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StageFright

STAGEFRIGHT (aka DELIRIA, or STAGEFRIGHT: AQUARIUS as the title screen says) is a very stylish slasher/giallo type deal from Michele Soavi, Dario Argento’s second unit director on TENEBRE and PHENOMENA who went on to be best known for directing CEMETERY MAN. This one is more obviously in the footsteps of his mentor than that one.

It begins in aggressive stylization, a big-haired model hanging out on a soundstage city street, suddenly strangled in an alley. But this is not real, these are all people working on some kind of avant garde musical or some shit like that. There’s an overbearing, pretentious director, a bunch of primadonna dancers and actors and choreographers, some stage tech types, etc. And of course somebody is unhappy with something so they all get locked onto the soundstage and murdered one by one.

One of the performers plays an owl, he wears an over-sized owl mask, which gets stolen by the killer. So this guy is going around slashing people with a giant owl head. I wished he would leave pellets around, but no, just chopped off heads. You don’t know what this guy’s motive is, did he get fired from the production? Is he a rival choreographer? Is he trying to find out how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? He doesn’t say.

Whoooooo is he? It’s a mystery.

In the Argento tradition there are some pretty brutal deaths. A hatchet right in the mouth. Also some goofy little character bits. Two cops are in a patrol car outside keeping an eye on the place, no idea of the horrors going on inside. They’re so bored out there and little do they know they have a job they could be doing. Anyway in one scene they cut to them and the officer in the passenger seat is reading a paperback about James Dean, looking at the cover and trying to hand-comb his hair to look like that. Made me laugh.

The music’s not Goblin good, but it has some weird keyboard bloops that’s the kind of thing I enjoy. And some enjoyably cheesy guitars like the Italians did back then. Not as wonderfully over the top as in PHENOMENA, but sort of in that vein. Why does the “Funky Drummer” beat fade in as a woman finds a handgun in a drawer under an issue of Time Magazine? And did you notice that the story on the upper right is something about Afghanistan and a “Three-Year Quagmire”? Yeah, maybe we don’t have owl killers anymore but there are other problems in the world that never seem to change.

You know, I looked it up and the Guardians of Ga’Hoole books didn’t start until 2003, so this has nothing to do with that. He’s not trying to moonblink these people.

The movie suddenly gets real good when our final girl spies on the killer as he sets up a little scene on the stage with dead bodies, severed parts, and at least one mannequin to pad out his body count, I guess (which really wasn’t necessary, the guy is pretty prolific for an owl). Then he starts stuffing feathers in a dead lady’s mouth. And I support artistic freedom and everything but in my opinion that ain’t good theater. Well, I guess the part where he chops off the mannequin’s head and replaces it with a human head is pretty cool in that macabre Bodies Exhibit type of way. But then he just sits in a chair holding a cat and tapping his foot while feathers snow down on him and classical music plays on the reel-to-reel. Pretty oblique. I can see why Republicans are uncomfortable about funding this type of stuff.

This evil crow or raven or whatever was on the disc I rented. But trust me this is strictly an owl affair. I don’t want people to go in expecting crows and be disappointed. That’s not fair.

I didn’t think the whole movie was all that involving, but this end section is great. It’s one of those great Argento type set ups that doesn’t really mesh with the real world but is all the better for it. Basically the guy is sitting there tapping his foot, not knowing that the key everybody has been looking for to get out of here is on the ground stuck between two floorboards. The girl spots it and goes underneath the stage, where she has to stick a nail up to try to knock the key loose without the mewing cat notifying the owl of her presence. And there are some really cool shots with the giant key in the foreground and the killer sitting in the background. (I’m pretty sure they used an oversized key and forced perspective. Which is always better than doing it for real.)

Like any good horror movie set on a stage, there’s a struggle up in the rafters. There’s a great sequence where she knocks him off, but he grabs onto the ledge, so she knocks him off but he grabs onto a power cord, but it comes unplugged, but the other end jams into something and he hangs there, and he turns out to be good at rope climbing, so she has to chop at the power cord and try to cut through it before he gets to the top… it’s kind of like a suspenseful action scene from DIE HARD or something but it’s the villain trying to hang on instead of the hero, so you want him to fall and get squooshed.

I gotta give this one respect because it’s so nice to look at, the climax is so great, and I enjoy seeing an owl man with a chainsaw. But overall it’s not as enjoyable to me as a strong slasher or a classic Argento. I think part of the reason is that the characters just aren’t relatable to me. Your standard FRIDAY THE 13TH types can be one-dimensional but they’re still normal people like you might be or know. These characters aren’t fleshed out or likable but they’re also these exaggeratedly prissy dancer people, I don’t really enjoy their company. But your mileage may vary.

