Sunday, September 7, 2014

STAGEFRIGHT (1987)

STAGEFRIGHT (1987) 

Label: Blue Underground
Region Code: ALL
Duration: 90 Minutes
Rating: Unrated 
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD; 2.0 DTS-HD with Optional English SDH, French, Spanish Subtitles
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Michele Soavi
Cast: David Brandon, Barbara Cupisti, Ulrike Schwerk, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Mary Sellers

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 notoriouskiller 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 flourished but did I mention the kicker - the killer Irving Wallace wears an owl-headed mask! This is 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 stuff. 

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 delicious and completely make-up for that hilarious final ending. 

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, almost hallucinatory as he sits upon a throne admiring the carnage while he strokes a cat named Lucifer and bird feathers float in the air around him, very surreal stuff. 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. 

BLU-RAY:
Stage Fright arrives on Blu-ray from Blue Underground in stunning fashion and framed in the original widescreen aspect ratio with a fine looking grain structure. The restoration is top notch - the print is damn near flawless to my eyes. Colors are vibrant and the level of clarity is quite pleasing. Black levels and shadow detail are strong and there's a fair amount of fine detail in the close-ups, this is quite a step-up from the already quite nice standard-def DVD.

Audio option include DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo or 5.1 Surround Mix with optional English, French or Spanish  Subtitles. Not overly dynamic but clean and balanced with no distortion, the score sounds great and the surround mix adds to the atmosphere with some nice use of the surrounds. 

Already a home run wit sweet PQ and audio Blue Underground have stocked this disc with some great new extras beginning with a 19-minute interview with the director who discusses his early career and producer Joe D'Amato offering him his first feature film which was written by George Eastman ((ANTHROPOPHANGUS) going onto describe with some depth what it was to be a first-time director and the film's poor reception at the cinema.

the 12-minute interview with star David Brandon  begins by revealing he first met Soavi on the set of CALIGULA 2: THE UNTOLD STORY where his character cut out Soavi's tongue. As a theater writer/.director he was intrigued by the role of the theater director in the film and was impressed by the director's passion. He speaks of insisting that the director himself handle the very real chainsaw during his death scene and finishes up with a anecdote about Joe D'Amato. 

Star Giovanni Lombardo Radice (THE HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK) begins by revealing he stole two roles from Soavi before being cast in the director's first film. Apparently he helped doctor the script a bit and was quite good friends the Soavi at the time, admitting he had some difficulty working with a few of the non-professional on the set. 

Composer Simon Boswell speaks about his band LIVE WIRE and a fateful meeting with Dario Argento around the time of PHENOMENA that launched his film scoring career leading to gigs on that film and Lamberto Bava's DEMONS films. He speaks about the director's peculiar way of editing his scores at times and his own style and experimenting with synths and sound. He ends with a weird tale of making two albums with two separate Popes and his new band the UNDEAD who he brought together to perform his scores live. 

Extras are finished up with an 11-minute interview with make-up effects artist Pietro Tenoglio, the original theatrical trailer and an image gallery with 75 pics of stills, poster are of the various titles (AQUARIUS, DELIRIUM, STAGEFRIGHT)  and some cool VHS/DVD artwork from around the globe. 

SPECIAL FEATURES:

- Theatre Of Delirium - Interview with Director Michele Soavi (19 minutes)
- Head Of The Company - Interview with Star David Brandon (12 minutes)
- Blood On The Stage Floor - Interview with Star Giovanni Lombardo Radice
- The Sound Of Aquarius - Interview with Composer Simon Boswell (18 minutes)
- The Owl Murders - Interview with Make-Up Effects Artist Pietro Tenoglio (11 minutes)
- Theatrical Trailer ( 2 minutes)
- Poster and Still Gallery (74 images) 


VERDICT:
A fun slasher film with more than a few stylistic nods to Dario Argento - and that's something to celebrate in my opinion. The enclosed space and the bird-brained killer are inspired choices and while the script falls short the damn thing is peppered with a number of creatively gruesome kills - there's just a lot to enjoy here. Blue Underground are white hot streak of superlative transfers and value-added extras, fans of Italian horror should want this on on their shelf ASAP. 

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