Oct 11, 2010


The Plot: On an American stage, a surrealist play called The Night Owl is rehearsed by Peter Colins, a pretentious and conceited but artistically talented director. When one of the actresses, Alicia Alvarez, sprains her ankle on stage, she’s taken to a hospital for some quick treatment against Peter’s knowledge on the grounds that Peter would not let her go anyways. Once there though, Alicia and her friend Betty discover that a famous serial killer ex-actor, Irving Wallace, is being treated there. Upon seeing Alicia, Irving devises a way to escape from the hospital undetected and follow the two back to the play house. After murdering Betty, Irving disappears and the cast retreats back to their homes after the tragedy. However, Peter and his accountant Jack Ferrari devise a way to keep the rehearsal going. Desperate to make his play a hit, Peter locks a select group of his performers in the play house in order to practice a new, revised script based on the recent murder just outside the building. However, as the crew get into their new roles, Irving reveals to have holed himself up in the theater and intends to bathe the stage in the blood of the actors.

The Review
I really have to say, this is probably one of the most original Slasher movies I’ve seen in a long time. No, check that, it’s one of the most original Slashers out there! Not only in setting, but in presentation, build-up and atmosphere. I’m honestly amazed how it’s pulled off too, because Stage Fright has its immediate share of Horror movie clichés from beginning to end. It has an Escaped Mental Patient, a Final Girl (who just happens to wear all white), one Spring-Loaded Cat, two bumbling cops although they don’t really bumble, they’re just subtle comic relief, a homosexual character (who I’m pretty sure you know whether they’ll make it out or not), a main victim character you’re supposed to hate and an omnipotent killer. With all of this, you’d think this would be a run-of-the-mill Slasher movie, but there’s enough in the background, enough craft behind the cinematography, enough uniqueness in the score that makes this a unique Slasher as a whole. In fact, I think the only things this movie lacks in order to be a totally unoriginal Slasher would be actual teenage/young adult characters, T&A and the woods.

The movie has quite some build-up, though. It opens up with the play in progress and I really wish someone would adapt it to the stage because it looks 100% hilarious. What’s even funnier is how the crew to the play was probably the crew to the actual movie. The setting of a playhouse to a weirdly exploitive play all ready offers a lot of visual variety and color to the screen, but none of it would have come out that way if it wasn’t for excellent cinematography… which the movie has plenty of. The movie is chock-full of nice shots from long, dimly-lit hallways to quiet stage backdrops. There are some brilliant close-ups and angles, too, mostly of glancing eyes and parting lips. The lighting is just right: no scene is too dark and everything is lit enough so that everything is visible. I wouldn’t say the brightness detracts from the atmosphere though, because there are quite a lot of creepy and intense scenes that were very well lit. Right off the bat, I have to say that the costumes in this are very well done. The things the characters wear bring them to life and are just average enough to be believable. I totally love the killer owl costume, too, that’s a work of genius right there.

The entire setting of the movie is brought to life by a rockin’ ‘80’s soundtrack that carries touch of Demons, John Carpenter and just a hint of Labyrinth in there at times. Composed by Simon Boswell, who also composed the soundtrack to the killer Argento flick Phenomena, the soundtrack brings the movie’s feelings to life from the crazy and sleazy style of Peter’s play, the intensity of chasing after or being chased by the killer to the moment where a character follows a trail of blood to one of the survivors. The score does tend to sound a little fantastic at times like whenever there’s a pursuit in the movie the score gets so intense I found myself bobbing my head to the beats.

The performances in the movie aren’t too bad, though most of them don’t really stand out. If anything, everyone does a great job in making the characters seem realistic enough, each of them being pretty likable or detestable in their own special way. David Brandon is pretty good as a sleazy, but desperate director trying to make it as a pretentious play writer. If anything, the only part of the character I hated was his wardrobe… ech. I particularly like the Nose-Candy aspect to him, that was a nice touch. Giovanni Radice is awesome in this movie as he is in practically every movie I’ve seen him in. Here he plays the character Brett, a flamboyantly gay dancer who sort of reminds me of gay co-workers in previous jobs; as stereotypical as the character seemed, he came across pretty convincing according to my personal experiences and further more Brett was really funny (“Don’t rush me, Gloria!”).

Ever since I saw her in The Church (another Michele Soavi movie), I practically fell in love with Barbara Cupisti because she’s got a certain atmosphere to her in all of her performances. She comes across as the perfect ‘Everyday Woman Trapped in a Horrific Situation’ in the movies I’ve seen her in and Stage Fright is no exception; if I were developing a Survival Horror game and had to make a heroine for it, I’d model that heroine off of Barbara Cupisti. She sort of comes across as the typical Final Girl (and really, that’s all her role comes down to), but she’s stuck between being Virginal and Full of Attitude, tuned to make her character average enough to be relatable. When she has to struggle, she struggles with all her might, and when she’s scared, she’ll scream, but she won’t scream her head off.

I mentioned that the movie is creepy and has an atmosphere to it, but what it comes down to are the grisly death scenes. Most of the death scenes are rather brief, but appropriately gory and there is some consistency to the deaths. It does start out on a shocker when Betty gets murdered and everyone else after her just get stabbed, but the goriness picks up after the second stabbing. Plus, the first time someone is stabbed is really effective because it happens during rehearsal in front of everyone. I swear this killer knows the studio like the palm of his hand though because he knows exactly where all of the most dangerous power tools are and the perfectly places to ambush the actors.

Which is kind of what gets to me about the movie: there doesn’t seem to be much back story to everything which would easily explain some confusing aspects about the movie. Yes, Irving Wallace used to be an actor and I can buy his rather clever tactics of distraction, but how would that amount to him knowing just where to hide in the studio? You couldn’t just say he used to work there in his youth or maybe he found a floor plan in the office? As much as I loved the attic death scene, it seemed the least consistent because one minute we’re in an attic, but then a character drops down into a dark hole in the floor and it’s practically a sewer. Also, when the killer murders someone in the attic the murder weapon he uses doesn’t make a sound until we later see what he used… and it would have been noisy. There are some flops in the movie like how the stunt that injures Alicia in the beginning is clearly a dummy thrown into the air, how whenever a power tool is being used the sound is always delayed until its killing someone on-screen or how the gun near the end suddenly switches from being a 9mm to a .38! Did they use the same gun from Cthulhu Mansion all of a sudden?

What’s interesting about this movie is that the main characters and the actors playing them originally appeared a year ago in a Joe D’Amato sex film called 11 Days, 11 Nights. This included characters such as Alicia, Peter, Danny, Irving and even the hospital nurse, all played by the same actors and this movie was written by George Eastman, an actor who frequently worked with Joe D’Amato as well as Michele Soavi who appeared in some of D’Amato’s movies. What connection that movie has with this one is beyond me seeing how I have yet to obtain a copy of 11 Days; considering the back-story behind some Joe D’Amato related movies, I’m guessing this is a pseudo sequel or retelling of the original story where instead of everyone screwing around, the characters are getting killed. This method sort of reminds me of the Kenji Eno fashion of game development where he’d make a new game with a vastly different story and setting, but similar characters from the previous game.

The Conclusion
This movie ought to be a real good treat for horror fans out there. Stage Fright is a creepy little Italian Slasher with enough style and effectiveness to be a great Horror title, yet enough style and camp to be a great Halloween Party movie. As a side note, I’ll be taking a cue from this movie on cat-naming for when I get another cat… because naming a cat Lucifer is probably the best name you can come up with. That or Gustave.