Not to be confused with Alfred Hitchcock’s 1950 thriller or the 1980 Ozpolitation serial killer chiller (that was also titled Nightmares) or even that ropey 2014 Minnie Driver/Meat Loaf theatre camp horror of the same name, 1987’s Stagefright (AKA Aquarius, AKA Delira) marked Italian film-maker Michele Soavi’s directorial debut. Having learned the ropes working as a second unit director with the likes of Joe D’Amato and Dario Argento, Soavi certainly earned his stripes with this bonkers blood-soaked slasher.
The set-up is simple but soon turns insane. A dance troupe have just one week until they open their experimental new musical production, The Night Owl, about a fictional killer and they still stink. When one of the crew members is murdered by escaped mental patient Irving Wallace (Clain Parker and Luigi Montefiori), the company’s director (David Brandon) seizes on the opportunity the tragedy will bring to the show in terms of publicity. He renames the show’s antagonist to that of the psychopathic former stage actor and locks everyone in the theatre to rehearse. However, Wallace has also snuck in and soon embarks on his killing spree.
Featuring inventive set-pieces that are both stylishly executed and gruesome to the max, Stagefright has quite rightly earned its cult status over the years. It also boasts a hauntingly terrific score from Simon Boswell, whose punk-skewed synth sound is the perfect match for Soavi’s vision. It’s like watching a feature-length music video – but with lashings of gore.
Stagefright also features one of the most bizarre-looking killers in the slasher genre – the mute owl head-wearing psycho who dispatches his victims with a drill, chainsaw and axe (in what could be read as a nod to The Driller Killer‘s Reno Miller, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre‘s Leatherface and Friday the 13th‘s Jason Voorhees).
Genre regulars Giovanni Lombardo Radice (Cannibal Apocalypse, City of the Living Dead) and Barbara Cupisti (The New York Ripper, The Church) are among the cast, while Soavi also appears as one of the two cops stationed outside the theatre while all the mayhem is going on inside. The other is played by former American actor turned screenwriter and dialogue director, Mickey Knox (look him up, he’s quite the character). And here’s a shout out to Lucifer the cat who out-acts the rest of the cast.
Now one scene that really excited me was when our owl-headed psycho creates his macabre tableaux– arranging the dead actors in various poses, stuffing feathers in their mouths and smearing their blood on their faces. It reminded me of the poster for one of my favourite Vincent Price films: Theatre of Blood. Now, I wonder if Soavi was also reminded of it when he designed this scene? What do you think?
The Shameless Films 4K restoration release of Soavi’s Stagefright is a welcome addition to their other releases of the director’s horror output: Dellamorte Dellamore, The Sect and The Church, and it looks and sounds terrific. I’ll be revisiting this often.
Special Edition Features
• New 4K-restored version
• Staging the Fright: Interview with director Michele Soavi
• The Theater of Blood: Interview with actor Giovanni Lombardo Radice
• The Last Performance: Interview with actor David Brandon
• English or Italian with new English subtitles and hard-of-hearing closed captions
Stagefright is available on Blu-ray and digital on-demand from Shameless Films: https://www.shameless-films.com/product/stagefright-blu-ray/
Having learned his trade from the likes of Joe D’Amato, Dario Argento and Terry Gilliam, Milan-born film-maker Michele Soavi went on to direct a quartet of Italian horrors in the late 1980s and early 1990s that have their fans and their critics.
1987’s Stage Fright was a well-executed slasher that paid homage to Argento; 1989’s supernatural shocker The Church looked great, but was a bit of a bore; 1991’s The Sect revisited Rosemary’s Baby theme with trippy results, and 1994’s Cemetery Man aka Dellamorte Dellamore combined black comedy and horror to great effect that it became the director’s finest hour.
