Saturday, September 20, 2014

STAGE FRIGHT (1987) (Exposure Cinema Blu-ray Review)


Region Code: ALL
Duration: 90 Minutes
Rating:  18 Certificate
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Michele Soavi
Cast: David Brandon, Barbara Cupisti, Domenico Fiore, Robert Gligorov, Mickey Knox, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, George Eastman

A group of theater actors under the direction of opportunistic director (David Brandon) are rehearsing for a new musical set to open is just a few days. The musical is The Night Owl and involves a serial killer that is raped by his victims. During rehearsals star
Alicia (Barbara Cupisti) injures her ankle and sneaks off to the nearest medical facility for treatment - which just happens to be a sanitarium for the criminally insane. One of the inmates there is a former actor turned serial killer named Irving Wallace who has murdered over a dozen people. Unfortunately for Alicia and her co star Betty (Ulrike Schwerk) the notorious killer escapes the asylum and hitches a ride with the ladies back to the theater unbeknownst to them. The killer dispatches Betty with a pick-ax to the face and her body is discovered by Alicia.

The cops are called in and they haul away the body and reveal that the killer must be the escaped Irving Wallace who murdered a male orderly at the asylum with a syringe to the neck. The authorities station a patrol car outside of the theater and the theater troupe lock themselves in the theater as the opportunistic director attempts to rework the musical to capitalize on the gruesome murder by making the notorious Irving Wallace the villain of the play - unaware that the murderous actor is inside the theater and as bloodthirsty as ever. 

That's the set-up for what is a pretty great late-entry slasher and one of the better Italian films of the era from first-time director Michele Soavi who honed his chops as not only an actor in such films as CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD and ALIEN 2 ON EARTH but as the first-assistant director working for Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and Terry Gilliam. The man has style and it shows with his first feature film which is an assured, stylish and violent piece of Eurocult cinema. 

The theater troupe provide a fun cast of bitchy characters beginning with a pompous theater director (Brandon) and a sleazy producer Ferrari (Piero Vida) and then there's the cast highlighted by Giovanni Lombardo Radice of CANNIBAL FEROX as a gay actor who trades catty barbs with theater diva Laurel (Mary Sellers) - these two are a fun pair. Much of the other cast are forgettable more or less but they all have memorable deaths so who really cares. 

So we have a ton of awesome visual flourishes but and some obvious nods to Argento including a nice lift from TENEBRE, plus did I mention that the killer Irving Wallace wears an owl-headed mask! Maybe the most outrageous masked killer since the bear mascot in GIRLS NITE OUT! It helps that our killer has access to a wide range of weapons and uses them to their fullest potential, beginning with knifing an actress to death n front of the entire cast - the outfit he's wearing is one of the signature costumes of the musical and no one realizes the deranged actors intentions until the blood starts to flow. So far we've had a syringe to the neck, the pick-ax to the face and now a knife plunged into a a poor starlet' guts and they only get more violent throughout as the killer makes use of a power drill, a hatchet and a chainsaw - some seriously grisly murders that look great on camera. 

Now the script is a bit of a let down but these Italian horrors were never reality based in my

opinion and were quite fantastical. Logic more or less takes a backseat to blood-spattered visuals and gruesome dismemberment and I am alright with that trade-off. The gore gags are delicious and completely make-up for that hilarious and completely unnecessary finale. 

Stylistically this is a gorgeous film with some great stylized lighting, scenes are bathed in electric blue light and the colors are vibrant and very nineteen-eighties, very loud and obnoxious. A particular scene of the killer on stage with his victims displayed around him stands out as something quite special, it is almost hallucinatory as he sits upon a throne admiring the aftermath of his carnage while he strokes a cat named Lucifer as bloody feathers fall from the sky. Adding to the atmosphere of the film is an effective electronic score from composer Simon Boswell who also scored the films DEMONS, DUST DEVIL and PHENOMENA just to name a few. 

