Film Review: StageFright (1987)

Also known as: Deliria (original title), Aquarius, Bloody Bird, Sound Stage Massacre, Stage Fright (alternate spelling)
Release Date: January, 1987 (Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival – France)
Directed by: Michele Soavi
Written by: George Eastman (as Lew Cooper), Sheila Goldberg
Music by: Simon Boswell, Guido Anelli, Stefano Mainetti
Cast: David Brandon, Barbara Cupisti, Mary Sellers, Robert Gligorov, Jo Ann Smith, Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Martin Philips, Piero Vida, Michele Soavi

DMV Distribuzione, Filmirage, Artists Entertainment Group, 86 Minutes

Review:

“In case it slipped your mind, this show opens in just one week from now, and as you can see, those people up there literally stink.” – Peter

StageFright was the directorial breakout of Michele Soavi, who had spent a good amount of time working with giallo maestros Dario Argento and Lamberto Bava before getting behind the camera for this picture.

If you love slasher films or Italian giallo, this film is a good f’n time. You should absolutely love this and frankly, this is pretty high up on any list for either of those genres, as far as I’m concerned.

90 percent of this film takes place on and around a sound stage, as the potential victims of the killer are locked in after rehearsing their upcoming play. The play is about a guy that went psycho, dressed up like an owl in a suit and went on a killing spree. However, now someone is picking off the director, the producer and the cast and that someone dons the costume of the killer.

I love the slasher in this movie. The owl mask is just really cool and chilling. The use of flying feathers and blood throughout the film is also fantastic and really adds a lot to the mystique of the killer.

Like a typical giallo style film, this one uses a lot of vivid colorful lighting, heavy shadows and makes the viewer rely on their imagination a bit, as things are often times obscured and your mind has to fill in the blanks. This actually helps build the tension and the creep factor.

The acting isn’t superb and the dubbing is goofy at times but most of the chicks are hot, most of the violence is presented more artistically than an American slasher flick and this has a magical and surreal quality to it.

Man, I f’n love this movie. It’s certainly not a perfect film but if you love this style and want something more imaginative than just a run of the mill slasher picture, than this should satisfy.

Lastly, I love the music in this and I’m probably going to have to track down the soundtrack on vinyl.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Other giallo and slasher flicks of the time: OperaPhenomenaPiecesTenebre, A Blade In the Dark and The New York Ripper.

Film Review: The Church (1989)

Also known as: La chiesa (Italy), Cathedral of Demons, Demon Cathedral
Release Date: March 10th, 1989 (Rome premiere)
Directed by: Michele Soavi
Written by: Dario Argento, Michele Soavi, Franco Ferrini, Dardano Sacchetti, Lamberto Bava, Fabrizio Bava
Based on: The Treasure of Abbot Thomas by M.R. James
Music by: Keith Emerson, Philip Glass, Goblin, Fabio Pignatelli
Cast: Hugh Quarshie, Tomas Arana, Barbara Cupisti, Asia Argento, Giovanni Lombardo Radice

ADC Films, Cecchi Gori Group Tiger Cinematografica, Reteitalia, Cecchi Gori Distribuzione, 110 Minutes

la_chiesaReview:

There are a lot of quasi-sequels to Laberto Bava and Dario Argento’s Demons and Demons 2The Church is the one film, that is considered to be the true third part of the film series.

That being said, other than people being trapped somewhere, dealing with demons, The Church really doesn’t feel like it is Demons 3. It is its own movie, the tone is different, the demons are different and it has a much slower pace than those “balls to the wall” Demons films. It also has a lot of gore and disturbing imagery but it isn’t nearly as gross as Demons and Demons 2.

If I am to compare it to the other two, which I have to, it is the weakest in the series.

To start, the film is really slow. If you are accustomed to the pace of the two movies before it, you will be left wondering when the hell the shit will finally hit the fan. The shit never really hits the fan, though. Yes, there are intense moments sprinkled in and the finale is totally bizarre but it doesn’t play like a Demons film. In fact, it feels a lot closer to John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness. That being said, Carpenter’s film is far superior to The Church and much better paced.