Given Shameless’ lovingly-restored, re-mastered release of The Sect (which follows their release of The Church last year and Dellamorte Dellamore back in 2012), I thought it ripe to pay Soavi’s underrated horror a revisit…
Kelly Curtis (daughter of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, and sister to Jamie Lee) plays American schoolteacher Miriam based in Frankfurt, where a satanic cult is making headlines for a series of grisly murders being carried out across the German city.
When she knocks over the elderly Moebius (Herbert Lom), she takes him home to recuperate. But her good deed results in her being drugged with some ominous-looking fluid.
Kelly then finds herself in a waking nightmare involving a dark well and a giant demonic bird that are all linked to the Charles Manson-like cult leader Damon (Thomas Arana) – who is seen in the film’s 1970’s-set prologue in which he is promised a child born from the seed of Lucifer himself…
The Sect is certainly as imaginative as Soavi’s other features, and it benefits from some surreal visuals and hazy cinematography (by Raffaele Mertes who’d go on to do Argento’s Trauma), as well as another cool score from Pino Donaggio (Don’t Look Now, Carrie, The Howling), and, as you follow Kelly’s modern-day Alice down the rabbit hole, the film plays like a really weird acid trip – which is made all the more insane by the runaway script (in which Argento had a hand in writing).
Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen are certainly major influences, both in regards to the storyline and the themes (the Satanic Panic phenomenon was in full swing when this film was made), but Soavi does conjure up the odd cool ideas – like the demonic bird. In the end, however, it’s the score and those visuals that help paper over the cracks, while Curtis makes for an engaging heroine.
For me, however, the big highlight was Herbert Lom. Hearing his elegant gravelled tones and seeing him give a really honest and restrained performance as the mysterious Moebious was a real treat, and it was great to see him back in the genre that knew him best one last time (he retired after 1993’s Son of the Pink Panther).
THE SHAMELESS UK RELEASE
The new UK Blu-ray and DVD release from Shameless features a new 2K scan from the original negative with a running time of 117-min. It also includes the original English language audio, as well as Italian in stereo LPCM or 5.1 audio with new English subtitles.
The main extra here is Beauty and Terror, a 29-minute interview with director Michele Soavi, who discusses his association with Lucio Fulci and Joe D’Amato and the making of The Sect. Also included are trailers for The Church, Dellamorte Dellamore, and Four Flies on Grey Velvet.
In the US, Scorpion Releasing are scheduled to release The Sect along with The Church later this year.
We all know Rupert Everett for his foppish roles in a host of costumes romps, being GBF to Julia Roberts and Madonna in a couple of rom-coms, and for pulling on a frumpy dress to play an eccentric headmistress in the St Trinian’s movies, but did you know that back in the 1990s he also tried his hand at horror? It was in 1994’s Dellamorte Dellamore (aka The Cemetery Man), a strange brew of Italian arthouse cinema, horror comedy and Terry Gilliam-style absurdist humour, is director Michele Soavi’s adaptation of a novel by Dylan Dog comic book creator Tiziano Sclavi.
Everett plays Francesco Dellamorte, the complacent world-weary caretaker of the Buffalora cemetery, where the dead come to life seven days after burial. Francesco’s job is to terminate these ‘Returners’ before they escape over the walls. Cynical, amoral and fearful of an outside world where falling in love only ends in rejection, Dellamorte prefers the company of the (un)dead and his routine existence in the cemetery which he tends the help of his faithful assistant, Gnaghi (François Hadji-Lazaro).
But when Dellamorte does allow himself to fall in love – with a young widow whom he accidentally kills – his enchanted world is suddenly thrown into total chaos. What follows can only be ‘experienced’ as it’s a real rollercoaster ride of quirky and surreal happenings – a sort of Groundhog Day set in a graveyard.
Dellamorte Dellamore is stunning to look at – filled with the kind of light and colour that’s reminiscent of Mario Bava’s Italian horrors of the 1960s, while the use of an actual cemetery (in Guardea, Umbria) makes it even more fantastical. Everett is a bit wet as the titular hero (he’s certainly no Bruce Campbell), but Hadji-Lazaro is a revelation (his side story is a real treat). The humour might be a bit hit and miss, but it’s the visuals that will stay with you (my favourite – the talking head in a broken TV).
