Also known as StageFright: Aquarius, Deliria, Bloody Bird, Sound Stage Massacre
Directed by Michele Soavi
Written by Lew Cooper [George Eastman, aka Luigi Montefiori]
Starring Barbara Cupisti, David Brandon, Giovanni Lombardo Radice
BluRay Region B released by Exposure Cinema (Ltd to 3000)
Schlepping out now onto blu-ray, almost completely devoid of the kind of fanfare it deserves and very nearly lost amidst numerous release date changes, is StageFright; a rip-roaring Italian shocker and the first feature proper of Dario Argento protege Michele Soavi. Though Soavi would later go on to helm much more ambitious and more epically scoped projects like the Argento-presented The Church and The Sect, and the exquisite, Rupert Everett-starring Dellamorte Dellamore (aka Cemetery Man), it’s this lean and mean offering that is his crowning terror achievement.
Soavi’s StageFright producer, the late Aristide Massaccesi (or ‘Joe D’Amato’ to give the spaghetti schlock maven his better known alias), thought so too and cited Soavi’s subsequent work – somewhat harshly – as overblown and unfocused; a fact recounted by Alan Jones in one of several solid special features that fill Exposure’s tasty limited edition disc. Entitled ‘The Critic’s Take’, Jones – an undisputed high priest of genre film criticism, the Italian stuff especially so – makes for terrific company as usual in a fascinating twenty-odd minute long dissection of the film and Soavi’s career. “It’s an amalgam of the best of American and the best of Italian movies,” he explains, and it’s hard not to disagree with him.
Blending both his home countries unique giallo vogue with the distinctly American slasher formula that sprung from it, Soavi crafts an enthralling and slick popcorn scare flick; sumptuous Italian murder mystery by way of crowd-pleasing, Friday the 13th-style primal brutality.
Working from a story by Big Boot B-pic mainstay George Eastman – perhaps best remembered as the titular gut-muncher in Massaccesi’s charmingly lousy video nasty Anthropophagus, and credited here as ‘Lew Cooper’ – Soavi’s set up is a bog standard body count scenario: A masked maniac, fresh from the local mental institution, bumping off a slew of thinly drawn characters in a typically isolated location. Though such a conceit was already stretched to breaking point even by this late eighties stage in the stalk and slash cycle, the ferocity and the pizazz with which Soavi knocks down his stacked dominoes is what truly elevates StageFright far beyond cliche and into the realms of not just a great slicer and dicer, but to the upper echelons of essential must-see horror status.
Soavi milks the tension of his playhouse setting for all it’s worth, delivering plenty of jolts as his bloodthirsty killer – deranged ex-actor Irving Wallace (Clain Parker) – prowls the shadows of the stage and the labyrinthine dressing and storage rooms. Hidden by a giant owl mask that is at once both completely absurd and surprisingly creepy, Wallace has taken a particular shine to ingenue Alicia (Barbara Cupisti, who would appear in Argento’s similarly themed Opera less than a year later), the lead in the bonkers erotic performance piece that is being rehearsed at the theatre. With a troupe of thespians and backstage talent (including gore icon and Soavi regular Giovanni Lombardo Radice, aka ‘John Morghen’, as the deliciously preening Brett) locked in for the night by their highly strung director (a fine scenery-chewing turn from David Brandon), it isn’t long at all before the corpses start piling up…
Pre-cut by distributor Avatar upon its original British tape release, StageFright has appeared uncut in two notable reissues since from Redemption and the infamous Vipco; most notably as part of the latter’s budget Scream Time DVD collection (“Scare yourself shitless for £5.99!”) a little over a decade ago. Exposure, of course, carry on this uncensored tradition and even go as far to add a lovely little comparison featurette spotlighting the differences between theirs and Avatar’s print.
