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Michelle Soavi's Stagefright, perennial also-ran of Italian horror, makes its Blu-ray debut, courtesy of the fine folks at Blue Underground, those who won't rest until they've gotten us all up to date on everything exploitation. Soavi's whodunit slasher opus trades heavily on atmosphere to deliver some gory goods and lots of stylish tension.
Only the '80s could spawn a slice-and-dice affair in which the opening salvo is a stage production of a musical featuring a murderous, disco-dancing owl. Thankfully after this intro that makes Rent look like Ibsen, things settle down a bit. Unfortunately, for our cast of actors that is, the mysterious, iconic, and frankly creepy owl character turns from a thespian play-acting with a prop knife into a psychopath employing real chain-saws, drills, and other implements of bloody destruction.
As is so often the case, the principals in this play of persecution are a little daft, barely sketched-in as it were, or a bit cliche, if you will. We don't really give two cents who lives or who dies, but suffice it to say, they pretty much all die. (Is that a spoiler?) What we're here for is style and bile, which Stagefright delivers with equal skill. Soavi, who served under Dario Argento for years, (and never even considered directing - per this disc's extras) clearly learned a lot from the Maestro. Awash in glowing cerulean tones, the movie represents an underwater rapture; heavy rains outside, and a rain of blood inside.
Soavi wrings tension from a leisurely pace, in which disembowlings and bisections don't begin to seriously goose the narrative until 50 minutes in, at which point there's enough claret sloshed about to more than satisfy the average gorehound. Impeccable pacing and mis-en-scene mark Soavi's first effort as a fine entry into the Italian horror canon, and (also per the extras) we have the infamous George Anthropophagous Eastman to thank for it! Stagefright, on Blu-ray with a nice handful of extras, is Recommended to complete your spaghetti-splatter collection.
Dancing off the stage in a 1.85:1 widescreen presentation, Stagefright comes in a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC transfer, looking quite spiffy. With good black levels and rich colors, it will make your eyes pop. There is definite film grain, and the image isn't the most crisp thing you'll see, but it is likely as crisp as it was coming off the projector for its original debut. That is, it looks good as new, and lacks any defect you might be scanning for.
Audio options are represented by both an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, and an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. Both tracks are fairly solid. A nice mix of the atmospheric soundtrack and dialog keeps things on an even keel, with excellent dynamics coming from the surround sound mix. There isn't a ton of low end in the mix, but that's the only complaint.
Blue Underground gives a nice little selection of extras. No commentary track, but numerous featurettes. First up is Theatre Of Delirium, a 19-minute interview with Michele Soavi, featuring more than the few tidbits hinted at in the review. Next up is a 12-minute interview with David Brandon, Head Of The Company, and Blood On The Stage Floor, a 14-minute interview with Giovanni Lombardo Radice.
The Owl Murders, an 11-minute interview with Make-Up Effects Artist Pietro Tenoglio, doesn't go as in-depth into the actual subject of special effects as one would like, but might as well let the old guy ramble. The Sound Of Aquarius, an 18-minute interview with Composer Simon Boswell, wraps up the featurettes in fine form. In addition to French and Spanish Subtitles and English SDH Subtitles, Blue Underground wraps things up with the Original Theatrical Trailer and a Poster & Still Gallery.
Director Michele Soavi's 1987 debut feature, Stagefright, is a worthy if often overlooked entry into the Italian horror canon. Featuring enough gore for the punters and style to spare, this stalk-and-slash whodunit generates some nice tension, while allowing you to enjoy the cinematic prowess of one of Dario Argento's proteges. Blue Underground's disc looks great and has a healthy raft of extras. For the completist, it's Recommended.
- Kurt Dahlke