Deftly pitched between the surreal artifice of giallo and the popcorn munching thrills of the Eighties slasher boom, 1987’s Stagefright (alternately released as StageFright: Aquarius, Soundstage Massacre and, er, Bloody Bird) is an underrated and overlooked gem from the creatively fertile death rattle of the classic Italian horror era.
The debut feature from Michele Soavi (Dellamorte Dellamore), then disciple of black-gloved giallo king Dario Argento, Stagefright is clearly influenced by his mentor’s work as a pretentious theatre troupe working on a tawdry serial killer musical find themselves locked in and picked off by their own owl-headed central character – in fact escaped lunatic Irving Wallace.
The most obvious reference point is the labyrinthine structure of Argento’s The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (it would probably be glib to bring up the feathers here too) – but Stagefright is cribs too from the tyranny of open space in John Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13 and Halloween.
Also visible in Soavi’s lurid palette are as key conceits (one of them is literally a conceit about a key) from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Dial M For Murder, and an unsettling tableau from Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
The core cast are all a bunch of terrible stereotypes – bitchy gay, bitchy diva, vanilla nice lady, homely black caretaker, tyrannical director, ineffectual cops, young lovers, and lecherous financier – but they’re largely terrible actors too so it doesn’t feel too much as though we’re missing out.
Stagefright is all about the glorious Grand Guignol – a series of dream-like images of blood-soaked feathers and set-piece fatalities amid cavernous costume stores, all beautifully shot and immaculate in this high definition release.
If the movie’s glorious sense of style, dizzyingly angled cinematography and overpowering synth score is unmistakably Italian, it’s concessions to narrative reason are reassuringly, well, American. Until the fourth-wall shattering final scene, that is…