A Movie A Day: STAGEFRIGHT (1987) Right between the eyes, Ally. Just like I said. I got him. Right between the eyes
Published at: Oct. 22, 2009, 1:58 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the newest October special horror run of A Movie A Day!
[For the entirety of October I will be showcasing one horror film each day. Every film is pulled from my DVD shelf, recorded on the home DVR or streamed via Instant Netflix and will be one I haven’t seen. Unlike my usual A Movie A Day or A Movie A Week columns there won’t necessarily be connectors between each film, but you’ll more than likely see patterns emerge day to day. At the end of each standard AMAD I’m going to include a recommendation of a genre film that is either one of my personal favorites or too good of a double feature with the AMAD title to pass up a mention.]
Directed by Michele Soavi, this Italanian schlocker was high on my anticipation list. Soavi directed the impressive CEMETERY MAN in the mid-‘90s and was a protégé of all the Italian genre masters, from Joe D’Amato to Lamberto Bava to Dario Argento. He’s worked with them all and I was very curious to see what his first outing was going to be.
STAGEFRIGHT isn’t a very good movie, unfortunately, but even so I still kinda liked it. It’s very cheap, but still back in the time when being a very cheap could still actually look like a movie and not a crappy film student short.
The story is simple and ludicrous. A group of wannabe actors have gathered to do a play about a murdering rapist that wears an owl head. It’s an overblown, arty-farty pretentious production filled with leotarded interpretive dance numbers and a Marilyn Monroe look-a-like playing sultry saxophone for some reason.
David Brandon plays the director of the play, a pompous dickhead of a man. Barbara Cupisti (who appeared in Fucli’s THE NEW YORK RIPPER and Argento’s OPERA) is our leading lady, a starving actress that can do nothing but put up with the abuse of the horrible director and try to survive the stage show. Even when she twists her ankle she still has to stay for rehearsals. The director won’t let her leave.
She sneaks out anyway, one of the make-up girls taking her to get the ankle looked at… Now, where do you think these two would go? If you had a twisted ankle you’d maybe consider the local foot specialist? No. Okay, how about the ER? Nope. Veterinarian? Nope. How about going up to the insane asylum. There’s gotta be doctors there, right? That’s it!
While at the nuthouse Cupisti catches the eye of a violent inmate named Irving Wallace, a famous murderer. Coincidentally he’s an actor who went crazy and killed his co-stars. Newly inspired, he breaks out and follows Cupisti back to the stage and sneaks in before the director locks the doors.
Naturally, the killer dons the Owl head of the killer in the production and that becomes his trademark look.
Yeah, the killings are brutal and fairly inventive and the movie does have a lot to say the desperation of some people to profit off of tragedy (the director changes the play when the make-up girl is killed outside, bringing the attention of the media), but just because the movie has some interesting things to say doesn’t mean it says them well.
STAGEFRIGHT is a very uneven film plagued by some sloppy editing and pacing not to mention a horrible, horrible dub job. But what can I say? The kills are inventive enough that I didn’t hate it. I like Owl-headed killers, sue me.
I also liked seeing John Morghen (alias Giovanni Lombardo Radice) who appeared in some of my favorite Italian horror movies of this era, like Fulci’s THE CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD. He was the guy who got the drill to the head in that movie.
In STAGEFRIGHT he plays a flamboyantly gay actor who was originally in the Owl mask before Irving Wallace showed up and started actually killing people while wearing the Owl head.
Final Thoughts: It’s a fine movie for gore enthusiasts, but it’s a bit too rough and cheap to be a classic of the genre. Michele Soavi learned from the best in the world and went on to make some really good flicks, but here he was still learning the ropes and it apparent in the film.
The immediate title that jumped to mind as the double feature or recommendation movie is Vincent Price’s THEATER OF BLOOD where he plays an actor who kills critics, but I honestly haven’t seen that movie since childhood and don’t remember much of it.
So, I decided to go with a favorite of mine that is more cult than horror, but it does have a masked man haunting a theater. My recommendation title today also marks the second Brian De Palma movie I’ve suggested this October…
I recently placed a bid on a lot of movie posters on eBay that had the great one-sheet for this movie in it, but some communist bastard outbid me. That’s okay, though. I have the DVD and that’s all that matters.
PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE is a close cousin to THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. Those two movies have a very similar vibe and energy and are just so freakishly entertaining it’s not even funny.
I guess you can describe PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE as a rock and roll update to the classic Phantom of the Opera story, but you can’t classify it as a remake or adaptation really. There is no category for PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE. Cult, rock and roll, punk, comedy, tragedy, horror, musical, drama, romance, thriller… it’s all of these things.
Phantom of the Paradise is a category unto itself.
William Finley plays the nerdy Winslow Leach, who happens to also be one of the greatest songwriters to ever live. His work catches the eye of a Phil Spector-ish record producer named Swan, played by the great Paul Williams who also wrote and performed most of the music in the movie.
Swan runs Death Records and surprisingly isn’t a very nice guy, ultimately stealing Winslow’s music and causing a horrific accident with an LP press that disfigures the man and ruins his voice.
Winslow’s muse appears in the form the gorgeous pixie Jessica Harper who went on to star in SUSPIRIA. Lord she was so hot, especially here as the baritoned Phoenix. I even love her seizure dance she does.
The cast is incredible, Williams’ music is fantastic (his The Hell Of It is one of my favorite things Williams has ever done) and De Palma was on fire. The split screen car-bomb realtime shot is just amazing filmmaking.
If you haven’t seen this movie and you enjoy fun then this is an instant watch.
Here are the next week’s worth of AMAD titles:
Thursday, October 22th: DEAD OF NIGHT (1977)
Friday, October 23th: THE SERPENT’S EGG (1978)
Saturday, October 24th: THE SWARM (1978)
Sunday, October 25th: THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS (1960)