Friday, September 23, 2011

Stagefright (1987)

>Stagefright begins with a great sequence in which a hooker on a city street is strangled in an alleyway, bringing out the neighbours to investigate, before suddenly turning into a stylish dance number lead by a killer in an owl head mask. We’re in the rehearsals for a new musical play and the moody director Peter (David Brandon) is feuding with the money-conscious and actress-ass conscious financer (Piero Vida) and the cute lead actress Alicia (Barbara Cupisti) who is struggling to play a whore. There’s also Brett (let’s give it up for Italian horror stalwart Giovanni Lombardo Radice) the bitchy gay lead, Laurel (Mary Sellers) a slutty young actress, Sybil (Jo Ann Smith) a supporting player dealing with an unexpected pregnancy, and all of the ordinary madness that one deals with in the theatre.

To make matters worse, a notorious maniac escapes from the nearby mental institution and hitches a ride to the theatre from the actresses who’d stopped by for attention to a twisted ankle in a very implausible plot twist. Soon theatre folk start dropping like melodramatic flies and Peter the director, smelling a publicity windfall, starts rewriting the script to parallel the killer on the loose!

Argento protégé Michael Soavi directs this stylish giallo like a backstage soap opera with killings. Giallos were one of the sources for the slasher films of the 80s and they usually play like slasher films with prog rock and adults instead of dumb teens buying the farm. Soavi handles the set pieces with a decent level of panache and the theatrical angle is a cool twist- before long, the real killer is showing up on stage and stabbing an actress to death in full view of the cast and crew! The gore effects are clever and plentiful; in one great bit, an actress is pulled down through a rotten wooden floor and retrieved in half.

The film uses some of the usual dumb slasher tropes- does every social group have at least one prankster who can actually be assumed to be pulling pranks when there’s a killer on the loose? Couldn’t the police have assigned more than two fat and lazy cops to guard a theatre where it’s known a psychopathic killer is prowling? Why do these killers become suddenly much less effective at stalking and killing when they get to the last woman alive? But it also has a fair level of atmosphere and some good tense scenes and enough good gore effects to make up for the usual plot holes.

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