Saturday 11 December 2021

Stagefright (1987)

"The Best Available Transfer of An Italian Classic"

Shameless Films are bringing out Michele Soavi's directorial debut STAGEFRIGHT on Blu-ray in a new 4K scan. It was previously released on UK Blu-ray by Exposure Cinema in 2014. We'll come to the comparisons in a bit but first let's talk about the film itself.

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 the credits to this usually but given his real name here) 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 makes you sorry he hasn't had a longer career in the horror genre.

Also known in different territories as DELIRIA, AQUARIUS 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. 

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 tableaux 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 there is, and it’s unlikely to be bettered.

So how does Shameless' new disc measure up? I reviewed the 2014 Exposure Cinema Blu here and at the time it was a major upgrade from what had been available previously. I'm delighted to report that the new Shameless 4K scan looks even better and is now without a doubt the best that STAGEFRIGHT has ever looked. The disc comes with new extras as well - a 45 minute interview with Soavi (with his dog in the background!) details his career, we get 21 minutes with Giovanni Lombardo Radice and there's another 21 minute interview with David Brandon. The extras on Exposure's disc haven't been ported over so if you're at all a fan of STAGEFRIGHT I'd suggest you hang onto that one but at the same time you need the Shameless transfer (plus of course those new extras) to really see this one at its best.

Michele Soavi's STAGEFRIGHT is out on Blu-ray in a 4K-restored version from Shameless Films on Monday 27th December 2021

It's also available right now from the Shameless site:

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