Happy Halloween, everybody. I hope some of you got something out of my avalanche of horror reviews this month. I promise I got substantial reviews of UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING and CLOUD ATLAS in the works, and hopefully a little something about the election next week. But I wanted to get the traditional celebrating out of the way first so I could put some more thought into those ones.


VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 31st, 2012 at 12:51 pm and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

27 Responses to “StageFright”

  1. It’s been too damn long since I’ve seen it, but my recollection is that this one is a long, tedious slog between some pretty awesome murder scenes.

  2. I am going to have to check this one out. I am always on the lookout for a good (and even not so good) Giallo.

  3. I liked this one. It was definitely a chore in the early going, but the payoff was more than worth it. The thing about it is that the Italians are great at creepy atmosphere and hyperstyized setpieces but not so great at setting up any kind of normality or recognizable human behavior. This works for their gialli because they’re so twist-and-turn-oriented that the characters are just chess pieces to be moved around at the whims of the screenplay. But when they try to ape an American-style slasher, there generally isn’t enough plot to distract from how inhuman everyone is acting. There’s always something off-brand about an Italian slasher, like a famous quote that’s been put through Google Translate six or seven times, but that’s part of their charm. At least this one isn’t pretending to take place in America. That’s always a hoot.

    (That is an owl pun, in my opinion.)

  4. I approve of the entirety of SLASHER SEARCH 2012, though it has evidently netted more disappointment than catharsis.

    Sounds like there were some okay-to-good movies here in October, but I always clicked on this sight hoping to sight “Slasher Search is complete! Mission accomplished: I have discovered the ultimate diamond in the densest rough!” followed by a revelatory analysis of some story of young people getting impaled in novel ways.

    I, too, enjoy great climaxes, gruesome mannequin-human hybrids, and “seeing an owl man with a chainsaw” (presumably — there would be something wrong with me if I *didn’t* want to see that, right? Or is it the other way around?), so thanks for the review/recommendation, Vern.

    In conclusion, I renew my call to check out DREAM HOME:
    http://outlawvern.com/2009/10/22/a-slasher-overview/#comment-2883169

  5. The SLASHER SEARCH is my favorite time of year. I either get to talk about weird little oddities I’ve never been able to talk about with anybody or I discover new rarities to track down. I always watch like 15 or 20 new-to-me horror movies every October so I always have plenty of the former and need plenty of the latter.

  6. Have any of you guys seen BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW directed by Panos Cosmatos? I watched it in Netlfix streaming the other day and dug it. It is a movie I am hesitant to recommend because you are going to either really dig it or absolutely hate it, but it would make a great addition to next year’s slasher search. It is very much a modern Giallo with an emphasis more on mood and tone than on narrative or plot. The filmatism is strong and the haunting visuals are often beautiful. It plays like an unsettling nightmare you can’t wake up from. It also has a great synthesizer score.

  7. I saw it. It nearly lost me for a while there in the middle when there seemed to be 15 scenes of the dude and the chick just looking at each other, but once it got through that oddly horrifying black and white flashback and it became a trippy sci-fi slasher movie, I really enjoyed it. I still feel that it could have been at least 20 minutes shorter just by shaving a minute or two here and there but it’s still a good “Stop trying to figure it out and just stare at it like a lava lamp” movie.

    I have no idea what anybody was talking about at any point, though. Does it matter?

  8. Mr. M, that is pretty much the same reaction I had to the film. I agree it does drag a little bit in the middle, and it is really unclear what the fuck is going on most of the time or what the relationship of the characters are. However, the lack of narrative or explanations only help to heighten the disturbing dream like quality of the film and creates an atmosphere that keeps you on edge and never lets you get comfortable.

  9. Also, did anybody else hear the exciting news that Gareth Evens the director of THE RAID: REDEMPTION will be directing one of the shorts in the recently announced VHS 2 horror film anthology? He already displayed an understanding of the elements needed for suspenseful horror storytelling in TR:R, so I am excited to see what he does when he applies them to a straight up horror story. I am also curios if there will be any martial arts in his short.

  10. Italian is horror is something I need to see more of since it sounds right up my alley and yet the only ones I’ve seen are Demons 1 and 2 I think (Demons 1 was excellent, Demons 2 was ok)

    for example, I’ve been wanting to see Suspiria for years and years but it stubbornly refuses to come out on blu ray, might just give up and watch it on dvd at this rate

  11. Griff, it is a shame that SUSPIRIA has not gotten a Blu-Ray release yet. While you are waiting you might want to check out Argento’s DEEP RED. It is one of my favorites, and it is available on Blu.

  12. It’s weird that THE STENDHAL SYNDROME got a blu-ray release before SUSPIRIA. I actually like STENDHAL a lot, but those corny early 90’s computer effects might look even worse in 1080p.

