1/25/10

Deliria a.k.a Stage Fright (1987): A Killer Who Gives a Hoot About his Work

When I was a kid, before I committed myself to the written word, I had aspirations to be an actor. I wanted to tread the boards, and nothing was going to stop me. I even ended up in a few productions, but as I got older, I found out that I wasn’t really keen on being in front of a large group of people. It seems that I had stage fright, and as luck would have it when I looked to see what I might want to review this week, I once again had Stage Fright. No I don’t mean I was afraid of coming out here and talking to you fine folks. I mean that I had a neglected copy of Michele Soavi’s 1987 film Deliria a.k.a Stage Fright that was begging to be reviewed. Soavi’s one of those directors who often slip my mind, but with films like Dellamorte Dellamore (Cemetery Man) and La chiesa (The Church), he should be hard to forget. By the time the curtains finally close on tonight’s tale, I hope that Mr. Soavi and his film will be stuck in my mind.

It all starts when a modern dance company is practicing for a big show that opens in a few days. The hard-ass director Paul (David Brandon) had forbid anyone from leaving the theater during practice for any reason, but when the star of the show, Alicia (Barbara Cupisti), twists her ankle her friend Betty sneaks her out to take her to a hospital. Unfortunately, the nearest place is a mental hospital, but they find a nice doctor who takes pity on Alicia and treats her. They also get a glimpse at deranged actor Irving Wallace (Clain Parker) who is being kept there after killing fifteen people. Wallace escapes just in time to stow away in the girl’s car, and soon he’s in the theater, donning a giant owl mask, and dispatching the cast and crew one by one.

One of the best things about this film is how Michele Soavi draws you into the world of the film. As the picture opens, a strange, birdlike looking hooker is assaulted and pulled back into an alleyway, but then as people pop out of windows and a Marilyn Monroe impersonator begins to blow a mean sax on a rooftop, the camera pulls out to reveal it is all part of a stage production. This simple little trick got me involved in the film very quickly, and it leads perfectly into establishing the setting, the tone, and then into the characters. It also establishes the tone for the film. Stage Fright is not exactly a straightforward slasher film. Soavi’s film Dellamorte Dellamore took the zombie film and turned it on its ear, and while Stage Fright doesn’t change the formula as radically, it does have a stripe of dark humor that runs throughout the film.

I can’t give Mr. Soavi all the credit for crafting a movie outside the norms of ‘80’s slasher films. The script was written by none other than Lair favorite George Eastman (with some help from Shelia Goldberg on dialog). Eastman is best known as the star of Joe D’Amato’s films Anthropophagus and the pseudo-sequel Absurd, but few realize that Eastman wrote those two films along with Castellari’s Keoma (1976), D’Amato’s Porno Holocaust (1981), and Stage Fright. The script is very well paced, and I commend it for giving the film the extremely darkly comic moments. There is one thing about this film I want to clear up. I’ve seen this listed many times as a giallo, but it is clearly not. The killer’s identity is clearly known, and there are no red herrings inserted to even make you think otherwise. Giallo came to the States and became the slasher film, but by 1987, the slasher had headed back over the ocean to influence Eastman and Soavi’s Stage Fright.

For as clever as the script and film making felt, the cast falls a bit short. Barbara Cupisti’s Alicia is very obviously intended to be the final girl from the time she is introduced, but I never could latch onto the character enough to care about her. This was an even bigger problem for the scads of nearly nameless dancers that become the killer’s victim after acting like a flock of bitches. The film tries to make Alicia sympathetic, but she comes off like a flaky mess and no better than her peers. The same can be said about David Brandon as the director Paul. He becomes one of the heroic characters in the film, but after forty plus minutes of him acting like a massive asshole, I was so ready for the Owl headed killer to catch up with him.

Speaking of which, I need to get around to the killer. Actor Clain Parker has a strange name, but he had very little to do as Irving Wallace as he only has a total of 2-3 minutes of screen time not wearing the Owl mask. Yet once he’s in it, it makes for a very unique killer that was really fun to see. The high point has to be when Paul thinks that Wallace is the dancer that is supposed to be wearing the Owl head. He invites the killer onto the stage and then proceeds to taunt him into killing. This is the perfect example of the dark comic tone of the film. Paul is nearly frothing at the mouth wanting his imaginary bloodlust quenched, but when Wallace stabs the girl to death in front of them, the romanticism of the murders in their bloody, erotic, modern dance routine is shattered.

Of course you can’t have dancing without music, and Simon Boswell’s score for the film is a classic. Filled with ‘80’s synths that really have that driving Miami Vice feel to them, I found myself often just listening to the score when scenes of dancers sniping at each other would come around. The score is also really well used when the killer takes command of the sound board and starts playing creepy killer music. I mean there’s a guy who really has pride in his work. Not only does he want to kill them, he wants to make sure that he’s got theme music to work with as well.

I could keep on about Stage Fright and pick apart the things I like and those I don’t, but in the end, things are pretty evenly matched. (For each scene that features Giovanni Lombardo Radice as an over the top gay costumer, there’s a montage that featuring a girl shaving her armpits.) Stage Fright will stick in my mind though because of the Owl headed killer if not for anything else, but it doesn’t really stack up compared to Soavi’s other films. If you’re interested in seeing how the American slasher influenced an Italian director, then I would encourage you to check this out. However, if you’ve never seen anything from Michele Soavi before, then start with Dellamorte Dellamore.


Bugg Rating

7 comments:

  1. I think I probably liked this one more than you, but all your points are valid. It's not an incredibly strong movie, but I just love Soavi's style. I wish he made more movies.

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  2. I agree with Rev Phantom - this film is nay bad - though Soavi would reach his zenith with Dellamorte Dellamore. I love his style too, and there are some pretty creepy moments in this one.

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  3. I agree with the others - probably Soavi's weakest, but still enjoyable thanks to his style. I wish someone gave him a chance to do another film, I think he really surpassed Argento in his later movies and would be far more deserving of a chance to direct again.

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  4. I feel like everyone thinks I didn't like this film, but that's not he case at all. Although it didn't rise above average to me, it still was a solid, interesting, well filmed effort. Dellamorte is still my favorite of the three that I've seen, but I definitely want to see anything else of his I can.

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  5. Interesting costume for the killer two, a giant cumbersome owl head.

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  6. Im with Rev and James, while I dig the flick and think it is brutal as hell, I cant argue many of your points, but Soavi still had the upper hand over many of the other Italian schlockmeisters even in THE CHURCH and STAGEFRIGHT

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