Back in 2012, Shameless Screen Entertainment re-released this mini-masterpiece onto DVD and got director Michele Soavi and writer Gianni Romoli together to share their thoughts (in Italian) as a special feature. I’ve been watching it over and over every since, and revisited it again last night after checking out Shameless latest additions to their Soavi collection The Church and The Sect (check out my review real soon).
Out on DVD through Shameless Screen Entertainment
The Washing Machine (1993) | Ruggero Deodato’s twisted sisters Euro thriller is more Almodóvar than Argento
A DEADLY SPIN…
Following the report of a man’s mangled body being discovered inside a washing machine in a Budapest apartment, homicide detective Inspector Alexander Stacey (Philippe Caroit) arrives on the scene only to discover the corpse, belonging to jewel thief Yuri (Yorgo Voyagis), has disappeared.
Questioning Yuri’s lover Vida (Katarzyna Figura), and her bewitching sisters, Ludmilla (Barbara Ricci) and Sissy (Ilaria Borrelli), Stacey gradually finds himself drawn into a web of lies, deceit and treachery as each sister seduces him while spinning different versions of events. But if Yuri was murdered, who did it and why?
PLUMBING NEW DEPTHS OF DECEIT
This 1993 erotic Euro thriller from Italian director Ruggero Deodato is a twisted oddity indeed. While the whodunit plot doesn’t bare close scrutiny and the film’s more surreal elements throws logic out the window, the atmospheric cinematography, Claudio Simonetti’s moody score and the engaging performances all draw you into its trashy web.
Deodato is best known for the exploitation cult hit Cannibal Holocaust, and practically invented the found footage technique as a result. For this sexy giallo however he’s less inventive and much more restrained. But while there’s a lack gore (there’s really only one grisly scene – a bloodied torso gets repeatedly hacked at) and sex (there’s lots of heavy panting but the girls keep their knickers on), Deodato dresses his giallo with elements of high camp, while also making effective use (a la Argento) of the creaky old Art Nouveau Budapest apartment in which the twisted sisters reside.
And talking of camp, the look and feel of the film is reminiscent of Pedro Almodóvar, no more so than in Katarzyna Figura, Barbara Ricci and Ilaria Borrelli. All three of their characters are bold, brassy, sexy and eccentric – just like the women in Almodóvar’s films, and Deodato’s script verges on the hysterical. Philippe Caroit meanwhile makes for some delicious man meat for our predatory heroines. With his piercing blue eyes and rugged features, he comes off like a young James Franciscus, who, incidentally, starred in Dario Argento’s 1970s giallo The Cat ‘O Nine Tails.
If anything’s missing in Deodato’s sleazy Euro thriller, which was originally called Vortice mortale, it’s some more big death scenes involving the washing machine. But as you’ll discover in the ‘shocking’ double twist ending, its a bit of red herring. But then, that’s what whodunit’s are made of.
THE UK DVD RELEASE
The Washing Machine is now revived in an exclusive Shameless Screen Entertainment Limited Edition DVD, presented in a yellow metal box with transparent window designed by UK artist Graham Humphreys.
Formula For A Murder (1985) | The lost Italian giallo starring cult legend David Warbeck resurfaces on DVD
LET’S SCARE JOANNA TO DEATH
In 1960 Boston, 11-year-old Joanna falls down a flight of stairs while fleeing a faceless sex attacker disguised as a priest. Twenty-five years later and with no memory of her ordeal, the wheelchair-bound Joanna (Christina Nagy) is now a philanthropic heiress and an archery champion who plans to donate a vast share of her wealth to a new sports centre for paraplegics and to her local church.
