almost three hours worth of bonus goodies. Some are short but sweet, like a comparison between the uncut print presented here, and the 1987 UK video release. A talking heads feature with director Soavi and actor Barbara Cupisti talking (subtitled) their way through their career highlights is very enlightening, as is an on-screen interview with Radice. UK film journalist (and head honcho behind FrightFest) Alan Jones spouts the virtues of the film and the director. The two meatiest morsels are an archival documentary about producer D'Amato, which while low quality, is fascinating, and a newly made item, The Revenge of the Video Cassette, which is a fun homage to the old tape format. Featuring interviews with collectors and amusing asides highlighting some of the weird and wonderful things that have been inspired by the machines (a VHS recorder converted into a toaster, anyone?) it's a greatly entertaining item, only hampered by the insistence of overdoing the faux 'drop-outs' and tracking lines. It's a fantastically put together package of a good - if not great - film, and well worth having.