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The year was 1987 - Margaret Thatcher was elected as Prime Minister for a third time, Black Monday saw Stock Market levels drop sharply, and NASA launched the last of America’s deep space probes.

Barbara Cupisti goes from treading the boards to hiding under them...

That last one might not be entirely true. Anyway - it was by this time that the so-called “Golden Age of Gore” in Italian cinema was well and truly on the wane; Lucio Fulci, arguably the instigator of this era was filming the unadulterated cinematic bilge that was Aenigma and would never again make a film that honestly be described as “good”; Dario Argento was also shooting Opera and could be argued that this would be the last film that could be described as a classic.

Though the two maestros of the Italian horror resurgence were losing their footing creatively, other directors were keen to pick up where their idols (and in some cases, mentors) had left off. Michele Soavi had appeared in a handful of Italian films in the late seventies and early eighties (including Fulci’s City of the Living Dead and New York Ripper), but was taken under the wing of director Aristide Massaccesi - better known to some as Joe D’Amato - and became an assistant director, who eventually worked with Dario Argento several times and would later see himself as second unit director on Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (allegedly directing on of the better sequences on Gilliam’s deeply uneven film). Soavi’s first stab  - no pun intended - at going solo and sitting in the canvas chair came in 1987, after assisting Lamberto Bava on his popular horror opus, Demons, the eager Soavi was able to persuade Massaccesi that he was able to direct a movie - the result was Stage Fright.

A theatre group is busy rehearsing a play about a serial killer who wears an oversized owl mask and things really aren’t going well - “these people literally stink!” bemoans director Peter (David Brandon); one of  cast, Alicia (Barbara Cupisti) has twisted her ankle and makes a quick trip to the local hospital to get it seen to, only to discover that  multiple murderer Irving Wallace is being held there. Wallace promptly escapes and stows away in the car that is taking Barbara back to the company and once inside, Wallace dons the owl mask and starts picking his way through the cast and crew.

Michele Soavi’s film manages to combine the slasher film that had become phenomenally popular in the US, with a few elements from the giallo sub-genre that was currently in its death throes; Soavi’s directing style (helped considerably by Director of Photography Renato Tafuri) is an interesting fusion of conventional no-nonsense American slasher aesthetics with the tension and suspense generated by some of the classic Italian giallo films of the seventies.

The plot may be relatively straightforward, but this works in the film’s favour, as the slasher film model allows the premise to be set up very quickly and the suspense comes thick and fast as director Soavi piles on the suspense and the gore in equal measure. Soavi means to keep the audience wrong-footed from the outset, as the opening sequence presents almost a late 20th century take on Victorian London, as a woman of dubious-looking virtue makes her way down a darkened, seedy back-street; her makeup and demeanour inferring that she’s about to start work her back, rather than returning home from spending all day on her feet. The tension builds as the audience know that something is about to happen to this woman, and when the moment comes - BOOM - a guy in a dark suit and a large owl’s head over his own, starts prancing about in front of her, quickly joined by several others in a coordinated dance number, the stage-show quality is soon revealed by shots of people getting made-up, an irritable director and an apathetic producer. This opening sequence precariously teeters on the brink of campiness, but all makes perfect sense when the true nature of this sequence is gradually revealed. Peter Jackson must surely have hired Stage Fright from his local video shop in New Zealand in the late eighties, as his criminally-underrated Meet The Feebles contains an opening sequence that is suspiciously similar to this film.

To all intents and purposes, the Irving Wallace is Michael Myers; he is a silent, emotionless killer who escapes from a supposedly secure hospital, wears a mask and walks with a measured gait. This is where the influence of the American slasher movie is most noticeable, as Soavi has his masked murderer (amusingly wearing the head of a creature used to symbolise wisdom) a cold and ruthless individual who takes out his victims in a mixture of the efficient and the extravagant (a chainsaw isn’t something you would expect to find lying around in a theatre, but using it to kill someone by sticking it through the door they are hiding behind looks pretty spectacular). Michael Myers’ mask was blank enough for the viewer to project their own sense of evil onto it and therefore identify more closely with the sense of impending dread - here it’s a little more difficult, as a giant owl’s head is unlikely to personally symbolise fear, unless you are an ornithophobe.

