Dir. Michele Soavi
Film #22, of Monday 22nd October, for Halloween 31 For 31
When Italian genre cinema is at its best, they are rich in style and distinct in their filmic textures. Even at their most minimal in plot or narrative, the Italians were able to still succeed because the emphasis on the visuals was pushed to the point that it conveys all the emotion and effect needed. Michele Soavi’s StageFright can be summarised in a single sentence – a psychopath in an owl mask picks off a theatrical troupe in a locked theatre. The film comes closer to an American slasher movie than the ones traditional in Italy, following an elaborately dressed killer murdering a group of people one-by-one. The plot is very slight, the kind that would get immensely criticised for its lack of depth; the slight nature of it does affect the quality of the overall film, but for pace reasons. The rest of StageFright avoids this by Soavi turning the overall work into a kinetic, immensely lurid hybrid that is far better than it could have turned into.
|Owl Mask considers some practical DIY.|
Drenched in late 1980s style, the film is a basis for Soavi to push camera movement and use of images as far as he could go. The premise of a slasher film can easily become redundant in its inanity if not done well; the stripped down nature of the genre however can allow emphasis on the tenseness of the situation to be taken to its fullest. An understudy of Dario Argento, his influence on Soavi is obvious, using the focus on moving camera shots, and the use of colour and light, to take StageFright’s minimal premise and push it into a far more quality work. The characters are surface-level, the violence is over violent, and the owl mask the killer wears is impractical in reality, but playing in a clearly artificial world, Soavi allows these aspect to still work. For example, the owl mask, a giant owl’s head from the stage play the theatre cast are practicing, is a striking presence in the film and stands out in genre cinema despite its ridiculous size. Soavi even uses the feathers from it brilliantly as a frequent motif in the narrative. Like Argento, the style of the film is excessive on purpose to emphasis the intensity of the horror onscreen.
The style of the film and your reaction to it is the same as to the music within it. If it is off-putting, the excess is too much, full of saxophone flourishes and synth, but if you can engage with it or love its excess, especially for me as I used to play the saxophone until college, then it adds to the lurid nature of the film, and as a score adds to the effect of the dramatic scenes. Italian genre films and their stylism is at its best when the directors also use it carefully even when it is intentionally saturated in tone. With the score for example, Soavi brilliantly contrasts it with use of silence for certain sequences, especially the highlight near the end involving a key, which adds to their intensity, and classical music. The same logic is used by Soavi for composing the visuals, excessive in style – extreme close-ups, a breathtaking 360 degree pan of the theatre soundstage, first person prowling cameras – but put together with immense consideration. Regardless of the content, the editing of the scenes together is probably StageFright’s greatest virtue aside from its style.
As his debut, Michele Soavi started off especially well. It is what it is, but while Italian genre cinema had plenty of highs, just from seeing a few films from my perspective, there are plenty of terrible ones too. Since the Italian industry would soon after this film die off, this can be seen as one of the last hurrahs before the dearth of the 1990s would take place. Only possible to make as it was in the 1980s, StageFright is a film which takes such a replicated and grinded-out concept and breathe life into it, an act which is refreshing. I did suggest I would do a slasher film for this season; it’s an Italian one, and probably doesn’t legally count, but this is my slasher choice, far more its sub-genre emphasised tenfold than some of the American ones and much better for it.
|Owl Mask resting after a night's worth of killing.|