Michele Soavi's 1987 directorial debut is a successful flourish of Argento-style theatrics and pounding suspense. While the energy (and scare factor) is not consistently maintained throughout, Stage Fright still ranks as a worthy slasher packed with several key wallops.
Having assisted Argento with work on Tenebre, Phenomena and Opera (as well as serving as assistant director on Bava, Jr.'s Demoni), Soavi was clearly prepared to helm his own terror opus with Stage Fright.
A theater troupe rehearses an avant garde rock opera for the upcoming opening night. Dancers glide out of fake backdrop alleyways, a man wearing an elaborate owl mask the centerpiece of their erotic obsessions. Drastically behind schedule, there is a frenetic and desperate mood to the rehearsals, spurred on by the production's manic director Peter (the delightful David Brandon).
But all is not well with the troubled production. Having sprained her ankle, the lead female dancer Alicia (Barbara Cupisti) visits a local outpatient hospital. However, unknown to her, a serial killer confined there has escaped and follows her back to the theater ready to sate his need for blood shedding. With sixteen murders already under his belt, the actor-turned-psycho is ready to now add some more to his roster.
Donning the owl mask (and thereby achieving a truly odd, evil countenance), the maniacal killer sets about his gory odyssey. Ax, chainsaw and drill are his instruments of choice.
Notable highlights include the heroine's gut-wrenching search for the one and only key that will unlock the theater door and allow her to escape. Cleverly hidden in the stage floorboards inches away from the foot of the now-sleeping killer, the poor girl attempts to extract the lodged key before the drowsy psycho awakes. An excellent sequence, underscored by the camera's focus as the girl grabs the key and makes a mad dash for it...
While Stage Fright no doubt channels a long history of Italian horror stlye, the heroine's final one-on-one struggle with the killer smacks of the best of American slashers. High above the stage, she seeks momentary sanctuary...only to find the stalker confidently striding the catwalks towards her.
Also admirable is the climax in Stage Fright: a clever Bava-Argento 'realization' by the lone survivor Alicia that an important detail has been overlooked...
The sole, glaring flaw of this film is its inability to sustain throughout the level of high octane thrills it so clearly desires to achieve.
The often-praised Soavi would follow-up Stage Fright with The Church (1988) and Dellamorte Dellamore (1994).
Stage Fright is alternately known as Deleria, Aquarius and also as Bloody Bird.