Continuing on the theme of the influence of American horror, Stage Fright features a couple comedy policemen (one of which is played by director Michele Soavi), who are stationed outside the theatre to keep an eye out for Irving Wallace - unaware that he is already inside and slaughtering the artsy occupants. The use of policemen as comedic relief was employed in Wes Craven’s directorial debut, Last House on the Left, but the usage here is not nearly as excruciating as the ones seen in Craven‘s outrageous cinematic calling-card, which was one of the things that seriously undermined the shock value of the film as a whole. The comedy coppers here are actually reasonably amusing and are only seen sporadically, with the director putting in an amusing performance as a narcissistic, James Dean obsessed lawman. It should be worth noting that the other cop is played by veteran Mickey Knox, who had helped translate a gross of European films into English.

Though director Michele Soavi clearly wished to step out of Dario Argento’s shadow and find his own cinematic voice, there are nods to his maestro vecchio, including a couple of direct lifts; one of the most arresting shots in Argento’s wonderful debut The Bird With the Crystal Plumage -  which sees a figure entering a darkened room, the light from the hallway silhouetting the figure, with the enormity of the room being revealed when the lights are turned on - is rehashed here, but to much less effect; Soavi also pays homage to the climax of Tenebrae, which saw the killer revealed by someone in the foreground bending down to pick something up, whist fans of Italian horror will recognise these iconic images, Soavi doesn’t use them to hang a pivotal sequence upon.

On the subjects of  parallels with Argento, the final scene sees the surviving character leaving the confines of the theatre and being outside in the daylight; Argento’s Opera, which was made the same year, saw Christina Marsillach venturing out into the glorious sunshine after spending most of the film in darkened spaces, only to be confronted by someone she thought was dead. Coincidence or not? Only Soavi knows the answer.

Stage Fright has an impressive list of names both behind the camera, with Soavi directing, Jolly Joe D’Amato producing, the Anthopophagous Beast himself, George Eastman/Luigi Montefiori co-penning the screenplay and with Barbara Cupisti (who had worked with both Argento & Fulci) and John Morghen/Giovanni Lombardo Radice providing familiar faces in front of the camera.

It’s fair to say that Giovanni Lombardo Radice is one of the veterans of the Italian exploitation film industry, having taken on roles in some of the most infamous titles that poured out of Italy in the late seventies and early eighties, usually coming a cropper in inventively violent ways, most notably suffering an unplanned and rather crude form of trepanning in Fulci’s Lovecraft-inspired City of the Living Dead.  Here, he plays the decidedly campy and bitchy (are these two terms capable of existing separately?)  Brett, the man who donned the owl head for the stage play, only to be given the bird in favour of the real Irving Wallace.

One can’t help but wonder if the vaguely sleazy producer of the show was modelled upon Stage Fright’s producer, Aristide Massaccesi; he always seems to have money not too far from him; he buggers off to get some of the green stuff to pay the cast cash-in-hand overtime for staying overnight, but then immediately shuts the briefcase containing the money when things seriously take a turn for the worse in the theatre and it is ultimately his greed that causes his demise at the hands of Wallace.

If the producer is money-obsessed, then director Peter is an amoral bastard who is ultimately responsible for putting the cast and crew of the play directly in jeopardy, by locking them all in and telling one of the company to hide the key (the fact that one of the first people to be despatched by Wallace is the poor sod who hid the bloody thing). He also smells money after the first murder and decides to cash-in on the tragedy by naming the killer in the play Irving Wallace, in much that same way that a decade later, Chris Morris spoofed a Peter Sutcliffe musical in Brass Eye. Peter, the morally-bankrupt director, is the most complex character in the film, as he displays all the artists heirs, graces and barely-suppressed tantrums that are most associated with theatre directors, but also has a single-mindedness that eventually kills most of the people in the company, which is balanced by a sense of guilt and responsibility. David Brandon probably gives the best performance in the film, with Barbara Cupisti coming a close second as Alicia, the woman who is briefly fired by Peter, then finds herself not only back in the play, but also fighting for her life when everyone around her has met with fates that slide right along scale in terms of grisliness.

Simon Boswell brings us a soundtrack that could be described as quintessentially mid-eighties, with plenty of synths and the addition of a sultry saxophone into the mix - there is even a Marilyn Monroe look-a-like playing the sax during the play-within-a-film opening. The habit of suddenly throwing in rock/metal on the soundtrack during a potentially suspenseful moment (which Dario Argento had started doing a few years earlier) is also present and correct here and serves to undermine what could have been taut and exciting sequences - Soavi was possibly adhering to the Argento model a little TOO much at that point.