I enjoyed Asia Argento in this. I also really liked the heroic priest. Everyone else just felt kind of flat.

I also liked the opening sequence with the German knights destroying a village in an effort to eliminate witchcraft. Actually, the people were just sick but hey, that’s religion in the dark ages… or now, really.

The Church is worth a watch if you are a completist and you liked the Demons films. However, it really isn’t a continuation of those movies. It is a decent late 80s Italian horror picture but I doubt I would ever watch it again unless I felt compelled to show it to another fan of the series.

Rating: 5.25/10

Film Review: Opera (1987)

Also known as: Terror At the Opera
Release Date: December 19th, 1987 (Italy)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini
Music by: Brian Eno, Claudio Simonetti, Bill Wyman
Cast: Cristina Marsillach, Ian Charleson, Urbano Barberini, Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni, William McNamara, Daria Nicolodi

ADC Films, Cecchi Gori Cinematografica, RAI Italiana, Orion Pictures, 107 Minutes

opera_1987Review:

Dario Argento is a pretty profound director in the Italian genre of giallo. He is also a master of horror. While his later pictures are very hit or miss, mostly miss, during the peak of his run, he made several outstanding and surreal works of live action art. Opera, while not being as great as some of the better known films in Argneto’s long filmography, is still an incredibly effective and frightening picture.

The plot follows Betty, who is pushed into replacing the female lead in an avant-garde version of Macbeth. Betty is reluctant and considers the role to be cursed. Despite her reservations, she takes the part and gives an amazing performance on her first go. Betty is a hit but she draws the attention of a psychotic stalker. The psycho then kills her boyfriend, her costume designer and her agent. Essentially, the killer wants to take away everyone who is close to her in an effort to have her for himself. However, when he kills these people, he typically does it in front of her, as she is forced to watch with needles taped to her eyes, which will blind her if she closes them.

Opera is a mystery and a thriller in the purest sense. You don’t know who the psychotic fan is until the very end. The film also employs an immense amount of vivid gore.

I wouldn’t quite call the film am Italian horror masterpiece, it has its minor flaws, but it is a refreshing experience even though it uses common giallo tropes and follows a similar path to Argento’s previous work. The opera setting and the tone, however, make the movie feel like a more mature outing from the director. There is just something more pristine and refined about Opera.

Many that I have heard talk about this film, often times express displeasure with the use of a heavy metal soundtrack during the gruesome murder scenes. I actually quite enjoy it, as it gives a tremendous feeling of contrast from the beautiful opera world that Betty lives in. It really makes the nightmare come to life in a way that overpowers the senses and can’t be ignored, much like the killings seen through the bleeding eyes of Betty. It takes you out of the film like a shock to the system but that’s the point. It is the horror screaming to Betty and the audience, “Look at me! You can’t ignore it! I am here!”

The use of the birds in the movie was great. Whether it was the use of their eyes as a motif or how they were used from a plot standpoint to expose the killer in a crowded theatre. Their presence added an eeriness to the film, as they also served a real purpose. The climactic scene with the literal birds-eye-view flying through the audience in the opulent cylindrical opera house was magnificent.

Apart from that, Argento captured many wonderful and odd shots in the film. The use of strange angles and incorporating the environment in the way that he did, just magnified the uneasiness of the picture.

In the end, this is one of my favorite giallo films of all-time. It is also worthy of being in the upper echelon of Argneto’s great catalog.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Demons (1985)

Also known as: Dèmoni (Italy)
Release Date: October 4th, 1985 (Italy)
Directed by: Lamberto Bava
Written by: Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava, Franco Ferrini, Dardano Sacchetti
Music by: Claudio Simonetti
Cast: Urbano Barberini, Natasha Hovey

DACFILM Rome, 88 Minutes

demonsReview:

Demons is an Italian horror film that was co-written and produced by Dario Argento. It was directed by Lamberto Bava, who is the son of legendary Italian horror director Mario Bava.