After a priest is murdered, Joanna starts having visions of a faceless man of the cloth carrying a blood-soaked doll, who accuses her of feigning her disability. Convincing herself she is hallucinating, Joanna soon finds solace in the arms of sports coach Craig (David Warbeck). But can she trust him? Not likely… as he wants to frighten her to death to get her money. When Joanna’s best friend Ruth (Carroll Blumenberg) gets in his way, the crazed Craig’s killer instincts are revealed and Ruth meets a very nasty end. But hell hath no fury like a woman taken for a fool – especially one who just happens to be handy with a bow and arrow…
FOR WARBECK COMPLETISTS ONLY
1985’s Formula For A Murder has been touted as a long-lost giallo gem. It’s certainly typical of the genre, but as for being a gem, well the jury’s out on that one as far as I’m concerned.
Yes, cult legend David Warbeck gives a gutsy exaggerated performance as Nagy’s crazed beau and it does have some stylishly nasty murder set pieces, but the story is a tired old chestnut that’s been done to death a million times before (and Gaslight and Let’s Scare Jessica to Death did it way better). Filmed in Rome (pretending to be Boston) during the decade of big hair and legwarmers – the 1980’s, it could have done with some tongue-in-cheek naff styling in the hair, makeup and art department to give it a campy edge, but the production values are underwhelming. Even the music has been lifted from other movies; in particular Lucio Fulci’s 1982 exploitation hit The New York Ripper. (The disco track during a crucial murder scene is also strangely incongruent).
The film does have some memorable images (albeit unoriginal) – the little girl who speaks with the voice of an adult, but is dressed like an 19th century doll is Addams Family creepy (surely no girl in 1980s dressed like that), there’s some nice Bava-esque primary colours on offer during Ruth’s death; and staircase murder of the priest is straight out of Psycho – but the film is riddled with plot holes, and we never learn why Warbeck chooses to disguises himself as priest whenever he kills [SPOILER].
Director Alberto De Martino is best known for his Exorcist rip-off 1974’s The AntiChrist (which I really like), and 1977s’ Holocaust 2000 (another guilty pleasure). Formula For A Murder came at the end of his career, and it shows. I’m afraid this one’s for Warbeck completists alone.
THE UK DVD RELEASE
The Shameless Screen Entertainment Numbered Collector’s Edition is re-mastered from new restored HD materials in the film’s original widescreen format, with English audio, and optional Italian audio with English subtitles. The extras include an audio commentary with Director of Photography G Battaglia (a strange choice since he has trouble remembering much about working on the film) and Shameless Slashers trailers. There’s also a Shameless Yell-o-Mac included, which you can slip into to re-enact Warbeck’s off the wall performance in the comfort of your own kill room. Available from Amazon
HOW MANY WARBECK FILMS HAVE YOU SEEN?
David Warbeck was one of the most recognisable faces in cult Italian exploitation during the 1970s and 1980s. With the re-appearance of the long-lost Formula For A Murder now back in circulation, how many Warbeck movies have you seen? Why not tick off the films and share your results (you can enter by clicking on the photo below).
The 10th Victim (1965) | It’s the Pop Art and deadly bullet bra that makes this 1960s sci-fi satire so achingly cool
IT’S THE 21ST-CENTURY AND THEY HAVE A LICENCE TO KILL
In the near future (from a retro 1960s perspective that is), war and violence have been replaced with The Big Hunt, a government-backed televised sport in which players take turns to be either Hunters or Victims in a hunt to the death which offers a huge cash reward and lucrative advertising deals.