    The DEEP RED blu-ray looks pretty great, as I recall, and I even caught a cool detail I don’t think I had previously noticed: right before she gets murdered, the psychic is doodling these weird objects on a piece of paper that I think are supposed to look like the gloved hands of the killer.

  13. Nice catch Dan, I will have to check it out. I have watched DEEP RED a number of times and never noticed that.

  14. There’s a UK blu-ray of SUSPIRIA out but everyone apparently hates it as it gets some colors and blacks wrong.

    It looks fine to me, but then, blu-rays seem to only be reviewed by people who have the eyesight of a cyborg.

  15. I own a VHS copy of SUSPIRIA and although it has letterbox instead of the usual pan&scan, the audio mixing in that is terrible. You can hardly tell the voices without turning up the volume to eleven. I would very much like to see a definitive print of that movie.

  16. Griff – I suggest you find whatever dvdcopy you can find on SUSPIRIA. Its such a great movie. Blu-ray is not the only alternative to watch movies,you know. However, Blu-ray has improved some things I like very much. For instance they have more streamlined menus. Thank God for that. I rarely encounter those lavishly produced animated menus anymore that take forever. I hate that shit.

  17. The old Anchor Bay Special Edition DVD is a pretty nice set. Good colors, not too polished, lots of special features, and even a soundtrack CD, which is really a must. I always trust Anchor Bay’s remastering jobs because they get it looking nice but keep it just grainy enough that it still feels like film.

    But really, the movie is what’s important. See SUSPIRIA, Griff. It’s required viewing for anyone who considers himself a horror fan. I’m pretty sure the eighties wouldn’t have happened without it.

    Whatever you do, though, don’t try to figure it out. That way madness lies.

  18. The Goblin soundtrack to SUSPIRIA is fucking amazing. Its easily my favourite horror movie soundtrack ever. Makes me very uneasy and its creepy as shit.

  19. I agree with Mr. M that that the Anchor Bay Special Edition is probably the best release of SUSPIRIA. I have almost broke down and bought it on a couple of occasions in the past year, but I keep putting it off and hoping SUSPIRA will get quality Blu Ray release. The sad part is we will probably have to wait until somebody has the audacity to try and remake SUSPIRIA (I heard David Gordon Green has been trying to do so), and then the film will get a proper Blu release to try and capitalize on the release of the remake.

  20. I love Goblin. Everything they did with/for Argento was great. I agree that the score to SUSPIRA is amazing, but the theme to DEEP RED might be my favorite GOBLIN song of all time.

  21. Yeah, I would agree that DEEP RED has the superior theme. Now that I think of it, it would make a great ring tone…

  22. I only vaguely recall this movie, but one thing I sorta remember standing out is that once people figure out there’s a killer on the loose, they don’t all just dick around, they immediately do the smart thing and start trying to arm themselves.

  23. Vern, can you compile a list of must see slasher films before you move on? All I can remember you actually liking are the Friday movies and that hospital one with Michael Ironside. Also, are there any slasher movies that even attempt to have an iconic undead slasher villian like Jason?

  24. Sternshein – That would be pretty cool. Like you I only remember Vern really always being fond of FRIDAY 3D in particular and of course THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.

    This has been quite an excellent review series btw. I’ve been doing my best for days now trying to track some of these obscure slashers down. So thanks for the history lesson that this review series has provided Vern. It’s always appreciated.

  25. I can’t imagine SUSPIRIA in a flawless format. Much of the thrill of watching that film for me was not knowing where the hell the beat up old VHS copy came from (possibly straight through the Gates of Hell).

  26. Charles and Mr. M: I just saw BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, and loved it. I’m glad I read comments like yours before going in, because I was able to set my mind on “70’s slow burn psyche out” from the beginning. What I love most is how much of the opening clarifies after the black and white ALTERED STATES freakout. Suddenly you know why the doctor is so weird, to the point where he’s almost sympathetic (doctor, you aren’t wearing your appliances; I’ll never look at a toaster the same way again). Further, it clearly explains what happened to the other weird things you encounter (Sensonauts, zombies, creepy). Once you taste the rainbow you’re not the same. Skittles got nothing on this.

    Seriously, I fucking love this movie. Bad Seed highly recommends this one folks.

    As for STAGEFRIGHT, I’ll check it out just because I adore 75% of CEMETARY MAN. Right up to the point where it embraces the ST. ELSEWHERE ending. When I was young I tortured myself into thinking I wasn’t deep enough to handle it. Now I think the filmmakers didn’t know how to end it. Still, the movie contains too much win to be completely dismissed. The central idea, the ambiance, the zombies both motorcycle and otherwise, the fact that Anna Falchi is one hell of a beautiful woman; man, it’s definitely more in the plus column than the minus.

  27. Bad Seed, I am glad you enjoyed it.

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