WRITER: Screenplay by Lew Cooper
DIRECTOR: Michael Soavi
STARRING: David Brandon as Peter
Barbara Cupisti as Alicia
Robert Gligorov as Danny
John Morghen as Brett
Clain Parker as Irving Wallace
Lori Parrel as Corinne
Martin Philips as Mark
James E.R. Sampson as Willy
Ulrike Schwerk as Betty
Mary Sellers as Laurel
Jo Anne Smith as Sybil
Piero Vida as Ferrari
QUICK CUT: An escaped mental patient, and former actor, finds his way to a nearby theatre where a company is rehearsing their upcoming musical. Once there, well, he starts killin' folk.
Alicia - Our heroine, who spends a third of the movie unconscious. She's a dedicated actress, but when she sneaks out to try and get some help for an injury, her director attacks her.
Peter - That attacky director. He's over the top in all the best ways. He's a mad theatrical genius. But if things aren't going his way, he unravels and yells. I kinda love him.
Brett - The original man behind the owl mask, very flamboyantly gay and almost as over the top with it as Peter is with his directorial anger.
Willy - A stagehand who keeps things running behind the scenes, and but has a small, and important role. He's almost more important because his office is a source for numerous items of use.
Laurel - The diva of the crew, and arguably a rival with Alicia, although they don't play that up as much as they could.
Sybil and Danny - The backstage couple of the theatre company. That's their defining trait, really, and Sybil just found out she's pregnant as the night begins.
Irving Wallace - And our local killer. He's a former actor, a madman, and just escaped from a nearby mental hospital after seeing Alicia and coming to say die.
THE GUTS: Hey! Welcome back, Triskelions! It's a movie in a spot I actually had planned for it! This is turning out to be the summer of misplaced movies, but I digress. This is actually a pretty cool bit of trivia before we dive into things; this movie first hit screens in 1987, on the 27th of July. Which today is the closest Trisk is gonna get to hitting that anniversary. Sure, I supposed I *could* have waited another year to get REALLY close, but screw it. Let's dive into StageFright!
After the credits, we open up on a provocatively clad woman walking around, until an unseen figure grabs her from the shadows and drags her away. Well, the movie is not messing around, that's a point in its favour.
Her scream awakens the nearby residents, who all come out and find her dead body. They are shortly joined by her attacker. Diving out of the shadows over them, rolling on the ground, and...and wearing a giant owl head mask.
And then he starts dancing. I'm honestly not sure which is stranger; the mask or the dancing.
So...so uh, that just happened.
Then, the movie pans back, and reveals, IT WAS ALL A PLAY. What is this, the Court of Owls does West Side Story??
I will say this, the tone is IMMEDIATELY set for this movie. A tone of weird, and what, and huh?? This will not be the last we see that owl head mask, and it is iconic in its bizarre yet terrifyingness.
I won't delve into every single 80s level bizarreness of the scene, but it is something to behold. One single highlight though, is when they toss the body of the dead girl into the air like a cheerleader, and she *stays* dead and just kinda flips like a limp ragdoll to land with a most satisfying thud.
Peter the director finally calls a halt to the rehearsal of eccentricity, thankfully, and the cast all splits up while he yells and things reset for another run.
The biggest problem here is, as we take time to meet all the characters, is that there are a few too many of them to really get to know them well beyond some surface traits like the flamboytantly gay guy, the overly bitchy diva, the very angry director... You get the broad strokes, but it all just kinda washes over you. On the upside, there's a lotta canon fodder to play with. And at least only one or two you immediately WANT to see dead.
Anyways, during the tossing around, our star Alicia hurt her ankle, and sneaks out through the side entrance. Peter has put in place very strict rules that he doesn't want the cast leaving during rehearsals, but they convince the friendly stage manager, Willy.
Now, they set up that the side entrance is locked, and the key is kept hidden by Willie, which is an overly convoluted way to keep the cast trapped in the one location. It's effective in a quick way, but also seems very contrived in a plotty way.
So, the two women sneak off to a nearby hospital so Alicia can get her ankle looked at before Peter notices. Oh, and also, it's a MENTAL hospital, because that's the nearest one to the theatre. What could possibly go wrong??