Huntress Caroline Meredith (Ursula Andress), whose weapon of choice is a double-barrel bikini bra gun, scores a major deal with the Ming Tea Company to kill her tenth victim live on camera at Rome’s Temple of Venus. When the Big Hunt computer selects famed hunter Marcello Poletti (Marcello Mastroianni) as the victim, Caroline poses as a TV reporter wanting to run an exposé on him. Unsure as to whether she is his hunter, Poletti is reluctant to take her down, especially when he starts falling for Caroline. But with a vindictive ex-wife wanting his assets and an impatient mistress (Elsa Martinelli) waiting in the wings, the Italian playboy soon discovers he has more than one reason to watch his back…
POP (ART) GOES THE SEX FARCE
For this 1965 Italian comedy sci-fi, director Elio Petri adapts Robert Sheckley’s 1953 short story, The Seventh Victim, into a parody of the Euro spy craze (that came in the wake of the Bond films) and Italian rom-com (of the kind that often featured Marcello Mastroianni being chased by women), as well as a satire on bourgeois consumerism.
For his achingly cool visual palette, Petri dips his distinctive brush into contemporary popular culture, drawing on haute couture, modern design and Pop Art imagery to create a gorgeously framed Vogue fashion spread brought to vibrant comic book inspired life. Ursula Andress looks absolutely stunning here in André Courrèges’ Space Age fashions, thanks to Fellini’s favourite cameraman, Gianni Di Venanzo, who also gives Rome a wonderfully futuristic look. And because Italian cinema just wouldn’t be the same without its iconic mood music; Piero Piccioni gives us a catchy score, with Italian songstress Mina providing the high-pitched harmonies.
The Tenth Victim harks back to ‘man being hunted for sport’ pictures like 1932’s classic The Most Dangerous Game, but with a 1960s-futuristic spin. Petri fittingly places much of the action in the shadow of that last monument to gladiatorial conquest, the iconic Coliseum, while taking potshots at television elimination shows which, frighteningly, is becoming a reality today. But the sci-fi on display here is nothing like the dark dystopian nightmares of similarly themed films like The Running Man, Battle Royale or The Hunger Games. Instead, Petri opts to tell his story as a romantic comedy that’s more about love, marriage and divorce than futuristic fights to the death (there’s not even a drop of blood in sight). Still, this madcap saturated super colour sci-fi sex farce is so retro-cool, you’ll want to screen it over and over…
THE SHAMELESS 2014 RELEASE
The Shameless Screen Entertainment dual-format release is sourced from HD master restored in the original widescreen film format, with a choice of English or Italian audio with subtitles, and is released for the first time in the UK in a Numbered Collector’s Lenticular Edition. The special features include an interview with Kim Newman and Paola Petri (the late director’s wife), trailers and photo gallery.
DID YOU KNOW?
The brassiere that Ursula Andress sports in the film really did shoot, and was the inspiration for the Fembots in 1999’s Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.
With the fantastic news that one of the greatest cult labels in the UK, Shameless Screen Entertainment, has relaunched their official website, here’s a look one of my all-time cult film favourites, 1988’s Amsterdamned from director Dick Maas, who is best known for his seminal 1983 horror The Elevator and 2010 seasonal terror flick, Saint.
A predator has surfaced from the canals of Amsterdam leaving a trail of gruesomely dismembered bodies. As the victims pile up in a series of startling, violent Jaws-style set pieces, hard-nut detective Eric Visser (Huub Stapel) is assigned to hunt down the hidden killer before news of the carnage causes mass hysteria and hurts the tourist trade.
THE SHAMELESS DVD RELEASE
Originally cut by the BBFC, Amsterdamned is now presented here uncut and in the original film format under the guidance of the director, Dick Maas. The special features include an in-depth ‘making-of’ featurette featuring Maas filming the thriller’s big set piece, a perfectly choreographed speedboat chase scene which resulted in Huub Stapel, the film’s lead, being sent to hospital for three weeks after crashing his boat. It’s truly amazing stuff, and features legendary stunt man Vic Armstrong doing what he does best: making the impossible look possible.
This rarely seen gem, which perfectly fuses the slasher, action and thriller genres, has attained a deserving cult status since it first wowed audiences back in 1988, and is now a must-have in any serious cult film collection.