Home » Stagefright Retrospective – Stalk and Slash at the Theater

Stagefright Retrospective – Stalk and Slash at the Theater

Michael Soavie's Stagefright Poster.
Stagefright poster.

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In Stagefright, a theatre troupe is rehearsing tirelessly to prepare for the opening of their play. When one of the performers injures her ankle, she drives to a nearby hospital for medical attention. What the dancer doesn’t realize is that the institution she has chosen is actually a mental hospital. A kind physician agrees to see her anyway. But when the young performer leaves the hospital, she brings an uninvited guest back with her. The director then proceeds to unintentionally lock the performers in the theater with the escaped mental patient. From there, the deranged madman preys upon the cast members and picks them off, one by one.

The acting in Stagefright is very over the top. Part of that is because the performers are putting on a very garish play. But it also stems from performances completely unrelated to the stage production that is taking place within the film. The over the top nature of the performances harkens back to the giallos of the 1970s and is forgivable as such.

Though the dialogue is often overstated, the looping is surprisingly good for an Italian horror film. Many of the giallos of the 70s are riddled with ridiculous dubbing that is out of sequence with what the characters are saying. But for the most part, the audio matches with what’s happening onscreen in Stagefright.

Michael Soavi – a longtime apprentice to many of the greatest names in Italian horror cinema – directs Stagefright. He has learned from his mentors how to tell a story in pictures and music.  He has also inherited the lack of cohesion common to the work of his various mentors. Stagefright is completely incoherent but it is enjoyably so. The plot is like a loosely adhered to backdrop to complement the grisly murders. Like the masters of Italian horror, Soavi manages to get away with a lack of coherency without alienating his audience. The film is still enjoyable in spite of its lack of any real continuity.

The weaponry in Stagefright will likely be amusing to the film’s target audience. The weapons which the killer employs to eradicate his victims are increasingly inventive as the runtime of the film progresses. He starts out with knives and the like but by the end has employedn an axe, a chainsaw, and a variety of other unique artillery.

Stagefright is fast paced and highly engaging. There are ample chase sequences. And the fast paced editing and clever camerawork come together to build a mounting sense of unease. The scenes that take place on the catwalk are especially unnerving.

There is a fantastic showdown between the final girl and the killer. They traipse all over the theater as they engage in a high stakes game of cat and mouse.

There are multiple final scares. The viewer may think that they’ve seen the last of the killer but he keeps coming back for more. Stagefright goes well beyond the obligatory final scare and allows its killer to survive as series of incidents as if he is completely invincible. This makes for some unexpected excitement from the audience, who may not be anticipating the madman to return so many times.

All DVD releases of Stagefright appear to be out of print at the time of this posting. This is a recent turn of events. So the film can still be had at a fair price if you get ahold of a copy soon. My favorite DVD release is the Blue Underground version. None of the versions of the film have any special features to speak of. But the Blue Underground DVD presents a nice transfer of the film. If you have a taste for Italian horror, Stagefright is a must see. It is fast paced. And it contains some spectacular kills scenes. If you are not familiar with Soavi’s predecessors, you may want to get comfortable with Argento and Bava before taking on this film. It’s hard to appreciate the film without understanding its context.

WICKED RATING: 6/10  [usr 6]

Director(s): Michael Soavi
Writer(s): George Eastman, Sheila Goldberg
Stars: David Brandon, Barbara Cupisti
Year: 1987
Studio/ Production Co: DMV Distribuzione 
Budget: $1 Million (Estimated)
Language: English
Length: 86 Minutes
Sub-Genre: Slasher

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stage_Fright_(1987_film)

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Written by Tyler Doupé
Tyler Doupe' is the managing editor at Wicked Horror. He has previously penned for Fangoria Mag, Rue Morgue Mag, FEARnet, Fandango, ConTV, Ranker, Shock Till You Drop, ChillerTV, ComingSoon, and more. He lives with his husband, his dogs, and cat hat(s).
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