Nurse Ratchet tries to turn them away, because mental hospital, but a friendly doctor decides he can help out the girls. Hmm, gee, whyever would he do such a thing??
Along the way to his office, Alicia gets distracted by our soon-to-be featured killer in his cell, and gets startled by an orderly coming by to feed the guy. He shoos Alicia on her way, and the plot churns onward.
Oh, and it's also worth noting that Irving Wallace is a former actor who went crazy and killed people. It's not that important to the plot in the long run, but does give him some background and familiarity with getting around backstage.
The ladies rush back to the theatre, and Alicia heads inside, while Betty parks the car. Once they're both gone, Wallace sits up in the back seat. Seriously, how does no one in horror movies ever notice a guy just laying on their backseat?
Alicia runs into the director, who's not happy she disappeared, and fires her from the production right there on the spot, in front of the whole company. Meanwhile, Betty comes inside and turns right back around because she left her lights on.
It starts POURING while she's out there, and after a quick jump scare with Lucifer the cat who's been lurking through the movie all this time, she starts to head back to the stage. Her trip is cut short when she meets Irving Wallace and his pickaxe of doom.
So, Alicia packs up her stuff and leaves, but hears Lucifer's mewlings, and goes to try and shoo him back home to the theatre. Along the way, she stumbles upon Betty's body and runs back inside to scream about it.
The cops arrive to deal with the crime scene, and leave a cop car there to keep watch for Irving Wallace. In the meantime, the wheels are turning in Peter's head, and he decides to retrofit his play, by naming the killer it after Irving, because it will create verisimilitude, and draw in audiences. I guess there really *is* no such thing as bad press.
With his show must go on mentality, Peter returns to the stage, and has one of the other actors hide the key. Remember what I said about this being contrived? Yeah.
Laurel ducks backstage to get changed, and runs afoul of Irving, who has decided to start cosplaying as Owlman, but her screams bring the others and scare him off. In the meantime, everyone thinks it's Brett and his practical jokes.
But, the show must go on, and rehearsals continue, with Thomas Wayne taking the place of Brett on stage, going unnoticed by everyone. With the amusement that the character has to kill a girl, so Peter is shouting direction at Owlman to do the deed. To which he pretty much is all, 'D'okay!"
He pulls out a knife, which is hilariously pointed out to NOT be in the script, and the entire crew just stands there and watches as the girl gets stabbied repeatedly, thinking it's all part of the play. It's like a live action snuff film.
Oh, and further plot complications. The girl that was killed? Yeah, she's the one who hid the key. Yeah, that was a GREAT idea, Peter.
Sure, there's cops outside, but the torrential downpour is drowning out any screams for help. And the phone line and power has been cut. The Court of Owls has planned for everything! The hooting is coming from inside the stage!!
There's also been a subplot of the money guy lurking around the production, and he got stuck in the theatre too. Just mentioning it because he gets stabbed while trying to pay off the killer. Which is when the killer turns the power back on so he can shine a spotlight on the dangling corpse.
Our survivors duck and cover in the main dressing room, while Nite-Owl lurks around and messes with the on-stage music, and finds some other toys to play with.
Let me just say, that the portrayal of stuffing half a dozen or so theatre people into a confined space, and having their personalities clash and explode over what to do and the stress of the situation? Is pretty much perfect. These kinds of people are all about the *drama* and the *heightened emotion* and it's done great here as everyone yells at everyone else.
Peter and Danny head out to try and find a skeleton key someone maybe thought they maybe saw maybe once maybe in Willy's office. Maybe. I see we have reached the separate and get killed part of our plot.
The best part of all this is the music being played, by the killer, right in the movie. I love diegetic music, and it's used well here as the killer provides a soundtrack to their own death.
In a surprising twist, since this is when you'd expect one of the two who wandered off into the darkness to get killed, instead the killer heads to the dressing room. While there, he kills a stage hand who foolishly got too close to the door.
Peter sees the driller killer's weapon left in the door, and realises that there's all kinds of tools and goodies down in the workshop they can use to weaponise and gear up against Woodsy.
