In 1987, after the release and dubious success of Anthropophagus, Absurd and Porno Holocaust, Joe D’Amato and George Eastman would team up once again in 1987 to create Stage Fright (AKA Deliria) (AKA Aquarius). However, for this film Joe D’Amato decided he would step back from the Director’s chair to become the film’s Producer, and instead, he would let Stage Fright become the directorial debut of Michele Soavi. Michele Soavi already had quite a lot of experience working in the Italian horror movie circuits by the time Stage Fright had begun production: He was an actor in many Italian horror films films such as Alien 2, City Of The Living Dead and Joe D’Amato’s own Absurd, and he also worked as Assistant Director for Dario Argento (Tenebrae, Phenomena, Terror At The Opera), Lamberto Bava (A Blade In the Dark, Demons, Blastfighter), Joe D’Amato himself (Endgame). He was even Assistant Director to Terry Gilliam during the production of The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen. By 1987, it would be wise to say that he had learnt the techniques and the theory behind horror film production, and Stage Fright would be his chance to demonstrate what he had learnt whilst working with famous Italian film-makers.
Thematically, Stage Fright is a slasher movie, an Italian slasher movie that tries to emulate the style of an American slasher movie; evident by the film’s campy tone, playfully exaggerated characters, and ridiculously gory death scenes which were very indicative of American slasher movies during the late 1980’s – see Nightmare On Elm Street 3 and Slaughter High for reference. However, Stage Fright feels very different to the traditional slasher fare because it ignores the paint-by-numbers slasher formula, it throws away the stereotypical characters, and instead, Stage Fright goes out of it’s way to create something new and interesting: a slasher movie that contains an understanding of satire and self-awareness of the slasher genre. The film’s main plot is about a troupe of stage actors who try to rehearse a play about a maniacal serial killer, only to have said serial killer turn up at the theatre and begin making short work of those involved in the making of said play. The plot itself isn’t anything exciting, but the premise opens a lot of possibilities for interesting characters, imaginative sequences and creative death scenes through the use of stage equipment, and Stage Fright capitalizes on every possibility available.
One of the strongest aspects of Stage Fright, however, is the film’s entertaining characterizations. Stage Fright is a film that gives every character their own identity, giving them likable and unlikable personalities and making sure that the characters actually have character. The main characters of Stage Fright are much more than just meat for the killer, because as the film continues the characters evolve and change in personality and motivations, making them feel more intelligent than the cliched, stereotypical characters that are usually found in 1980’s slasher movies. In Stage Fright, there may be a few characters who make rather dumb decisions, however, it feels like the dumb decisions are situational, instead of the characters being plain stupid.
These entertaining characterizations are supported by some fairly decent acting. Although the cast is mainly made up out of relatively unknown actors, each one gives a very entertainingly camp performance that is wonderful to watch. Each performance definitely suits each character, and every actor is wonderfully energetic and entertaining. One of the film’s stand out roles, however, is Brett, played by Italian exploitation legend John Morghen. Unlike his usual acting affair, where he plays either the villain or the villain’s dumb sidekick, in Stage Fright he plays a very camp, very bitchy, gay actor who portrays the main villain of in film production, a possible satirical play on his previous cinematic roles. Funnily enough, John Morghen seems more confident in this role than any other, despite him being straight and married. He just seemed to embody this role and give quite a funny, stand out performance. His performance in this film is much better than his previous performances in films such as House By The Edge Of The Park, Cannibal Apocalypse or even Cannibal Ferox.
It’s plain to see that Stage Fright has a lot of good aspects, however, it does have a very clear problem which is evident in all of George Eastman’s screenplays: the pacing isn’t very good. Stage Fright is a film that starts strong, gets stronger in the second act, but by the third, the film begins to slow down and it ends on a slightly anticlimactic note due to the slow-down in the third act. It was the exact same case for Anthropohagus and Absurd, and although it doesn’t ruin the film, it definitely harms the film’s climactic power. It just goes to show that George Eastman may be very creative, but his stories should be written by other people, as personally, I don’t think he’s a very good screen-writer.
Nonetheless, I really enjoyed my experience watching Stage Fright. It’s a film that tries to be more fun than anything. It’s not serious, it isn’t extremely graphic, it’s just trying to be a very entertaining horror film, and it definitely succeeds in that venture. Stage Fright definitely showcases the talent of Michele Soavi when he’s given the Director’s chair, as he successfully emulates the style of the Directors that he had worked with previously (look out for the scene which pays direct homage to Dario Argento’s Tenebrae). All in all, I would definitely recommend one experiences Stage Fright for themselves. It’s a dumb, silly, yet thoroughly enjoyable horror flick.