A serial killer puts on his own real-life horror show in “Stage Fright,” now on AMC’s Shudder

By on December 9, 2017

Night Flight recently partnered up with Shudder — the AMC Network’s horror streaming channel — and they’ve asked us to curate a guest row of content, and so we turned to our resident expert on ’80s cult horror, our social media editor KJ, who selected four films from their cult horror library.

We had asked members of Night Flight’s community to select the fifth movie you’ll find in our row of five cult horror titles, and the winner is David Cronenberg’s 1977 cult fave Rabid, which we recently wrote about in this previous blog post.

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The poll is now closed, and thanks for voting! By the way, we’re still offering 25% OFF on an annual subscription (regularly just $29.99 for the whole year) to Night Flight Plus (promo code: SHUDDER), and a free month of Shudder (promo code: NIGHTFLIGHT)!

Read more about Italian filmmaker Michele Soavi’s Stage Fright below.

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Stage Fright (1987) is a bloody but stylish Italian-made English-language slasher film which begins with a group of young actors rehearsing an avant-garde “intellectual musical” called “The Night Owl,” about a fictional serial killer.

As fate would have it, a real-life serial killer — a mentally-disturbed actor named Irving Wallace (played by actor Clain Parker) who recently went crazy and gruesomely killed and mutilated sixteen people — escapes from the nearby psychiatric hospital where he’s been locked up.

When the thespians are later locked in the old theatre overnight, it turns out that they’re not alone: Wallace is there with them too, and he’s about to put on his own real-life horror show.

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We see Wallace — wearing an awesome owl mask — watching and waiting from the theatre wings and backstage rooms full of costumes, selecting all kinds of instruments of horror (including a drill, a chainsaw, an ax, and knives) to pick off victims, one by one.

This impressive giallo-influenced film, with all its crazy camera angles, is truly a visual treat for the eyes, courtesy of the camera work of cinematographer Renato Tafuri. It’s tautly-paced throughout, reaching a fever-pitch as the film rushes toward its furious Grand Guinol-style climax.

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Stage Fright — which is also known as Stage Fright: Aquarius, Aquarius, Deliria, Delerium, Sound Stage Massacre, and Bloody Bird — marked the directorial debut of Dario Argento protégé and occasional actor Michele Soavi (Stage Fright actually rivals Argento’s similarly-themed Terror at the Opera, released the same year).

The screenplay is by Italian b-movie actor Luigi Montefiori, who, like many Italian actors, frequently appeared onscreen with an American-sounding pseudonym, “George Eastman.” His credit here is variously shown as either “G.L. Eastman” or another pseudonym, “Lew Cooper.” (Sheila Goldberg is credited with English “dialogue”).

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Montefiori/Eastman — who has an uncredited role in this film, actually playing the masked killer inside the owl mask — was known for his frequent collaborations with notorious director Joe D’Amato, just one of the directors that Soavi worked with as an assistant director, the others being Argento and Lamberto Bava and he also later worked for American director Terry Gilliam as a second-unit director on The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) and The Brothers Grimm (2005).

By the way, D’Amato — who served as this film’s producer — was actually developing a remake of Stage Fright right before his death in 1999 (he’d planned to have his killer on the loose in a TV studio, but he also had a similar idea of having a killer aboard a cruise liner).

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Stage Fright stars Giovanni Lombardo Radice (a.k.a. “John Morghen”) as Brett, David Brandon (as the musical’s domineering director Peter), and the lovely Barbara Cupisti as the wide-eyed Alicia, with an additional cast of great supporting characters.

Soavi — probably best known for directing the Argento-produced The Church (1989) and Cemetery Man (1994) — even makes a small cameo appearance here as one of the young donut-munching police officers staking out the theatre who happens to think he looks like James Dean.

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Stage Fright — shot on a budget of just $1 million — debuted at the Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival in France, and was then screened for Australian audiences in the February before receiving an official release in France in March of ’87 first before opening in Soavi’s native Italy on August 21, 1987, about a month after Soavi turned thirty years old.

The film wasn’t given its limited theatrical run in the United States until May 1989, followed by its release on home video in October of that same year.

Watch Stage Fright on AMC’s Shudder and make sure you check out Night Flight’s curated row on Shudder this month, which will include Cronenberg’s cult classic Rabid and five more Night Flight selects.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.