Soavi brings us a climax that has Alicia trying to get her hands on the key to the door, whist trying to avoid Wallace’s attention as he sits on the stage, surrounded by the corpses of her former cast and crewmates. Soavi throws every possible cliché in the book into this sequence and though when analysing it, the thing possibly can be viewed as a calculating assemblage of devices from other places, it works wonderfully and has what is almost certainly one of the best feline performances in any film, as the theatre cat threatens to give away the position of our heroine as she crawls beneath the stage, trying to get the key to her salvation.

Now we come to the real pachyderm in the confined space - Exposure Cinema were originally due to release Stage Fright on Blu-Ray earlier this year, but various issues arose that meant the release date was pushed back several times, eventually meaning that Blue Underground in the US were able to get their copy out before Exposure got theirs out. The copies are - by all reports - different and the special features are unique to each release, so both releases have their strengths, but we are concentrating on Exposure’s efforts, so here we go…

Things turned decidedly ugly in the Slumberland showroom...

Video


Having seen Stage Fright in various ways over the years (the first time we saw it, the copy was on VHS in a ghastly-looking cardboard box from Avatar, whose products you used to see on some of your shoddier-looking market stalls. It looked awful. We later had the Redemption VHS release, which looked pretty good at the time. We missed getting Stage Fright on DVD, so the transition to Blu-ray is nothing short of a revelation…

Put simply, this release of Stage Fright looks absolutely wonderful - though the film is over 25 years old, there is a freshness and a richness to this transfer that really makes it look like it was filmed recently. There is a healthy bit-rate of around 30.0, meaning that grain is well rendered and the colours are vivid and well-defined. There is precious little in the way of damage to the print - Exposure Cinema took their time to present the best-looking copy of this film they could and they have certainly done that with astonishing looking visuals.

Audio


Here’s where our painful duty as objective reviewers comes to the fore; we love independent labels here in the UK - they tend to put genuine passion into their titles and the love poured is very much evident. Sadly, the audio of Stage Fright is presented in PCM 2.0. Despite not having a 7.1 or even 5.1 upgrade, what’s presented here makes for a reasonably pleasant experience, with the clarity of the audio making it easy to spot which cast members were speaking English live and which were dubbed in post-production. Simon Boswell’s distinctive and VERY eighties music score comes across well, with the mixture of synth highs and electric low-ends really serving to heighten the mood.

It has to be stated that the PCM track isn’t perfect, with a 5-10 minute stretch of the film that has a recurring audio pop which is indicative of damage to a section of the audio.

Extras


What would a release of Stage Fright be without a look at the movie itself, and Exposure Cinema have really come up trumps with this illuminating examination of how it all came together, and just what was required of all involved to bring one of the last major triumphs of the genre to rip-roaring life. It goes without saying that there are major spoilers ahead - right from the outset!

A Bloodstained Featherstorm:The still rather tasty Barbara Cupisti starts the ball rolling, and tells of how she was - appropriately - a ballerina by trade, when she literally got her big break through fracturing her ankle and taking up the study of acting during her downtime. She talks of her initial meeting Soavi, and the times they spent together trying to make in the media, including the embarrassing instance of the pair unsuccessfully auditioning for a commercial together. Her admiration for Soavi in both his creativity and ingenuity is forefront, recalling how he improvised a rig for a swooping camera shot using only a piece of nylon string, being another instance in which he pre-empted his mentors’ work on Opera. It’s pleasing to see how advances in technology have benefited her eyebrows, being distinctly more under control than seen in the movie.

Ms Cupisti speaks fondly of Stage Fright producer Joe D'Amato, highlighted by a certain amount of resentment about his treatment in their native country and how Italy treats those working in anything other than "serious" art, asserting that his influence could have had a more scholarly legacy.   "If Aristide had been in America," Il Milf Italiano conjectures, "...the situation would have been different.  There was a snobbish time in Italy, the same as now, I suppose.  Certain directors and producers were snooty... he could have been the Massaccesi Film-Making School, because he was surrounded by many young people with whom he like to work - and I think maybe also because he could have paid them less!"

