It’s movies like these that remind me why I say, “Theater brings out the best and worst in me.” I could go on many a diatribe regarding the politics and hierarchies that is high school theater, but it is best to stick to the review at hand and leave the theater rants to the professionals.
Stagefright is set in a small theater production. The director has had a string of failures and needs this one musical production about a serial killer to be a hit lest he and his producers go bankrupt. Enter the cannon fodder, I mean Dramatis Personae of this runaway hit-to-be!
The cast of this production is pretty bland. I’m guessing to make up for this, the costume designer stuffed them into the brightest most godawful neon outfits for the stage production. For some reason, the lead, the serial killer wears a giant owl’s head. The title of the play is “The Night Owl,” but I don’t think even John Wayne Gacy was so outlandish as a party clown. One prima donna waddles her way up and down the stage in a bright pink tube concoction. This must be one of those conceptual serial killer productions.
When dancer Alicia (Barbara Cupisti) sneaks away from her rehearsal to have a doctor look at her hurting ankle, she and her stagehand friend overhear a conversation about a former stage actor, now an escaped serial killer roaming the streets. After a brief exam by a doctor, Alicia and her friend try to sneak back into rehearsal, only to be caught by her director and former lover, who promptly fires her and bumps up the actress he is sleeping with to Alicia’s role.
Alicia’s night only gets worse when her friend is mysteriously murdered. The director takes this opportunity to get a little press, only he tells reporters that it was a lead actress and not a mere stagehand, much to Alicia’s outrage. Further spurred on by inspiration, our director decides to lock his cast in a rehearsal overnight to get more tension in their characters, more fear. As it turns out, the former actor turned serial killer sneaks into their very theater, and donning the huge gaudy owl’s mask of the Night Owl, kills the young actress holding the key to the building on stage to the horror of the cast now struggling to get out of the theater.
It wasn’t half a bad slasher. Where director Michele Soavi lacked in plot and tension, he makes up in panic among the characters trying to get out of their rickety old theater and creative deaths. Oh my, were some of those deaths creative! Drills through the hand and chest, a woman literally ripped in half, her boyfriend pulling her up with her spine dangling. The visuals in this film were bright and gaudy. The blood was bright paint red and it splattered freely. I couldn’t help but think the entire movie was all too stagey.
Overall, this movie was entertainingly bad. To lock actors cast in a play about a serial killer when a serial killer sneaks into that same theater creates a tense and interesting premise. Yet, the film is very formulaic, the characters try to stay together, yet manage to separate and get picked off one by one. One aspect of the film that was not so formulaic is the lead actress and heroine. She is not a typical virginal ingenue. She was a former lover of the director. More interesting is that the virginal ingenue is the one entrusted with the key to the theater and the first character to be picked off by the serial killer. I can’t help but wonder if Soavi noticed that trend of the virginal heroine present in American horror films.