Written by: Michael Den Boer on September 18th, 2014
Theatrical Release Date: Italy, 1987
Director: Michele Soavi
Writers: George Eastman, Sheila Goldberg
Cast: David Brandon, Barbara Cupisti, Domenico Fiore, Robert Gligorov, Mickey Knox, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, George Eastman
BluRay released: September 15th, 2014
Approximate running times: 90 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Rating: 18 (UK)
Sound: DTS-HD Stereo English
Subtitles: English SDH
BluRay Release: Exposure Cinema
Region Coding: Region Free
Retail Price: £14.00 (UK)
Stagefright was the directorial debut of Michele Soavi (Cemetery Man, Uno Bianca) who honed is craft as a filmmaker working as an assistant director Dario Argento. Key collaborators of Stagefright include screenwriter George Eastman (Baba Yaga, Rabid Dogs), cinematographer Renato Tafuri (The Church), composer Simon Boswell (Santa Sangre, Hardware) and producer Joe D’Amato (Emanuelle in America.
It is ironic how time can change one perspective in something. When this film was first released it was a failure at the box office and if it weren’t for its subsequent home video releases it may have faded away into obscurity. Fortunately for us diehard fans of Italian thrillers that this film is as relentless as the killer that is terrorizing the cast who are preparing for their big show.
The first indication that this movie is going to be something special it is meticulously constructed narrative that is perfectly paced as each moment is allowed just the right amount of time to resonate. And when it comes to set up and character development things are also in top form. The opening act does superb job setting who is everyone is and giving just a glimpse of the monster that is about to go on a killing spree. The middle act is a highly entertaining game of cat and mouse, while the final act is a classic showdown between the victim that just won’t die and a determined killer whose own undoing comes at their own stubbornness.
From the get go this film does a great job establishing and maintaining tension. And nowhere is this more evident then when it comes to the deaths sequences. All of the murders are of the moment and the killers improvising when it comes to weapon of choice makes everything a potential weapon. And when it comes to each death sequences they are an inventive and sufficiently gory.
It should not come as surprise that this film’s visuals are first rate considering that its director honed his craft as assistant director for Dario Argento. The same year that he made this film, Michele Soavi worked as an assistant director on Opera. Soavi’s clear nod to his mentor comes in a scene where a character standing in front of the mirror bow’s and the killer is standing behind them. A similar scene appeared in Argento’s Tenebre.
In a film with many standout moments visually this film’s most memorable moment is a sequence where the last survivor is trying to get a key that is literally stuck in the stage at the killers’ feet. And in order to do this the last survivor must crawl under the stage and pry the key lose without disturbing the killer who sits above them.
Another area of this production that holds a lot of weight is Simon Boswell’s excellent score which ranks among his best work to emerge from his work in Italy. And like many of the most revered thrillers / horror films this film’s score play an integral part as it firmly establishes the mood. Though he composed the majority of the music that appears in this film, there is a classical sounding composition that originally appeared Sergei M. Eisenstein’s silent film Stachka.
Performance wise the majority of the cast are very good in their respective roles, especially David Brandon in the role of Peter, a down on his luck theatrical director who will do anything to get his next hit play. Other performances of note is Giovanni Lombardo Radice (City of the Living Dead) in the role of Brett, an obnoxious actor who likes to prank everyone and Barbara Cupisti (The Key) in the role of this film’s protagonist Alicia, an actress who determination keeps her one step ahead of the killer. Ultimately Stagefright is an exceptional film and one of the last great thrillers to emerge out of Italian cinema in the last thirty years.
Stagefright comes on a 50 GB dual layer BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive widescreen. When it comes to flesh tones, black and contrast levels and detail sharpness all things look very similar to the way they do for Blue Underground’s transfer for this recent Blu-Ray release. Also like that aforementioned release this release has no issues with compression. With the main differences between these two releases being that this release from Exposure cinema has slightly more information at the top and bottom of the frame and the color timing differs from the Blue Underground release.
This release comes with one audio option, a DTS-HD stereo mix in English. The audio sounds clean, clear, balanced and robust when it needs too. Overall this audio mix is on par with the stereo mix included with Blue Underground’s Blu-Ray release. Also included with this release are optional English SDH subtitles.
Extras for this release include a trailer for the film (2 minutes 17 seconds – 1080 Progressive Widescreen), a segment that compares the Avatar’s cut UK video release verse the uncut version of same scenes (1 minute 38 seconds – 1080 Progressive Widescreen), an extensive image gallery that plays music from the film in the background, a documentary about VHS collectors titled ‘Revenge of the Video Cassette’ (25 minutes 12 seconds – 1080 Progressive Widescreen), a vintage documentary titled ‘Joe D’Amato: Totally Uncut 2’ (54 minutes 43 seconds – 1080 progressive, in Italian with English subtitles), a interview with Giovanni Lombardo Radice titled ‘Giovanni’s Method’ (20 minutes 45 seconds – 1080 Progressive Widescreen, in Italian with English subtitles), an interview with film critic Alan Jones (28 minutes 1 second – 1080 Progressive Widescreen) and a featurette titled ‘A Bloodstained Featherstorm’ (28 minutes 3 seconds – 1080 Progressive Widescreen, in Italian with English subtitles) with comment from actresses Barbara Cupisti and Mary Sellers, director Michele Soavi and screenwriter George Eastman and a booklet featuring new articles on later in the cycle gialli and overlooked slasher films, trivia, rare stills and international VHS artwork.
Topics discussed in the interview with Alan Jones include his thoughts on the film and Michele Soavi, the cast and Italian genre cinema. He also discusses Dario Argento and Joe D’Amato. Topics discussed in the interview with how he got into acting, Michele Soavi, Joe D’Amato, the cast, his contributions as an actor and behind the scenes. Topics discussed in the ‘A Bloodstained Featherstorm’ featurette include the origins of the film, how each participant got into film industry, Joe D’Amato, Dario Argento and various other films that they have worked on. Another topic Michele Soavi talks about includes his cinematic influences.
Though they are not specially related to the main feature, the documentaries about Joe D’Amato and the decline of the VHC format are both informative. Rounding out the extras is a lengthy trailer / preview for Zombie Holocaust (5 minutes 33 seconds – 1080 Progressive Widescreen). Also included with this combo release is a DVD (Region 2 NTSC) counterpart to the Blu-Ray and DVD does not contain the following extras ‘Revenge of the Video Cassette’ and ‘Joe D’Amato: Totally Uncut 2’. Also this release is limited to only 3,000 copies. It should be noted that this is the first uncut release of this film in the UK. Overall Stagefright gets a first rate release from Exposure Cinema that comes with an abundance of extra content.