The digitally elusive and perpetually busy Soavi is on board for this examination of his directorial debut, and although he doesn’t spill too much about the movie itself, he more than makes up for it with frank insight into the workings of his psyche. It seems that dark art was always a factor in his life, drawing gothic visions at a young age, and it’s to his chagrin that such Soavi originals were either  given away or binned, although some such imagery found its way into his film work, including Stage Fright.  It was watching an early movie by Argento which confirmed what he wanted to do in life, when he saw how Il Maestro could "hypnotise" an audience for 90 minutes, wanting such power for himself.

One of the most intriguing and certainly personal aspects comes when Soavi recounts the time he worked as a fireman, and details the hideous things he saw in the line of duty, particularly those dying in mangled car-wrecks and other such things which demanded he learn to switch off all feelings when dealing with the horrors of life. When he recounts his trip to Romania as a documentary cameraman, and the stack of teenage corpses with limbs and portions of heads ripped away by grenades, it becomes clear where certain influences were born. Let’s thank Christ he found a healthy outlet for them!

There has always been a refreshing bluntness from the next participant, and who else could they have gotten but Luigi Montefiori for a look at Stage Fright than the guy who worked the whole concept out?   He makes no bones about the nature of the project and the thriftiness involved: "We chose that setting to keep the cost down," the former Anthropophagous Beast remembers. "...as everything was inside, in one place. It was an economical arrangement and we could control the cast and everything. We could avoid the usual problems - for example with outdoor filming, rain could ruin everything. This was indoors and it went well."  He clearly likes Soavi and his the work he is capable of producing, crystallising it thusly: "Michele has taste; he looks beyond the obvious and puts effort into making a better film".

Actress Mary Sellers spends a lot of the time discussing either her curious black ensemble from the movie, or just how the film came to be erroneously retitled when initially wanting it to be known as "Aquaria", the Italian word for fish tank: "He said Aquarius, not realising that we Americans or foreigners would think that it meant the sign of the zodiac".

It would be considered beneath us (in this case, subterranean) to pick a favourite interviewee, but our money is on the lovely Cupisti, who as well as having the most tales of tell of the filming, also seems to have the warmest memories of the whole experience. Be it reliving her time spending weeks up in the rafters of the virtually condemned studio in spite of her "epic-scale vertigo" or how anyone looking in on the filming might have mistook the group of young, bratty actors for a Lars von Trier movie or  particularly that Stage Fright was one of her most enjoyable experiences as a professional actress, she's is a class act all the way.

There is so much great stuff here to discover for yourselves, so we won't blow it for you - although we might be persuaded to give it a bit of a suck, provided there's a drink involved. All smut aside, this is worth the 25 minutes of your time, and with the phenomenon of popular culture being aggressively marketed by those now in positions of media power waning for the eighties, this is a fitting retrospective on a real gem from the dying days of Italian genre cinema. How many such loving looks can be given by those brought up on the same fare from the nineties?  Bugger all, that's how many - unless you count Soavi's couple of other works or the particularly aggressive fans of Door to Silence who just want to champion it. See it, enjoy it, want to see more of Cupisti. In every sense.

Revenge of the Video Cassette: It’s something a bit special when you find a documentary which reflects a bygone passion, one which consumed more of your life than it should have, and so vividly reawakens sensations felt by every one of your senses as it unfurls. We are very happy to say that this is in that very narrow band of those which do just that, as we take a look at just what it was about that format which stays with the kids of the Video Generation, where movies and TV were no longer fodder to be consumed, forgotten and never seen again.  

Getting things right from the outset, the proceedings start with a rather nifty opening credits sequence, appropriately looking like early eighties cutting edge video\schools programme titles, and that that’s just a taster for the fun to be found inside - rather like the cover of a Go-Video tape: the imagery used to pull you in is every bit as tasty as what’s to be found inside. We are introduced to a selection of those who collect for the nostalgia, those who live the passion of video, rental-shop proprietors and the dedicated who spread the word of VHS through the movies which are unavailable any other way.

We’ll leave it up to others to determine who might be collecting merely to be gauche, but the two lovely young ladies weren’t even a bleach-smelling tear-drop when the original video-brats were busy ruining their perception of reality. To that end, it's a sobering thought that one of the lady interviewees had her introduction to the delights of renting horror movies with People Under the Stairs, a movie from the early nineties, for Chrissake!  Oh, and although there are collectors from across the pond, but it must be an age thing where those who came into video in the early/mid eighties Britain always refer to the place they rented them from as the “video shop” as opposed the Americanism of “video store“.  Now get off our lawn, you young hoodlums!

