STAGEFRIGHT- page 2
The basic premise- people trapped overnight, killed off by an unstoppable force- may seem fairly familiar; and indeed STAGEFRIGHT does have somethings in common with Lamberto Bava's box office champ of two years earlier,DEMONS (1985). But, like I said, originality isn't this film's strong point. In-fact Soavi has a lot of fun with the derivative nature of his movie. He makes sly winks to not only DEMONS (in which he had a small part- as the masked ticket man on the underground), but also to his mentor, Dario Argento (including a couple of minor cheeky steals from TENEBRE (1982)), and, to keep the references global, also to John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN (1978) (note the scene when a character runs past a car in their hospital gown during a violent rainstorm)- and also that old standard, the bumbling inefficient cops who fail to realise what's going on (one of which is, here, played by Soavi himself) . I suspect all of these references were completely intentional as Soavi must have been well aware that, whilst making a slasher movie this late in the genre's development he was going to run into quite a few clichés- so he might as well have a bit of fun with them. But sly winks are all they are- they never overwhelm the film and are never played with anything other than a straight face. The other thing that prevents STAGEFRIGHT from seeming like purely a colourful collage of slasher/gialli greatest hits is the facts that Soavi manages to twist them in some way, assembling them so skilfully, that he, at least appears to, create something quite unique. Some of the plot devices he uses are almost dazzlingly cruel (although the film never seems mean-spirited)- in one scene the actors are tricked into killing one of their own who has been left helpless- bound and gagged, in a trap so mischievously evil the unfortunate thespian must have known he was doomed to die at the hands of his friends.
Soavi doesn't even bother to try and disguise the identity of the killer- like in HALLOWEEN , we know who it is from the start; nor does he seem particularly interested in his motives- which we are handed on a plate early on. No, like Argento and Carpenter he is primarily concerned with producing a well oiled shock machine. It isn't the whys-and-wherefores of why the killer kills, but the exhilarating owl-and-mouse game of how he stalks his prey. Irving Wallace is, again like Michael Myers, an absolute cipher. He has no character and we rarely see him without the owl mask (which itself is a piece of clever symbolism)- he just stalks and kills, and then does it again. That's not to say he isn't a little theatrical about it- much to the horror of the entombed thespians- ("He's enjoying himself!" one of them remarks), Wallace pumps up a hysterical classical soundtrack through the theatre's sound system to accompany his murderous rampage (which, by default, then accompanies Soavi's film; adding an almost surreal edge to even fairly innocuous scenes). Soavi's Boogeyman wants to dispose of the cast in flamboyantly violent ways- at one point we see the eyes of the owl scan the theatre's workshop for suitable weapons to continue the onslaught- again, his ultimate goal is something not lost on the remaining cast. It probably goes without saying that Wallace possesses the kind of invincibility of all those other boogeymen that we know and see re-appear in sequel after sequel, but that isn't what makes him scary here. It's his powerhouse determination to whittle away the besieged cast that is electrifying. The actors and actresses are practically helpless- even when armed. He snuffs them out in a variety of gory ways- a pick-axe in the mouth for one, decapitation by axe for another, a third is chainsawed in half - they are harvested in the most brutal way and even locked doors can't protect them from an insistent psycho armed with a powerdrill! All this wrapped up in a last half which is almost unbearably tense.
STAGEFRIGHT is probably the best slasher film of the late 80's- topping anything else that came out of Italy or anywhere else for that matter.
Fact fans may be interested to hear that a certain George Eastman [Aristide Massaccesi], Italian splatter star supremo of such sleaze epics as Joe D'Amoto's double whammy ANTHROPOPHAGOUS THE BEAST (1980) and ABSURD (1981), wrote the screen play and is reported to have directed some footage himself. Incidentally, Soavi appears in the second of those films as a motorcyclist who runs afoul over Eastman's unkillable boogeyman- and it may have been where the two set up a friendship that resulted in this marvellous slasher movie. Soavi followed up STAGEFRIGHT with an assistant gig on Dario Argento's OPERA; and went on to direct a handful of genre movies- including the sublime DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE (1994), before pretty much retiring from film making to care for his sickly son. Having said that he made a return of sorts directing an Italian TV movie last year, so we can but hope for another genre movie from him in the near future.
BODYCOUNT 10 female:4 / male:6
1) Male glimpsed dying- syringe hanging from neck
2) Female whacked with pickaxe through mouth
3) Female strangled and stabbed to death
4) Male stabbed to death
5) Male run through with electric drill
6) Male axed repeatedly in chest
7) Female chopped in half with chain saw
8) Male killed with chain saw
9) Male has arm cut off with chain saw and then decapitated with axe
10) Female attacked with chainsaw and then stabbed to death