Sunday, September 7, 2014

Stagefright (Blue Underground Blu-ray) - The Owl Head Chainsaw Killer Gets Top Billing

That I have to say this pains me, but first and foremost this a review of the Michele Soavi directorial debut from 1987 Stagefright. This is not a review for the 2014 musical Stage Fright. I just wanted to make that clear because that's been making the rounds and getting a fair amount of hype as of late (the new musical certainly was not for me). Stagefright has become an Italian Horror classic with iconic imagery, brilliant brutal kills, a soundtrack that is quite memorable (and recently released on vinyl) and perfect at creating riveting tension. You may know it under one of its alternate titles, Bloody Bird of Aquarius or even Deliria. You'e seen killer's where masks, but this should be a unique experience for even the most seasoned horror fan. Blue Underground has been a major player in bringing Italian cinema to U.S. doorsteps, preserving many a gialli and allowing a new audience to become enthralled with obscure cinema. As they march into the Blu-ray age, they are unleashing some mammoth hits.

While this is Soavi's first outing as the main director on a picture it is important to note that he is very experienced as the second director on movies like Tenebrae, Opera and Phenomena (directed by Dario Argento) and A Blade in the Dark, Demons, Blastfighter (directed by Lamberto Bava). We are talking about a man who has worked on horror classics before embarking on his first solo effort. When he leaves Stagefright he goes on to direct The Church and Cemetery Man (Blue Undergrond please try to get Cemetery Man and give it this same treatment) which have both become extremely significant in Italian Horror cinema, Cemetery Man being one of the last "golden age" works for the Italian Horror stronghold. What we find of Stagefright is the work of a seasoned director who simply hadn't placed his own personal mark onto the genre. he spent so much time working with the masters of Italian Horror that what came out of him is a masterpiece.

What gets you good about Stagefright is the look of the killer in costume. A killer with a giant owl head costume, with beady eyes, expressionless and stoic is intimidating. It is almost the same reason why the American slasher pictures Halloween and Friday the 13th series (after part one) work so well. Imagine endlessly staring eyes, seeing evil with simplicity in the face. No sour expression on the face of an uncertain actor; just the bird of prey's eyes staring at you as the victim. When this killer picks up a knife or a chainsaw or an ax you can't help but be intimidated.

Yes there are moments where dubbing and ADR take away from the film, creating a somewhat laughable performance from Geovanni Lombardo Radice (unfortunately, because I love that guy), but for the most part the Soavi gets pure terror from his performers. Their passion is sensual at times and perfectly frightful at others. I like to think of this picture as a more brutal Argento movie that is more blunt and perhaps more influenced by its American counterpart in the slasher genre as opposed to Italian Giallo. It looks perfectly 80's, but not the 80's I remember. This as close to fashionista horror as I have ever seen with borderline arthouse appeal.

In addition to the theatrical trailer and poster/still gallery you get a host of interviews on this disc. Michele Soavi, David Brandon (actor), Giovanni Lombardo Radice (actor), Pietro Tenoglio (make-up effects) and Simon Boswell (composer) all give us some background about the production. It's nice to have such a complete look at a picture. Having seen this movie a few times before I am very impressed with the quality of this release. This is an excellent quality transfer that preserves the feeling of the film well without making it over digitized or noticeably noise reduced. Blue Underground puts out quality releases, and this is no exception. I love this selection of cover art as some of the VHS incarnations and DVD's haven't exactly gotten it right.

For American audiences it can be difficult to know where to begin when it comes to Italian Horror releases of the 80's and before. I often times send them to Lucio Fulci or Dario Argento out of habit, sending the more adventurous viewers to Deodato, Lenzi or Martino (so that those filmmakers can have their way with the viewer viciously).  I think that it would be appropriate to add Stagefright to that list embodying the superior excess of the period in Italian Horror releases while still be accessible to an audience that might be more used to the straightforward slasher elements found in U.S. releases during the late 80's.

Stagefright is available for pre-order now. Available September 23rd.

From Blue Underground:

While a group of young actors rehearse a new musical about a mass murderer, a notorious psychopath escapes from a nearby insane asylum. But when the show's director locks his cast in the theater overnight, the madman is accidentally locked inside as well. Now, a killer with acting in his blood has gone berserk for the blood of actors (including several scenes that EuroHorror fans worldwide consider to be the most violent of the decade) and the stage is set for one unforgettable evening of shock, suspense and unstoppable carnage.

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