Stage Fright arrives on Blu-ray from Exposure Cinema uncut for the first time in the UK
with a brand new restoration, color-timing corrected and produced from original vault elements and I must say that the restoration here is top notch and matches the Blue Underground Blu-ray in all respects. The print is damn near flawless to my eyes and the colors are vibrant with a very pleasing level of clarity. Black levels and shadow detail are strong and there's a fair amount of fine detail in the close-up shots. Currently my Blue Underground disc is out on loan but I must say without the benefit of a side by side comparison this would seem to be equal in all measures. 

The only audio option is a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo Mix with optional English subtitles. The presentation is crisp and clean with a nice balance and no distortion. Dialogue is always clear and Simon Boswell's atmospheric score sounds quite nice. 

Minus the 5.1 surround Mix on the Blue Underground disc this is pretty much an even match with that disc - which is also region-free. Let's have a peek at the extras - for many this will be the hand that tips the scale. we begin with a new retrospective documentary with director Michele Soavi and actors Barbara Cupisti and Mary sellers plus screenwriter George Eastman (29 Minutes HD). In Italian with English subtitles. 

Giovanni’s Method - Interview with star Giovanni Lombardo Radice (21 Minutes HD) is on par with the interview on the BU disc with the actor who starred in CANNIBAL FEROX and HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK speaking about meeting Soavi early in his career and stealing a few roles they both auditioned for. In Italian with English subtitles. 

Alan Jones: The Critic’s Take – the critic and FrightFest co-founder discusses the film in detail (29 Minutes HD) features the critic speaking at length about his love of the film and his own experiences with Dario Argento, Soavia and Joe D'Amato. 

There's also a cool Cut Version Comparison (2 Minutes HD) featurette with a split screen comparison of the cut Avatar Video release and the new uncut version, plus the original theatrical trailer and a gallery with behind-the-scenes images and international artwork including the very cool alternate title of THE BLOODY BIRD! 

There are two extras that are not specific to the actual film, first we have the hour-long Joe D’Amato: Totally Uncut (55 Minutes HD) an hour-long interview with the director/producer in Italian with English subtitles that spans his entire career. And a very cool doc Revenge of the Video Cassette - documentary about VHS horror collectors (25 Minutes HD) featuring Dale Lloyd of VivaVHS site - while not specifically commenting on this film I did sneak a peek at a STAGE FRIGHT VHS on his shelves. It's a pretty hip extras with some fun VHS inspired music videos, fashions and fans of the format speaking about their love of all things VHS. There's also a nearly six minute trailer for ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST on the disc in HD!

SPECIAL FEATURES:- Original trailer (2 Minutes HD) 
- Still, poster and behind-the-scenes gallery featuring rare photos and international artwork (8 Minutes, HD)
- Cut Version Comparison (2 Minutes HD)
- A Bloodstained Featherstorm – Interviews with cast and makers, including director Michele Soavi and leading lady Barbara Cupisti (29 Minutes HD)
- Giovanni’s Method - Interview with star Giovanni Lombardo Radice (21 Minutes HD)
- Alan Jones: The Critic’s Take – the critic and FrightFest co-founder discusses the film in detail (29 Minutes HD)
- Joe D’Amato: Totally Uncut – Archival, hour-long interview with the film’s producer on his career in Italian horror cinema (55 Minutes HD)
- Revenge of the Video Cassette - documentary about VHS horror collectors (25 Minutes HD)
- Video Chillers – collector’s illustrated ’80s-style booklet featuring new articles on late gialli and overlooked slashers, trivia and biographies
- Limited Collector’s Edition (3,000 copies)
- Original artwork used on front cover

STAGE FRIGHT is a damn fine slasher film with plenty of Dario Argento esque flourishes, I love that nod to TENEBRE! A fantastic looking film with vibrant neon colors and great lighting with an inspired masked-killer and some brutal violence -  there's just a lot to love about this film. 
This is the first release I've seen from EXPOSURE CINEMA and I am quite impressed. Keep in mind that this edition is limited to 3000 copies so act fast - truth be told I think I prefer the extras on this disc over the Blue Underground release. A top notch release with some great bonus content, a very high recommended.