On their way back, they spy the owl lurking in the catwalks like the Phantom of the Opera, and give chase, leading to a storage area far along rickety, wooden planks. I will give the movie points for using this location to the absolute fullest.
Peter sees Owlman around the corner, surprising him with an axe, and OOPS, that was actually a tied up Brett in HIS owl costume. I love them thinking it's over until someone realises the guy is tied up and the mask comes off. Again, oops!
One of the girls SOMEhow gets grabbed by the real Wallace through the floorboards, and dragged down into...wherever the hell he is. Her boyfriend grabs her and he struggle SOMEhow tears the poor girl in half. Is Owlman popping Miraclo pills again?!
Danny rightly loses it, because dead girlfriend, and dives into the pit to fight the owl. Yeah, that doesn't go as planned.
Peter realises, hey! I have an axe! and decides to try and smash his way out of the thick, metal doors he locked everyone behind. But Woodsy shows up with his chainsaw, and despite trying to bargain, Peter gets his arm cut off.
And hilariously, the chainsaw DIES right there, at the verge of Peter's face. Peter sees a chance, tries to grab the axe with his remaining hand, but the Phantom gets it first, and uses it to decapitate the director. Well, you know, in the theatre business, heads will roll...
Oh right, remember Alicia? She's still in this movie, just kinda been in the background while everyone else got killed. She tripped and got knocked out while everyone rushed the catwalks, but she's back in the game now. Which is good, since almost everyone else is dead...
She follows a trail of blood to the showers and finds Laurel, but so does Owlman, and finishes the other girl off. Meanwhile, or heroine hides in the stall next door and watches.
Alicia sneaks back out of the showers and heads to Willy's office, trying to find ANYthing she can use, and boy does she hit the jackpot. Willy was packing! He kept a gun hidden in one of his desk drawers. Remember, you can't push Willy 'round...
She also finds keys, but they're all junk. So much for a skeleton key. Just as she's sulking over that, Winslow Leach turns up and she ducks for cover.
Alicia watches from the shadows as he sets up a horrific tableau on the stage of all his victims, which is straight outta Curtains, I must say. She also notices the key has been stuck between the floorboards of the stage, where he's just waiting for her to come get it.
So, armed with Willy's gun, she sneaks underneath the stage, and tries to get the key out without being seen. But the shiny jostling movement catches Lucifer's attention, and the Owl goes to investigate.
He tries to grab her, but she stabs him in the neck with the nail she used to try and get the key. So she bolts for the door, key in hand, and the crazed owl armed with an axe coming after her. And of course, the key doesn't work right away. Do they ever?
Alicia runs for the catwalks, which is dumb because now she's dozens of feet above the floor, and with very few ways out, and most of them involve a short trip straight down.
Which our owl-headed friend learns when she SOMEhow finds a fire extinguisher, and gets him right in the face. Which makes him stumble right off the catwalks. If not for a handy heavy duty electrical cord, he would've fallen a lot farther.
He tries to climb back up, but Alicia finds his dropped axe and cuts the cord in half. Funny, you would think owls could fly...
Alicia heads back down the normal way, and tries to sneak by but, you know where this is going, Owlman is somehow Not Really Dead.
He tries to grab the actress, and she dumps over one of the numerous trashcans that have actual fires burning in them right on top of him. I love setting them up as set decoration for the play, and having them actually get used. Chekov would be super proud.
This is one of the few times when it's okay to shout, "Fire!" in a theatre.
So, the burning owl phoenix falls over onto the stage, somehow not setting the entire place ablaze but I digress...and Alicia finally escapes and wakes up the oblivious cops outside.
After being checked over by the doctor, Alicia realises she left her watch behind at the theatre, and goes back to retrieve it. Which is about as contrived an excuse to get her back to the crime scene as the keys were to keep her locked in. Anyways, she runs into Willy who lets her in despite police orders to not let anyone into the crime scene.
Willy talks about his gun, and how she forgot to take off the safety, and that would've killed Owlman nicely, while he reads about the Soundstage Massacre from the paper, mentioning eight bodies were found... At this point, you can probably guess since I'm still talking and the credits have yet to roll, clues Alicia in that the count is off, and the killer is STILL not dead. Birds and fire, never works out.