StageFright’s status as something of a minor rental tape classic seems to be the real theme of the blu-ray, with Exposure’s key art replicating Avatar’s original sleeve right down to its inclusion of an old style 18 certificate – a cute touch. Modern VHS culture is explored too in the disc’s breezy doc ‘Revenge of the Video Cassette’; a fun addition. Also included is an illustrated booklet, ‘Video Chillers’, that was sadly unavailable with the press copy.
On the transfer front, Exposure have unleashed a pleasing affair: The odd burst of visual noise and haloing due to slightly overdone edge enhancement aside, it’s quite the eye-popper, with natural flesh-tones and well-balanced grading.
It certainly showcases Soavi’s mastery – even at this fledgling stage – of colour and depth far better than Vipco’s orange-tinged hues ever did; although, in the old V’s defence, their StageFright’s picture quality was infinitely superior to most of the ugly-looking hooey they usually belted out. Don’t be getting rid of that version quite yet, however: While this blu-ray marks the first time StageFright has been available upon these shores in its correct 1:85:1 aspect ratio outside of the import market, Vipco’s open matte release reveals more information at the top and bottom of the picture. For Soavi’s cheeky, fourth wall-breaking final shot, the open matte is actually more preferable.
Soavi himself pops up in ‘A Bloodstained Featherstorm’; Exposure’s good if somewhat rambling half hour making of piece. Thankfully, Soavi, along with the still beautiful Cupisti, scripter Eastman and actress Mary Sellers, share enough anecdotes to make it well worth dipping into; the best of which being Sellers’ explanation of the film’s subtitle ‘Aquarius’ and Soavi’s recollections of working with Lucio Fulci, Lamberto Bava and the aforementioned Argento and Massaccesi both in front of and behind the camera.
Massaccesi’s involvement is discussed in the excellent, fifty minute long ‘Joe D’Amato: Totally Uncut”; an in depth archival chinwag with the Euro-pud icon that, along with the film, is worth the price of admission alone. It’s the highlight of Exposure’s package – though actor Radice’s interview feature ‘Giovanni’s Method’ comes a very close second, with the cult hero on fine droll form. Rounding things out is the film’s trailer and a thorough stills gallery.
Strangely, composer Simon Boswell is nowhere to be found. Considering just how integral the Brit maestro’s rousing and atmospheric score (which rattles around Exposure’s serviceable 2.0 stereo track rather nicely too) is to Soavi’s haunting imagery, and with it being on the cusp of a deluxe vinyl reissue, his non-inclusion is something of a missed opportunity. Overall, however, Exposure have assembled a damn good set well worth picking up. Collectors take note though: With Blue Underground’s region free Stateside edition landing in the next couple of days, and with its specs identifying a completely different set of extras to Exposure’s release, it looks as though devout StageFright disciples – and, personally, this writer includes himself in that bracket – will have to fork out for both versions. It’ll certainly be interesting seeing how they weigh up against each other…
The film 9 out of 10
The disc 7 out of 10
⦁ Dual format edition: contains both Blu-ray Disc and DVD versions of the film
⦁ High-bitrate, dual-layer encoding for high picture and sound quality
⦁ New restoration, colour-timing corrected and produced from original vault elements
⦁ Original trailer
⦁ Still, poster and behind-the-scenes gallery featuring rare photos and international artwork
⦁ Cut version comparison
⦁ A Bloodstained Featherstorm
⦁ Giovanni’s Method: Interview with star Giovanni Lombardo Radice (aka John Morghen)
⦁ Alan Jones: The Critic’s Take
⦁ Joe D’Amato: Totally Uncut
⦁ Revenge of the Video Cassette
⦁ Video Chillers booklet
⦁ Limited Collector’s Edition (3,000 copies)
⦁ Original artwork used on front cover
⦁ Feature Running Time: 90 minutes approx.
⦁ Picture: Colour | 1080p/24 | Widescreen 1.85:1 / 16:9
⦁ Sound: English language | Uncompressed audio (BD), Dolby (DVD)
⦁ Subtitles: English for the hard-of-hearing (removable; main feature only)
Buy StageFright from Exposure Cinema
Follow Matty on twitter @mattybudrewicz