Sitting among his impressive collection, entrepreneur Dale Lloyd sums up the appeal of the whole format in a way which might seem alien to those under 30, but deserves a round of applause from the rest of us “VHS is great for many reasons,“ the wise man with the enviable mountain of tapes starts.   ”…The box itself - a huge clamshell with a heavy tape inside. Even the dust on the edge of the box gets me: the smell of that dust takes me right back to when I was a child. Then you've got the tape itself - you pop the tape into the machine, and you've got that long trailer reel. If you remember something like Medusa, you would have eight or nine trailers before a film started”. He goes on to say that he still feels compelled to call the competition phone-lines which graced tapes during a certain period. OK, that’s taking things a little too far. Playing Space Ace in our local arcade in the eighties was cool, but we don't get the urge to drop a coin on the spot where it once stood.

All cheap smartarse aside it’s to Mr Lloyd’s credit that he has done what the best of us who wasted our childhoods and possibly damaged their social skills have mastered: making it pay off financially. Seth McFarlane did it with Family Guy, Matt Groening - The Simpsons and Edgar Wright just about everything he is allowed to touch, our man with the dusty tapes has created the Good/Bad Movie Club, which travels up and down the country playing a programme of six movies through the night, with three of them guaranteed to be unavailable on any other format than original VHS. If he comes anywhere near our neighbourhoods, book us a couple of tickets!

"Quick 10ccs of thorazine in the neck! Stat!"

Along with a number of themed music videos, there are some superb choices of company idents and commercials to be savoured, all sure to bring those memories flooding back for those with so many more responsibilities these days. There was a moment where the hairs on the back of the necks stood up, being when some archive footage of Woolworths at the height of its power is rolled out to illustrate that they were almost single-handedly responsible for creating the sell-though market in the UK.  It shows how a large section was created (including the circular counter) to keep the VHS trade flowing as efficiently as possible, as rack upon rack upon rack of tapes were eagerly perused by the movie-mad public. By Christ, has the whole market changed, and the process of browsing has definitely been lost. These days, cases aren’t used to draw in potential buyers but as something to decorate the disc as it wings its way through the post.

Most participants seem to wish to remain anonymous, including the one with the original idea of wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, merging with the ranks of those furious enough demonstrate or riot, but not firm enough in their beliefs to show their faces. Best of the unnamed is the proprietor of a video shop which has been around since the first days of the format, and he recounts a story which might help those not even born to comprehend just how popular and revolutionary it was. It was Christmas, 1982, and the emporium only stocked between 150-200 tapes, but the owner took the unusual step of  opening for a few hours on Christmas day. The result was a queue stretching right the way along the street, with early adopters simply rabid to spice up the big day with some movie magic of their choosing, no longer at the mercy of what the handful of channels dictated would be on. This backs up Lloyd Kaufman’s  assertion that in the early days of video, you could take any old piece of obscure shit, slap it in a box and have it eagerly snapped up by the masses.

Upon starting up Revenge of the Video Cassette, we were expecting this to be something along the lines of a secretive society which uses the dead medium of video purely to be gauche, revelling in a extinct technology they have all to themselves and championing the unique characteristics of “an inherent quality which DVD or Blu-ray just can’t replicate“, or some shit like that. Instead of Aqua-Fags or other such annoyances, we happily find it populated by those genuinely  in love with the format, revelling in visceral memories from the opening a cassette-box in the very same way wine enthusiasts will uncork a bottle and inhale the air from decades ago trapped in the top, visualising times past suddenly unleashed. This wonderful documentary comes recommended most heartily by two guys who were among those who sacrificed their childhoods on the altar of magnetic tape.

Joe D’Amarto Totally Uncut 2: Released for the first time (we believe) in the UK comes a decent look at the work of the man who twisted a thousand wrists, and who hasn’t had a handy-shandy to one of his more provocative movies? The fact that Buio Omega was once the catalyst for just such a protein-spurt is a matter for a good psychologist, but be it sex, horror or action, Jolly Joe was a man who really could turn his hand to anything, and would always yield results that impressed. Using clips from his movies and anecdotes from the man himself, you’ll definitely learn and enjoy all at once, as well as want to go seeking out any you have missed!

