When an '80s slasher opens on the kind of frenetic Broadway dance performance that makes Sylvester Stallone's sweat-drenched solo in Staying Alive look classy, something called love happens in my heart.
Welcome to Stage Fright.
Quick Plot: A snooty and intense theatre director is torturing his cast with one last rehearsal before opening night of their “intellectual musical.” What are they rehearsing? Why, only THE GREATEST STAGE PERFORMANCE OF ALL TIME.
There's a man with a giant owl headpiece. And he dances. A lot.
I think he dances about rape? Or prostitution? Or about being raped, because seriously: what prostitute is NOT going to want to rape the dancing man dressed like an owl?
It's more amazing than something as limiting as words can describe, so just go with it and I'll get to the murdering.
After the leading lady sprains her ankle, she and the wardrobe mistress head to the nearest mental asylum for a wrap-up. There they learn that the famed Irving Wallace, legendary actor turned serial killer, is admitted as a patient. Before you can say 'Macbeth' in a theater to piss off annoyingly superstitious actors, Wallace has tracked the ladies back to the now-locked-from-the-inside theatre to shed some blood, where the overzealous director is doing an 11th hour restaging to properly take advantage of his show's newfound infamy.
Cue figurative AND literal axings!
It’s not long before the bodies start piling up mid-rehearsal. Our murderer is refreshingly creative, utilizing everything from hunting knives to drill bits. If you, like me, have spent long nights dreaming of the day you’d see an owl man tear through snooty theater directors with a chainsaw, I don’t know that there could possibly be a better choice out there than Stage Fright.
Directed by Michael Soavi (The Church), Stage Fright is a fairly standard slasher enriched by a fair amount of fun theater tricks. A few hunt scenes offer some genuine tension, while the basic ‘there’s a killer dressed like a giant owl’ trick simply gets me every time. Soavi gets some good pokes in surprising places, like framing real blood oozing over a spilled jar of red stage paint or focusing the camera on our final girl as she watches her understudy get knifed an inch from her face.
And when in doubt, there’s neon workout gear, dummy violence, and a MAN DRESSED LIKE AN OWL DOING BALLET.
I’m a fan.
Though I sometimes have a problem with the electro-techno soundtrack style so popular in ‘80s Italian horror, it’s used quite well here and not JUST because one song bears a ridiculously strong resemblance to the music played when Sarah first enters the labyrinth in a little movie you might have seen called Labyrinth
Michael Soavi’s direction is about as good as it can possibly be. The problems with Stage Fright are found in the by-the-numbers script, one that produces virtually no surprises in plot development or character quirks
It’s surprisingly easy to knock someone’s head off with one axe swing
On the flip side, turning a key in a lock can be exceedingly difficult
Grizzled janitors like to bet their bottom dollars, just like Annie
The Winning Line
“Your character will no longer be an anoynmous owl”
Based on what I know about actors, this is pretty much a synonym for ‘living the dream’
Stage Fright is far from a masterpiece, but it’s a darn good time. Sure, it’s technically a typical ‘80s slasher, but the theater angle makes it infinitely more interesting than your regular hack ‘em up. The DVD from Blue Underground is fairly bare bones, but it still includes INTERPRETIVE DANCING BY A MAN DRESSED LIKE AN OWL. In other words, why WOULDN’T you seek out this film?