Known by several names, including Deliria and Bloody Bird, I watched StageFright: Aquarius (1987) on a terrific DVD edition from Blue Underground. The movie is significant for several reasons, all of which participants in the various bonus features, as well as authors of books I used to research, tend to agree.
First, it was the debut of Michele Soavi as a director. Soavi had worked as an actor and second unit director for nearly a decade, under the tutelage of filmmakers like Deodato, Fulci and Argento, when he was offered StageFright to helm on his own. In the bonus feature, Blood on the Stage Floor, actor Giovanni Lombardo Radice (Brett) said this was an opportunity for which Soavi had been longing.
Soavi himself contradicts the notion in the bonus feature, Theatre of Delirium, when he states that he was perfectly happy being an assistant director. He never wanted to be a director. In fact, his next job was as second unit director for Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988.) “Movies can happen by coincidence,” he says.
In The Mammoth Book of Slasher Movies, author Peter Normanton says…
Soavi’s adept cinematic approach revealed the apt pupil had ascertained much from his mentor, with imaginative camera work and atmospheric set pieces to distinguish his film with a flair commonly observed in more experienced directors.
For a genre of which he wasn’t necessarily fond, Soavi subsequently made three well-received horror films: The Church (1989), The Sect (1991) and Cemetery Man (1994.)
I’m not alone in the realization that StageFright successfully melds two subgenres into one. On the surface, the script by George Eastman is standard slasher fare. On the other, the style is distinctly giallo. Normanton says…
His stylish direction would engender a film worthy of the giallo of a decade past coupled with the slash and hack that had reached its nadir in the United States a few years before.
In this regard, StageFright acts as a bridge between two subgenres. That it succeeds as well as it does is a testament to Soavi. In Fangoria #300, Michael Koopmans says that Soavi…
...more or less injected life back into the dying Italian horror scene and singlehandedly kept it alive for years to come.
In The Slasher Movie Book, author J. A. Kerswell agrees…
The juxtaposition of the single-mindedness of the American slasher movie and the undeniable stylishness of the Italian giallo struck subgenre gold.
To be honest, for most of the movie, the qualities of the former (single-mindedness of the American slasher movie) weighed heavily on the film for me and I found it to be a bit tedious. However, from the moment the story shifted to the equivalent of the final girl’s struggle to survive, I became enthralled by the latter (undeniable stylishness of the Italian giallo.)
Radice comments on the “fresh visual style” Soavi brought to StageFright. He says the story was logical, but Soavi wasn’t interested in logic. He was not so interested in the story itself. Because genre stories are “so ridiculous,” you have to “keep a distance” from them. (I will cynically interpret this as meaning you have to distract the audience from the lack of substance with style.)
The story borrows from Halloween in that its killer escapes from a psychiatric hospital. His murder spree is contained to one location, though, when he hides in the car of a dancer with a sprained ankle and returns with her to rehearsals led by a real bastard of a director, Peter (David Brandon.) After the first murder, Peter locks everyone in to the building to advance opening night so they capitalize on the publicity.
It’s a clever set-up with the location of the hidden key becoming necessary for them to escape as the body count rises. As Soavi himself says, “The key represents life for the (final) girl” and becomes the centerpiece for what he calls the most important shot in the film. As mentioned, when only Alicia (Barbara Cupisti) remains, the suspense increases and becomes nearly unbearable.
StageFright isn’t particularly gory. The weapons of mass disembodiment (giant drills, chainsaws, etc.) perform gruesome acts, but they’re not overly bloody. That’s another aspect of the film for which we might want to credit Soavi. It could easily have become a gorefest. He/it walks a fine line, though, and a little restraint with the special effects maximizes the genuine suspense and contributes to the effectiveness of the film.
Written by George Eastman (Sheila Goldberg, dialogue)
Directed by Michele Soavi
Starring David Brandon, Barbara Cupisti, Robert Gligorov, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Clain Parker, Loredana Parrella, Martin Phillips, James Sampson, Ulrike Schwerk, Mary Sellers, Jo Ann Smith, Piero Vida
RT 90 min.
US Release Date May 24, 1989
Home Video Blue Underground (Blu-ray)
Peter Normanton, The Mammoth Book of Slasher Movies
2012, UK, Robinson
Michael Koopsman, Fangoria #300
January/February 2011, United States, Starlog Group
J. A. Kerswell, The Slasher Movie Book
2012, United States, Chicago Review Press