Directed by Michele Soavi
Starting: David Brandon, Barbara Cupisti, Domenico Fiore
The cast and crew of The Night Owl, a strange horror musical about a killer who hunts his victims in a large owl mask, are hard at work during the final week of rehearsal. We’re offered a quick introduction of the major players though their interactions with each other as tensions run high. Peter (David Brandon) is an overbearing and unscrupulous director trying to get the most out of his unprepared cast, while also trying keeping crooked and philandering producer Ferrari (Piero Vida) away from his actresses. Prankster Brett (John Morghen), who plays the Night Owl in the production, uses his down time to harass the other performers with snarky comments. Rounding out the minor players is Sybil (Jo Anne Smith) who has just discovered she pregnant.
When the production’s lead actress, Alicia (Barbara Cupisti) complains of a sore ankle, the costume designer sneaks her out from under Peter’s watchful eye to the hospital just down the street. Sure it’s a psychiatric hospital, but a doctor is a doctor, right?
The two get more then they bargained for when the insane actor turned serial killer, Irving Wallace (Clain Parker), decides to stow away in the back of their car. After he kills the costume designer in what is one of my top two cinematic pick axe deaths of all time (the other being My Bloody Valentine) Peter decides to take advantage of the misfortune. The show will now premier in 3 days, hoping that ticket sales will increase with the murder. To prepare, he’s done the only sensible thing; lock everyone in the performance hall for some intensive rehearsals. Little does he know that Irving Wallace is locked in with the crew, and the only key get out is about to become lost!
At this point the movie pulls out all the stops as the characters are brutally murdered one after another. The death sequences are pretty fantastic, as Irving shows his skill and creativity with a number of weapons from the stage crews work area. The violent and bloody deaths of the characters, combined with a great musical score makes this movie stand out from other slasher films of its time.
As I started watching the movie, I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy the experience. The owl mask that is used for the stage musical, and later adopted by Irving, is ridiculous. The acting is overdone, and it feels a little silly at first. Soavi takes these attributes an makes them work in favor of the film. The owl mask goes from laughable to menacing, and is used to create some very memorable visuals, and when put in context of the characters being performers and entertainers, even the over acting doesn’t seem to far out of place.
Isolation is important for a film like this to work well, and I thought the set up with Peter locking everyone, then losing access to the key was brilliant in its simplicity. Because of the time period of the film, it was as easy as pulling a phone cord to keep the victims from reaching the outside world. Modern day psychos have so much more planning to do to pull off a murder spree like this one.
The movie’s main mis-step is the pacing once it comes down to Irving hunting the last survivor of his homicidal rampage. The third act shifts back and forth from intense moments of suspense, to rather boring walks around the theater. It’s not unbearable, but it does seem like Soavi was stretching to reach a 90 minute run time.
The blu-ray release of the film is presented in 1080p HD Resolution and a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. For the most part, the video quality is great. Some scenes looked grainy and not as good as the rest of the film.
5.1 DTS-HS/2.0 DTS-HD
No noticeable issues with the sound. Dialouge was clear, the screams were blood curtling, and Simon Boswell’s score sounded excellent!
Packaging and Bonus Features
If you like interviews, this blu-ray release has them! Short interviews with Michele Sovai, two of the actors, the composer and the make-up artist are accessible through the extras menu, as is the theatrical trailer, which is positively spolier-ific. Avoid at all cost until you watch the movie, and then watch it to learn what not to show in a horror film trailer. There’s also a poster and still gallery, which convinced me there were better promotional ideas available for the movie outside of the one the used for the cover. A better trailer and a different cover would have meant a better score in this area.
Overall (Not an Average)
Despite my initial reservations of the movie, Stage Fright an enjoyable watch for me as a fan of 80’s slasher films. Stage Fright is sold mostly on gore and shock value, but it has an artistic element that elevates it above other similar films of its era.