So he shows up about to axe her in the back, when Willy returns with the gun, to show her how it works. There is nothing like a live demonstration, is there? And he is one hell of a shot, because with where Wallace was standing, I'm sure Alicia felt that bullet whiz by her ear.
The killer is FINALLY dead, and sadly the moment is ruined because Willy can NOT stop saying, "Right between the eyes! Just like I said! Right between the eyes!" Just because you killed an owl, does not make you a parrot.
And so the movie ends with Alicia walking into the sunlight outside the stage door...and a wildly unnecessary shot of Brett in the owl costume leaping through the air from the start of the movie kicking off the end credits.
Video: This looks pretty good, for the age, the time period, and likely limited budget to bother with something like this.
Audio: I found the audio annoyingly quiet, but I did also have a lot of noise while I was trying to watch. Once I cranked things up though, it sounded nice, and the sound moved.
Sound Bite: "Was I called?" "Every name in the book, honey..." Alicia hears that the director knows she was gone... And pretty much any line where Peter starts shouting, because it's great scenery chewing.
Body Count: Whoda thought a guy in an owl mask would really bring the death?
1 - 17 minutes in, and we see a dying body of an orderly Wallace killed to escape.
2 - Betty gets scared by a cat, rained on, and pickaxed in the face. This is not her day.
3 - The killer stabs Corinne right on stage in front of everyone.
4 - Ferrari the money guy gets stabbed for the wrong price.
5 - Poor stagehand Mark gets drilled through a door.
6 - Brett gets accidentally killed by his director, an act which I'm sure a lot of directors would love to perpetrate on their casts.
7 - Sybil gets somehow torn in half as two guys fight over her. (Oh, and she was also pregnant, but I'm not gonna count that.)
8 - And her boyfriend joins her in being bisected shortly thereafter.
9 - Peter loses his head to the killer.
10 - Laurel gets Psychoed in the theatre's bathroom.
11 - And finally, finally, finally, the killer gets shot between the eyes by Willy.
Best Corpse: Sybil getting torn in half was shocking, gory, and pretty well done.
Blood Type - B+: There's quite a bit of blood flowing through this movie, from the drill through the chest, Sybil being severed, the backstage chainsaw massacre...and it's got the decent effects to back it up.
Sex Appeal: It's an Italian movie, so there's smatterings of nudity here and there. It helps to be backstage where people are getting changed.
Drink Up! Whenever you see the owl.
Video Nasties: I went with my favourite scene from the movie, the chainsaw chase, culminating in Peter's demise. I was going to start with Sybil's death, but to keep it shorter, I focused in on the chainsaw only.
Movie Review: What to say about this movie... It's very much an Italian horror movie. It's strongly influenced by the giallo genre. It's not QUITE a giallo though, but the style and absurdity of the settings and happenings are right in line with things. It lacks the tons of red herrings and twists, on the other hand. Still, it has that signature feel to it. It is a very heightened reality in which this movie lives in, and by those standards, its not bad. But that brings some weird logic and plot holes with it, and general strangeness. If you're a fan of Italian style, this is enjoyable, and since Michele Soavi was a first time director for this movie, it's clear to see that in the quality, but he still manages a pretty competent piece, and it's certainly not bad. The worst thing about the movie is that it's *weird* and you need to decide if you're going to roll with the weirdness and heightened reality of a giallo-esque movie, or if you're going to be put off by the signature style. Me, I love it, and there's some good scares, so I kinda loved this. Still, it's not for everyone, so three out of five owl heads.
Entertainment Value: If you're on board, this movie is a BLAST. I mean, an escaped killer who prances around in an owl mask, slashing up overly theatrical dramatists. It's amazing and so over the top. Also, bonus points, I am a theatre brat, so getting to see all these goings on backstage tickled me SO much. I creeped around in those same shadows, clamored all over the catwalks, snuck into crawlspaces...and seeing that played out as a slasher story was a blast. The acting is over the top, the blood is good and gory, and the movie is wonderfully absurdist. It's almost an art piece in how bizarre it is. This is a memorable movie, a strange movie, and it's actually a decent slasher story, done in an undeniably Italian style. Four out of five missing keys.