STAGEFRIGHT- UK Avatar release
4 and a half stars
"The Theatre of Death"

directed by: Michele Soavi
starring: David Brandon, Barbara Cupisti, Robert Gligorov, Martin Philip, John Morghen [Giovanni Lombardo Radice], Don Fiore, Mickey Knox, Clain Parker, Lori Parrel

(back of video blurb):
       "In an old obsolete theatre a performance group are rehearsing for their new play "The Horror Musical" (sic), a drama inspired by the real life events connected to a sadistic mass murderer Irving Wallace (sic). As the group rehearse, they are totally unaware that Irving has escaped the confines of his mental institution and is about to put some reality into their world of make believe. The slaughtered body of the wardrobe mistress is found outside the theatre, devastating the entire cast. Seizing on the murder as an opportunity to promote his play, the director moves the opening night forward, forcing the actors to rehearse that night, all night, by locking them in the theatre. In the panic that follows the key is lost! The entire cast realise that they have to face a night of terror confined in the theatre, knowing that Irving is in there with them, hiding prowling, selecting his next victim."

choice dialogue:

"He'll go alright- but only after he's killed every last one of us!"

- the surviving thespians discuss the univited critic's intentions!

slash with panache?

       Have you ever wondered what would happen if the most brutal power tool driven American slasher movie collided head-on with the most ultra stylish Italian giallo? Well, wonder no longer. Michele Soavi's STAGEFRIGHT is that movie.

        It film starts, ominously, with a black screen sporting stark white credits accompanied by the sounds of a cat mewling. These give way to a street at night- a black cat strolls past a hooker standing under a streetlight, who's looking up and down the street. A feather floats down in front of her and, suddenly, she is grabbed by an unseen What starts out like a standard giallo is revealed to be taking place on stage...assailant and dragged through a doorway. Her screams bring people running. Silhouetted through dry ice they reach through to touch her prone and lifeless body. As they bend down, and with a burst of screaming jazz saxophone, a man in black- his head covered by a gigantic owl mask, flies through the air above their heads. He lands on his feet and immediately begins to dance! The saxophone continues to wail through the 'night' air- played by a woman, in a Marilyn Monroe style windswept dress; and the bystanders stalk and dance after the owl-faced killer. No, this isn't SLASHDANCE (although there is a film that goes under that particular name!)- the camera pans back to reveal all the action we have just seen is actually taken place on stage, and is being watched by an irate director- Peter ( David Brandon), and assorted stage hands. What we were watching turns out to be a rehearsal for 'The Night Owl', described by one character as "an intellectual musical"- in a theatre supposedly off-Broadway (which I dare say was a little closer to Roma!).

       Peter, after watching the dead prostitute, Alicia (Barbara Cupsisti), come back to life and begin to sexually tease her 'killer', marches onto the stage and barks "Cut!". He throws a temper tantrum- mostly directed at Alicia, and stalks the boards and growls at the production's greasy backer, Ferrari (Piero Vida), "...those people out there literally stink!" Most of the cast flee to the backstage area. The owl-faced killer takes off his mask, and is revealed to be Italian horror's most violated man John Morghen, here playing, much against type, a very camp dancer named Brett. Alicia A few ill-fated thespians ... (Alicia (Barbara Cupsisti) is on the left; and that's John Morghen on the right!)summons the seamstress, Betty (Ulrike Schwerk) and confides to her that she can hardly dance as her ankle hurts so much. Betty suggests that they slip out unnoticed and take a trip to a nearby hospital for someone to have a look at it. This they do, but when they get there they realise that it isn't quite the type of hospital they thought it was when they have a run in with a nurse on reception, who drawls sardonically - "now one minute honey, you're the one who doesn't understand. This is a psychiatric hospital, not a first aid station. So even if your friend over there was Liza Minnelli she'd still have to be crazy to get in here!". Their luck briefly changes however when a passing doctor agrees to take a look at Alicia's ankle. They head to his office via the maximum security wing (as you do), past a row of cells- one of which, it turns out, houses a man called Irving Wallace- a classical actor who went insane and murdered sixteen people and "…chopped them up into little bits!" …Now, I expect you can see where this is one is going and go there it does… Without wanting to give too much more away let's just say that three people return to the theatre and, through a series of clever plot devices, a small group of thespians find themselves locked in, stalked by someone in the owl mask who, this time, isn't playacting… Cue the Grand Guginol! (-that's Soavi himself on the left- playing one of the bumbling cops)

      STAGEFRIGHT certainly doesn't win any points for originality, but that hardly seems to matter because it is just so darned good in practically every other department. It's an ultra stylish production (well, as ultra stylish as a flick from 1987 can now seem!), which has some awe-inspiring scenes of suspense (the one with the key, near the end, is guaranteed to have you on the edge of your seat), and is liberally sprinkled with flashes of cruel brilliance. It's the prime example of the slasher/giallo hybrid- taking all the best bits from each genre and jettisoning the rest. This achievement is no less remarkable when you think that it was made when both genres had pretty much run out of ideas. Doubly so when you think this was Michele Soavi's directorial debut.