Key movies from his oeuvre are examined, and one of the most celebrated is given a loving look.   Death Smiles on Murder was a game-changer for D’amato, and is pretty close to his heart, as he is keen to point out through word and personal endorsement;   “There were actors [in the movie] whom you might call important,“ he recalls “The film was special, so I made it in my own name - just for the pleasure of putting my name on my work”.  It’s important to point out to those not in the know that this is one Hell of an endorsement of the material, given that man originally christened Aristide Massaccesi used more pseudonyms when working than Carlos the Jackal.

Big George Eastman is  around to spill the beans on his filmmaking cohort, including the time when Mr Montefiori himself gambled away all of his wages and couldn't even afford to pay for his hotel out on location, and was forced to share a hotel with Dirce Funari - ah, diddums! Anyway, poverty drove him introduce D’Amato into new levels of thriftiness, convincing him to pay him for three days work as a writer to come up with a script for secondary movie, one D’Amato would own outright: the result was the infamous Sesso Nero! Speaking of that particular penny-wise, lira-foolish thespian, the infamous Anthropophagus Beast is given coverage befitting its infamy, with Eastman really none too proud of the final product, calling the script he concocted for that particular venture “banal“.  OK, there is far too much travelogue stuffed into it, but the Whitehouse-inflaming pieces more than make up for it!

Being more than familiar with Simon Sheridan’s excellent book Doing Rude Things, about the rise and fall of the British sex-film business and how the persecuted nature of made product more desirable, it’s fascinating to find that this sentiment is one which D’Amato not only agrees with, but when asked of his opinion about censorship, makes a rather blunt point in addressing; “[Censorship] doesn't exist anymore,'' Italy's most talented pornographer opines ''...it has been completely abolished, unfortunately. It's unfortunate because when a porno came out, the fact that it was in some way banned acted as an added incentive to seek it out, since there was a taboo element to it. You'd earn more money because the movie was banned.”

Where there is D’Amato, you will usually find a certain bug-eyed actor, and one which was no stranger to funding his downright deranged lifestyle. Have you guessed who yet?   “ Klaus Kinski was in it for the money,” Jolly Joe reveals “You'd call him, give him the money and he'd be there in two days. A complete whore!”[/I] Given that he would turn up and do genres which he wouldn’t urinate on strictly for the cash, that seems to make him the proto-Malcolm McDowell, and man who stands proudly alongside David Warner as thespians who hate horror & sci-fi, but are perfectly happy to deliver stock performances in the interests of making money - or as we have termed: “genre-whores”.

Talk of dirty stuff and returning actors, Caligula: The Untold Story became the introduction of David Brandon to the scene, and later to star in Stage Fright, where he had the rare pleasure of having his dialogue shot live, giving it more life than going back into the studio, as was the usual process. Anyone who has watch the aforementioned Roman romp will know that there was some pretty damned cool people starring, and Brandon was every bit the equal of the more seasoned performers. This makes for a nice segue into D’Amato’s bumpy soft-core foray in the US, where the man himself points out that his time as a maker of hardcore interfered with the more mass-marketable version, where the sex scenes seemed like heavily edited dilutions of the stronger stuff.

The man of the hours’ final assessment of how his work is viewed in more enlightened times makes for depressing edification, especially given how close to his death this assertion was made;  “In Italy, we are very... presumptuous,“ D’Amato opines “The presumption that someone who panned a movie... you couldn't do anything to get him to change that initial opinion, not even today. Maybe some young person who comes along...but I think any re-evaluation now is due to nostalgia. The movies that I made 10 or 15 years ago, the fact that they are considered good, especially in other countries, is due to nostalgia. We don't make them anymore. So my films…Fulci’s or Freda's - our kind is becoming extinct.”

We’ve seen this before, but it was in a more complete edition than it presented here, but it would appear that it’s been trimmed to keep things focused on the genre more appropriate to Stage Fright.  Perhaps the title should have been revised somewhat in light of the edits made, but it’s an invaluable overview of D’Amato’s filmography, and a poignant coda to one of Italy’s most prolific filmmakers.

It's true - the over-use of make-up in the eighties was shocking...

Giovanni’s Method: Certainly better known to casual horror fans as John Morgen, the flesh and blood equivalent of Captain Scarlet sits down for a new, extended interview as the Italian exploitation favourite covers a lot of ground in engaging fashion, and all from the comfort of a plush pad with only a bit of pussy for affection. Yes, it’s a cat.

