Monday, 23 January 2012

Stagefright (1987) - aka The Owling?

A surprisingly good entry in the 1980s slasher subgenre, STAGEFRIGHT defies expectations by being an Italian horror film produced by Joe D'Amato and written by his frequent collaborator Luigi Montefiore (aka George Eastman / Lew Cooper in this) that's actually well crafted, makes sense, isn't too tastelessly over the top in its portrayal of the murders and has dialogue which sounds as if it's being spoken by actors rather than the usual two or three people crammed into a Soho dubbing suite. One would be tempted to lay all the credit for this endeavour at the door of talented first time director Michele Soavi and certainly his subsequent movies make you sorry he hasn't had a longer career in the horror genre.
              Also known in different territories as DELIRIA and BLOODY BIRD (what would a EuroHorror picture be without several different titles?) the clever opening scene makes us think we're on the hideously cheap set of another Italian horror film. But no - we're actually on the hideously cheap set of an Italian stage play called 'The Night Owl'. After a couple of knowing comments about the Italian horror genre as a whole ("I know it doesn't make sense, but can you imagine the effect on the public?") Alicia (Barbara Cupisti) is off to the nearest hospital with Betty the wardrobe mistress to seek treatment for Alicia's sprained ankle. Unfortunately the nearest hospital is an Institution for the Criminally Insane which also just happens to be looking after psychopathic loony mass murderer plus actor Irving Wallace. Wallace escapes and hides in the back seat of the car (why does no-one ever check there after leaving these places?) before doing Betty in with a pickaxe. After the police have been and gone director Peter (David Brandon, who's not at all bad as the megalomaniacal director, although one wonders if having worked in Italy for some time he may have found quite a bit of inspiration to draw on) decides he's found the hook that will sell his play and locks his actors in for the night. Unfortunately Wallace is in there too and once he's found the owl mask and the keys to the tool and chainsaw cupboard the stage is set (sorry) for a series of well-orchestrated and quite ghastly murders, leading to the now famous scene of all the bits of the victims arranged as a tableau tastefully augmented by swirling feathers amongst which is hidden the key Alicia has to retrieve so she can escape.
                    For a 1980s horror film STAGEFRIGHT hasn't dated too badly at all, possibly because the actors' hair and costumes could conceivably be part of the play they're meant to be appearing in. In the era of SAW and its ilk the murders are still quite horrible and Soavi demonstrates on this picture, as he did on subsequent projects THE CHURCH & DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE, that he's a born director with a natural eye for some impressive visual compositions. As I mentioned above the acting all round seems to be rather better than many EuroHorror efforts (and in particular many Joe D'Amato efforts) and Simon Boswell's electronic music augments the proceedings nicely. I believe there was talk of a STAGEFRIGHT 2 for a couple of years after this one but perhaps it's just as well it never materialised. As it is the movie stands as the best owl-headed theatre set slasher movie out there. Unless of course anyone knows better?


  1. Yeah, I liked Stage Fright...watched it on Chinese Guangzhou TV in 1994(the movie was not even on the schedule since the programmer was the guy in the control booth at the time). The funny thingw was that there was a Mandarin voice over narration with the movie describing what was happening in the scenes...I found this amusing.

    I watched it again in 1997 in a Japanese laserdisc.

    However did not like the Church and Dellamorte.

  2. I think THE CHURCH & DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE are more...stylistic? STAGEFRIGHT is a more straightforward giallo and I agree it's probably his most enjoyable picture, certainly from a narrative standpoint. I haven't seen THE SECT

  3. I think why I did not like the Church back then was that I just watched Demons 1 & 2 and the Church was billed as Demons 3 the Ogre in overseas territories, So I expected more of the Demons thing. I'll watch it again and see if it grows on me.

    Dellamorte Dellamore, well I read the Italian comic it was based on but for some reason I remember being turned off by it. Though the ending and movie was quite surreal, nice cinematography though.

    Anyways talking about Italian horror, one movie called Spider Labyrinth should have already been released in the US and UK in DVD but it hasn't. I remember watching this in a Japanese laserdisc in Manila back in the early 90s. Liked the Lovecraftian Argento style of the movie. This deserves a US/UK release.

  4. SPIDER LABYRINTH looks very interesting indeed! I've yet to track it down.

  5. Spider Labyrinth is available in the US as a bootleg DVD ripped straight from the VHS.

    Quality is so so.

    Yeah this deserves a nice official DVD release, I actually sent a DVD request to Shameless, they seem to specialize in Italo horror vintage in the UK these days.

  6. Yes I looked up that DVD on, but one customer review said it looked like quite a poor transfer. I may wait until something better is available.

  7. Yeah, I saw the transfer, its like a 3rd generation VHS transfer from VHS...adequate but Spider Labyrinth deserves a quality DVD release.

    In the No Shame forums, there are a number of fans who commented that they would like Spider labyrinth to get a decent DVD release so there is a chance No Shame might put it out.

  8. Well I've ordered a copy of Spider Labyrinth. My thoughts will probably turn up here eventually!

  9. And sadly SPIDER LABYRINTH wasn't terribly good. A couple of scary bits and a weird spider baby but an awfully long time to get there.