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Default Stage Fright (EC Import)




Reviewer: Jeremy
Review Date: August 24, 2001

Released by: EC Entertainment
Release date: May 30, 2001
MSRP: $30.00
Region 0, NTSC
Full-frame 1.33:1 and Letterboxed 1.66:1| 16x9: No



The Story

inline Image A prostitute (Barbara Cupisti) wanders the dark, dingy streets. Suddenly, she is grabbed from behind and pulled into an alley by an unseen assailant. Her screams wake up the neighborhood, and people rush out of their apartments to investigate. Suddenly, they are confronted by her assailant, a psychotic killer wearing an owl's head mask, who leaps out of the alley and breaks into a dance step. Everyone else joins in as snazzy music plays in the background. What is going on here? It's actually a rehearsal of "The Night Owl", a horror/musical play that's about to open. The prostitute is really Alicia, the lead actress, and the killer is really Brett (John Morghen), a grimy, wise-cracking actor.

inline Image The play is being directed by Peter Collins (David Brandon), a tyrannical man who makes tremendous demands out of his performers, and his cast, made up of struggling young people with no money, has no choice but to go along with him. Unfortunately for Alicia, she's hurt her ankle rehearsing and is in so much pain and needs to see a doctor immediately, even though she knows Peter will never allows her to leave rehearsal. Betty (Ulrike Schwerk), the theater's new costume girl, persuades Alicia to sneak out, and she drives the girl to the nearest hospital.

inline Image Unfortunately, having just been hired, Betty is unfamiliar with the area and the hospital turns out to be a mental institution. Nonetheless, the facility's physician agrees to check Alicia's ankle, and he takes them to his office. On the way, they pass a barred room with a man in it who's been strapped to his bed. The doctor explains that the man is Irving Wallace (Clain Parker), a psychotic killer who brutally murdered sixteen people. After Alicia's ankle is tended to, they leave the hospital, passing Wallace's cell on the way and taking one final look. After they pass, the man in the bed turns over in pain to reveal a syringe sticking out of his neck. It's not Wallace at all, but an orderly who had just come in to give him a shot. The killer has escaped!

inline Image The two women arrive back at the theater and Alicia goes inside while Betty parks the car. Betty begins to go inside when she remembers that she's left her lights on. She goes back outside and is attacked by Wallace, who stowed away in her car. He slams a pickaxe through her mouth and steals the key to the theater's back door, which she had been holding. Meanwhile, inside, Peter fires Alicia for leaving without his permission. Alicia gathers up her stuff and heads out to the parking lot, where she discovers Betty's body. The police come and collect the corpse and determine that there's no way that Wallace could be in the theater itself, so they decide to search the surrounding neighborhoods instead. They decide to leave a patrol car parked outside, though, just in case.

inline Image Betty's murder gives Peter a sudden idea. He declares that he's going to rewrite the play to take advantage of the publicity that will be generated by the crime. He sends everyone home except Alicia, Brett and the play's other lead cast members, Danny (Robert Gligorov), Sybil (Joanne Smith), Laurel (Mary Sellers), Mark (Martin Philips) and Corinne (Loredana Parrella). He locks the back door and gives Corinne the key to the front, telling her to hide it so nobody can leave, and they begin rehearsing a scene where Corinne gets killed by the psycho. In his dressing room, Brett is putting his costume on when Wallace comes up behind him and kills him, putting the costume on. He comes out onstage, and, on Peter's cue, really does kill Corinne before disappearing backstage. Everyone tries to escape and reach the patrol car outside, but the back door is locked, and with Corinne dead, nobody can find the key to the front one. Even worse, the maniac has sabotaged the telephone! Now the group must find a way to stop the killer on their own before they themselves become his next victims…

Stage Fright is an early work from Michele Soavi, who is probably best known as a protégé to Dario Argento, and for his 1994 cult favorite Dellamorte Dellamore/Cemetery Man. Although it does not reach the level of Argento's best work, and is sometimes saddled by a predictable storyline and uninteresting characters, it is still an involving thriller. At it's worst, the movie is an example of slack writing and overly slick filmmaking techniques, with some illogical situations and too many quick edits. At it's best it's a suspenseful, highly-charged film with genuine suspense, with Soavi's pacing almost always keeping the film from dragging.

As with the average Argento film, the visual and sound design of Stage Fright is impressive. Lighting - both over and under - is used to maximum effect, as are colors such as red (and with the high level of violence, you certainly see a lot of that hue). The film also contains some grotesquely beautiful images, such as a moment near the end when the theater's ventilation system automatically kicks it, blowing hundreds of feathers that have fallen off the killer's mask into the air and over the bodies of his victims, just like a snowstorm. The soundtrack, by Simon Boswell, is great, with some powerful hard rock tunes, but is also more subdued when necessary.

The mask worn by the killer creates an unusual feeling. Although watching the maniac walk around in an owl's head may seem a little bit corny at first, it quickly develops an unsettling effect. Normally, people associate owls with dignity or wisdom, and not with violence (even though, as with many other animals humans like to think of as gentle and fuzzy, owls are actually fierce predators), and seeing folks sliced and dismembered by someone dressed as one isn't an expected sight.

Stage Fright is a good, suspenseful horror thriller, and one that maybe hasn't gotten quite as much attention as it deserves when compared to Dario Argento's thrillers or even Soavi's own Dellamorte Dellamore. It is well worth seeing.

Image Quality

inline Image
EC Entertainment presents Stage Fright in both a full-frame open-matte version , with the option of also watching it letterboxed at 1.66:1. Unlike other releases where both a letterboxed and a full-frame version are offered, this disc does not utilize two separate transfers. In this case, the matte itself is generated automatically by the DVD player after you select that option from the menu and placed over the full-frame version. This is a nice way of solving the issue raised by DVD releases of films like this (it's a pity that other open-matte releases, like the Canadian DVD of Black Christmas, couldn't have done this), although it does have the disadvantage of not allowing for 16x9 enhancement.

Utilizing the original 35mm negative for their transfer, EC has made Stage Fright look better than ever. The image quality is extremely crisp and detailed, and colors look beautiful, with a dead-on accurate black level. Grain was barely noticeable, nor was there any sign of artifacting, although the image was occasionally marred by noticeable specks and blemishes. Great work overall, and I'd rank this as the best transfer from EC that I've seen so far.

Sound

The soundtrack is presented in English Dolby 4.0 Surround. The track is somewhat problematic. Sound effects and music literally blared out of my speakers, doing much to enhance the overall effect of the film, and there was no audible distortion. Unfortunately, the balance between the sound/music and dialogue was a little off at times, during which the dialogue sounded muffled and was difficult to hear, even with the volume turned way up. No subtitles or alternate audio tracks are provided.

Supplemental Material

inline Image The supplements on this release are light but adequate. We get an English-language theatrical trailer, a music video featuring scenes from the film, a decent-sized still gallery featuring stills, poster and video art for the film, and an insert with a Michele Soavi filmography/biography are included.

Final Thoughts

A very good presentation on the part of EC, with very nice picture quality in particular. Although Anchor Bay has a domestic release of this title scheduled for sometime next year, this one is well worth picking up and enjoying in the meantime.

Rating

Movie - B+
Image Quality - A-
Sound - B
Supplements - B-

Technical Info.
  • Running Time - 1 hour 27 minutes
  • Color
  • Rated 18
  • 1 Disc
  • 14 Chapter Stops
  • English Dolby 4.0 Surround
Supplements
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Music video
  • Still and artwork gallery
  • Michele Soavi filmography/biography

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