Things invariably begin from the beginning, at the point where fate twisted Radice’s arm into the wild world of film when his theatre group got into debt under his directorship. A prophetic meeting with Ruggero Deodato's wife made him realise that the best way to earn money as an actor was to make movies, directly leading to him being cast in infamous House on the Edge of the Park soon after.  From there he became the genre legend he has spent over 30 years being worshipped for, a man for all seasons but most adored when being in large amounts of pain - with or without his nob being cut off.

There really is some great stuff to be found here, and all the better for the witty, matter-of-fact way Radice phrases it. Who but an Italian of thespian blood could describe the conditions of the abandoned venue in which Stage Fright was shot better than this: “It was a fascinating, amazing place, I must say. When you sat down on a divan to rest for a moment, the clouds of dust were like Pompeii”.  Isn't that great???  He also covers walking-out cameramen, the improvised dialogue between him and Mary Sellers, the corners cut on production and numerous other things, all in the fun, urbane way only a man who has died so many screen deaths can muster.

He also discusses the nature of his on/off relationship with director Soavi, which really hit a blip when there turned out to be no role for him in Dellamorte Dellamore, leaving their friendship adrift for a long time. While this all might sound very gloomy, it ends optimistically with the pair meeting recently and things on the movie front looking promising, but the genre-disliking Radice is sure that Soavi will never make another horror film, due to the workaholic director not wanting to put the pre-production time such films take into a project where he could be behind a camera on a fare much quicker to prep and shoot.

By the end, what have we learned?  Well, if you are wondering why an escalator on the Roman subway is permanently broken, it’s because Radice wrecked it during the process of getting a dynamic shot of him jumping all over it! We find that Soavi not a social media person, so makes it difficult to stay in touch with his fans (along with actors desperately wanting to work for him again) and that he has a likening for pussy. Yes, we used it again - exposure to Are You Being Served? as kids, you see.  Still, this is a cool additional feature, and Radice is an engaging raconteur , recalling events with clarity and an urbane sense of humour. What might have been a dull affair in other hands is rendered a very entertaining watch, and tells us that a man has died so many times for film has made sure that he won’t do so when interviewed.

Alan Jones: The Critic’s Take: That’s all they ever do, these damned critics.  Just take, take, take and contribute nothing in the way of creativity, let alone art. Anyway, it’s time to hear from writer, organiser of Fright- Fests, close associate of Dario Argento and occasional wearer of obscene cowboy T-shits, Alan Jones,  a man who knows one Hell of a lot about the Italian movie scene.  Can there be anyone better to take a look at Stage Fright, the feature-film debut of Argento protégé Michele Soavi? We don’t think so!

Right from the start, Stage Fright was a battle to get made, with the well-financed Argento unwilling to stump up the almost trifling sum of £500,000 to get things going, leading Soavi elsewhere, ''Joe D’Amato would never have made it if it wasn't cheap,” bluntly ventures Jones,   “…because that's what he did, but he was very honest about that. I've always seen [him] as the Italian Roger Corman really, and that's why he had lots of talented people around him, Michele I think being one of the best. But he always used to tell me that he wishes, after Stage Fright, Michele had lost his address, because of Michele turning up at his office and droning on and on and on [about the success of the movie]”.

When you go looking though the credits of Stage Fright, many are almost alarmed at the lack of recognisable names to be found, leaving it open to assumptions that it was populated by actors so bad that they were blacklisted by the industry, but Jones is here to shed some light on that one.   ''Half the people you see in the film,” reveals the exalted scribe, ”…you've never seen again! Richard Barkeley - who plays one of the doctors - I mean, that was his second movie, and after that gave up! He hated it so much he moved back to London.''  Surely there are enough trattorie in Rome to provide work for disgruntled thespians?