Released in 1985, it came out during a slew of great horror flicks. The genre was at an all-time high and the Italians were just as capable of showcasing dread and horror, as their American counterparts.

This film is creepy as hell and it still brings me back to that place I was when I saw it for the first time when I was certainly much too young to handle it.

It is intense, borderline gross – at times, visually mesmerizing and well executed. It is a little known masterpiece that probably deserves more than just cult recognition.

It carries a similar vibe to the films Argento directed around that time but Bava’s influence led to more insanity, more action and many more monsters.

The majority of the film takes place in a movie theater, which I am sure was effective for those seeing this film in the theater when it first came out. It would probably make me uneasy watching it in a theater now, to be honest.

The special effects are practical and top notch for a budget restricted foreign 80s film. With that, there is something more organic, natural and terrifying when seeing these zombie-like demons roaming through the dark theater with their glowing eyes than if some modern filmmaker tried to recreate those scenes with CGI.

Even at their cheesiest, practical effects still bring a level of realism that CGI can’t tackle and this film is a perfect example of that.

Also, the music is superb.

Demons is an interesting and unique horror film. It is also one of the best zombie-style movies ever made, even though they are demons as opposed to traditional zombies. Truthfully, the demon twist adds a very real sense of terror that you don’t get from regular zombies.

I feel like the visual style and the demons themselves went on to influence a slew of pictures after this. Not to mention the seven loose sequels this movie spawned.

If you are looking for something different to indulge in, this may be your flick.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Phenomena (1985)

Also known as: Creepers (initial USA release)
Release Date: January 31st, 1985 (Italy)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini
Music by: Goblin, Simon Boswell
Cast: Jennifer Connelly, Daria Nicolodi, Dalila Di Lazzaro, Donald Pleasence, Patrick Bauchau

Titanus, New Line Cinema, Anchor Bay Entertainment, 115 Minutes (Italy), 82 Minutes (USA)

3837bba643806aa2d785d17cfb30ccc21Review:

Phenomena is a semi-English language Italian horror film from Dario Argento. If you have ever seen his most well-known film Suspiria, then you can understand the bizarre visual ride of dread that this film is.

It stars a 15 year-old Jennifer Connelly and Donald Pleasence. There is also a monkey, who is the caretaker of Pleasence’s character. The rest of the actors are mostly Italian and have their lines dubbed, which is typical of many of Argento’s films and just adds more bizarreness to the overall vibe of things.

The film follows an American girl sent off to a foreign school (similar setup to Suspiria). She sleepwalks and sees things psychically, she is also able to control bugs. There are strange murders happening nearby and the girl gets mixed up in trying to solve the crime with help from an old crippled bug scientist and his monkey nurse. Yes, it sounds incredibly insane and it is. But that monkey is one of the most tragic characters ever in film – more so than any human in the movie, even with the sweet Connelly winning you over immediately.

If you are a fan of Argento’s work and haven’t seen this, you need to. I hold it in the same regard as Suspiria. It is a beautiful film to look at, even at its most grotesque. Like other Argento films, this plays like a horror fantasy and there is a beauty about the surrealistic essence of this movie. It is an art film without intending to be an art film but that is sort of the Italian horror style.

It doesn’t use a diverse and vibrant color palate like Suspiria or its sequel Inferno but it is still colorful – mostly with rich blue hues. Even during the day, the film feels like night.

The soundtrack is just as bizarre as the movie and immediately feels like it is in conflict with it when you hear Iron Maiden blaring in this artful Italian picture. Then as the film unfolds, the music adds something more to it. It becomes a weird companion that pushes the surreal effect even further.

Phenomena may not be as good as Suspiria but it is still a damned good Argento flick. It is a giallo classic, as far as I am concerned. Even if no one really knows about it.

Rating: 8.75/10