Stagefright (1987)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: David Brandon, Barbara Cupisti
Extras: Theatrical Trailer, Director Biography

Horror films are often criticized for being unoriginal, overly-simplistic, and derivative. And unfortunately for fright film fans, this sort of critique is true more often than it is not. However, there are times when a film deliberately takes this sort of approach and relies on the audience’s familiarity with the world of horror cinema as a key to its success. Such is the case with Michele Soavi’s ’Stagefright’. At first glance, the film resembles a dozen or so other slasher films. But, further examination reveals a movie, which offers style over substance and is a true hidden treasure for horror fans. The plot here is razor thin — a group of actors who are rehearsing a play, are locked inside a theater with a homicidal maniac. The killer proceeds to hunt them down and kill them until only one is left. That’s it. No hidden meanings; no major plot twists; simply a top-notch stalk ’n slash film.

’Stagefright’ works for many of the same reasons as John Carpenter’s ’Halloween’. Unlike many other films in this genre, ’Stagefright’ isn’t a murder-mystery. From the outset, we know the identity of the killer (as in ’Halloween’), thus, screenwriter Luigi Montefiore (AKA George Eastman) and director Soavi are able to focus on the suspense and mood of the film. The film doesn’t waste much time in killing off most of the cast, leaving the sole survivor to be stalked for the last reel (as in ’Halloween’). Here, ’Stagefright’ really kicks into high gear and the scene under the stage is one of the most suspenseful in Italian cinema. Granted, ’Stagefright’ is very shallow, and the characters are merely stereotypes, but as a straight-forward suspense-thriller, the film is successful. This movie is light years away from Soavi’s ’Dellamorte Dellamore’, but it is interesting to see where this innovative director got his start. The film has gone by many titles over the years (’Aquarius’, ’Bloody Bird’), but hopefully, it will now find the audience it deserves.

Anhcor Bay Entertainment raises the curtain on the region 1 DVD debut of ’Stagefright’. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and is presented in an anamorphic widescreen. The transfer was created from the original vault materials found in Rome. The image is sharp and clear, but it does present some problems. There is a green line running vertically down the image during most of the shots. Also, the image is a bit soft at times, and there is some noticeable grain in many scenes. Unfortunately, this digital transfer also shows off some shots, which are out of focus. Still, the colors here are good and the image clarity is far superior to any of the previous VHS releases that were available domestically. The audio here is a Dolby Digital Surround EX track, which offers clear dialogue with no discernible hissing. There are some well-placed surround sound effects here, but overall this track sounds quite flat and is never very aggressive.

The only extras on the ’Stagefright’ DVD are the theatrical trailer and a biography of director Michele Soavi.