There are those who believe that Soavi is some ungodly warlock, able to steal the essence of a director and use it to forge a career whilst leaving the victim creatively spent. While that way of putting it might be a tad melodramatic, there is no doubt that he shot to fame at around the time where Argento began to come across as played out, and many wonder how Il Maestro fells about the debut movie of his protégé; “To this day,” reveals Jones on the thorny subject, ”…Dario has never told me if he likes the film or not. I have often asked him, and he's never said anything. I think he regretted, in a way, letting Michele go somewhere else to do it, which is why be brought him back in the fold with The Church and The Sect. I think word had gotten out about how fast and loose Michele was on [Stage Fright] literally Dario was right next to him all the time, overseeing him''. The need for a Brando/Jor-El line is urgent here…

Things end on a very depressing note for anyone hoping that the Italian horror movie might appropriately rise from the grave in search of new blood when Jones divulges that he personally met with studios in Italy to ask why they aren't making them, and was curtly told that there’s no money in them! “It's a tragedy to me,” he sighs, “…that when you think of the fifties, sixties and the seventies that every single film being made in Italy was literally a genre piece, and now, they make nothing but social comedies or things about reality stuff. It's just horrible''.

We won't tell you everything, but there is a rather amusing tale from Jones about the use of the name Edgar Wallace for marketing Giallo movies, and how a name synonymous for something in one country can be a very different point of reference in another. It all ends with the words: ''But then that's the Italian film industry: accidental art all along the line!'' This is great stuff, with stories from the filming of Stage Fright, some of the forces at work behind the camera and an honest look at the style of Soavi, all smartly packed with wit from a man we have run in numerous times, many of which - we are sad to say - were under the influence of a liquid breakfast. And elevenses of similar viscosity.

Cut Version Comparison: This look at what was previously removed under orders of the late, grating James Ferman could have been presented in dull fashion, with each uncensored scene followed by the tampered version of it, but we get a much more viable to compare what was cut by having the two play side-by-side, allowing to fully appreciate just what pushed the head of the BBFC too far.  For those not around to appreciate just how heavy censorship was in the UK during the post Bright Bill/Video Recordings Act in the mid-late eighties, it's a fascinating look at what was missing, and exactly how one man (who wasn't even British) enforced his tastes and prejudices  - not to mention his frustrated editor/director aspirations - on the whole of the film-going public.

Gallery: This is an almost blissful look at the vast range of covers which have been put out to house copies of Stage Fright, be they VHS, LaserDisc or DVD. Most folks watching will at some point exclaim: “I used to have that one - that was my cover!” when they see a familiar sleeve, and it seems to be a recurring theme with the extras from Exposure which allows viewers to very pleasantly connect with the past, and it’s rare that such a feat can be achieved as a running motif, but they have certainly achieved it. A substantial portion of the world is covered here, it it’s deeply fascinating to see just how lurid some shores would claim the movie is by artwork alone, as well as provoking a chuckle with how out-of-context some of the established imagery would be taken, to the point of airbrushing the famous knife piece into the head of character from an entirely different photo! Aside from covers, we also get an entire set of lobby cards (remember those?) official publicity stills and candid behind-the-scenes photos. It’s funny, but the latter are in arguably better shape than the those put out to market them movie! This is a fine collection, and certainly not the disposable batch of piccys thrown together in the way that much bigger companies would consider “job done”. Excellent.

Trailer: Rightly starting by trumpeting the plaudits handed to it at the Avoriaz Film Festival, this trailer came at a time when just seeing the Filmirage card at the start was enough to get ardent Euro-horror fans revved and ready for a dose of the good stuff. This is an amazingly enticing look at Stage Fright, but there are so many spoilers in here that even when jumbled around as these things used to do, it will still have prospective audiences waiting for some of the imagery on there, subconsciously tipping them off to upcoming surprises. While it’s true that most fans have seen this, we’d all bitch like teeny, tiny little girls if it wasn’t included, so Exposure have duly delivered once again.  If you don’t see this coming attraction and want to see the film immediately after, you should stick with romantic comedies - the lowest art form of cinema.

David Brandon as the director should really put that torch somewhere to make everyone realise where he thinks the sun should shine out of...

Overall


Exposure Cinema are to be congratulated on the loving care they have put into producing a wonderful-looking copy of the film and the extras are entertaining, but it’s a great pity that there are one or two fairly notable issues with the audio.

Stage Fright is one of the forgotten gems of late-eighties Italian horror cinema - For those who haven't seen it in many years, you'll be reminded of just how great it was and for those who have yet to watch the film, you'll be surprised at how easily you will find yourself wrapped up in Soavi's riotously entertaining (and gory) opus. When many of the genre’s most recognisable names had either gotten out of horror or were producing substandard filler, Michele Soavi’s debut as a director shines like a beacon in the twilight of a golden era.


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