Stagefright 1980 Review
Directed by: John D. Lamond
Starring: Jenny Neumann, Gary Sweet, Peter Tulloch
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Right, the last review that I posted was the wonderful Italian slasher Stagefright and so I thought in order to add some alphabetical structure to the blog, I would follow it up with its namesake from seven-years earlier.
I said before in my review of Small Town Massacre about producer Anthony Ginnane’s mission to put Australia on the horror map with his Ozploitation efforts of the early eighties. Well it came as a surprise to me that he wasn’t involved with this Sydney based production, although I’m sure he helped to lay the groundwork for its release. Instead, it was developed and co-written by Colin Eggleton who would go on to direct the interesting Cassandra in 1986. The idea here was most definitely to jump on the express train to profit that Halloween had set in to motion and the references are plain enough for all to see. Despite not offering much in terms of authenticity, it is perhaps worth noting that this picture was the first to utilise a theater as a story location, which is something that would be reused in other entries as the genre flourished.
Stagefright or Nightmares as it is also known, has become somewhat of a rare beast and I don’t believe that it has made the transition to DVD or BlueRay yet. I have owned it on VHS for what feels like a lifetime, but funnily enough I’ve only attempted to watch it once.
So it begins with a typical ‘twenty years earlier’ prologue that cancels out any suspicion that this is not a Halloween rip-off. A young girl accidentally kills her randy mother in a car accident and then the credits roll. Move on up to the eighties and a group of actors are preparing for a stage show. Meanwhile it seems that a black-gloved assassin is working his way through the cast with a shard of glass. Who is the killer and what are his motives?
In the González household, we usually cook something really good during the weekend and then use the leftovers on Monday evening for a quickie dinner. It seems that no matter what we have, if you chuck it in to a frying pan with a few eggs and potatoes, it usually comes out really well. Stagefright is a similar exercise in juxtaposition and mixes moods that range from macabre horror to outright peculiarity. It’s an incredibly violent movie with a unique murder weapon. The killer always smashes the nearest window, mirror or glass object and then attacks with a large broken slice. We don’t get much more in gore effects than a splash of ketchup, but the film is incredibly explicit in that a large amount of victims are butchered whilst naked. By this I mean COMPLETELY naked. There’s a sex scene in an alleyway early on that pushes the boundaries for acceptability and there’s another gratuitous moment when the nut job chases a girl in her skin suit out in to the street. I am sure that if released back then in the United Kingdom, this probably would have been added to the notorious DPP list in a heartbeat. You could even call it the video nasty that never was, but most definitely would have been.
The reason for the large amount of bare flesh is because the script takes the have sex and die rule and amplifies it by a billion watts. The cast are a particularly randy bunch and when not actually making out, they are usually sitting around and talking about doing it. One character even tries to bribe another in to the sack with the promise of a better review and all this activity unsettles our psycho killer and kicks him in to action. There are quite a few slaughters that are spaced frequently and at eighty-minutes, it’s too short to get bored. The fact that everything’s filmed in such an energetic fashion means that the mix of a frantic (and very good) score, unnerving screams and some wild photography blur in to something of a horror movie kaleidoscope. Director Lamond shows his inspirations by using countless Carpenter-esque heavy-breath killer-cam shots, which are great for stalking sequences. The thing is that most of the ones that he features don’t lead anywhere and therefore lack impact. Especially the pointless occasions that just show the psycho roaming around backstage. Yawn
The story is structured rather weirdly and pretty much tells us early on who the maniac is, but then utilises the Giallo style of just a black glove whenever he strikes. I was expecting some kind of mega twist or justification for the attempt at a mystery angle, but it looks like the writers may have had second thoughts about halfway through and altered the conclusion. This creates an obvious problem and it’s one that certainly leaves a crater in the delivery of the fear factor. You see, it’s very hard to build suspense when you have a menace that remains off-screen. Only maestros can deliver scares from an assailant that is nothing more than a hand holding a dagger. So why use that methodology if you’re not really hiding the identity of your bogeyman? It makes no sense. Add on top of this the fact that Eggleton seems to have edited the negatives with a pair of nail clippers and what we’re left with is a feature that doesn’t even attempt to hide its technical amateurism.
Even if he may be an awful editor, as a writer, Eggeton excels himself and his hilarious dialogue and intriguing personas are brilliant. I’ve done quite a bit of theatre and can confirm that the featured characterisations are spot on. I once read that celebrities are some of the most non-confident people on the planet and the fact that they’re swimming in a pool of insecurities up on the world’s stage makes them self-centred and narcissistic. The script most definitely touches on that and it means that we can have fun watching them get slashed. And get slashed they do. EVERY single one of them. The performances may not be earth moving and there’s no one really to bond with, but it’s still enjoyable enough to watch.
Ok picture this scenario. You just read my review of Michele Soavi’s Stagefright and so you see the praise that I gave it and go online to buy it on DVD. The retailer makes a mistake and sends you this one instead of the aforementioned Italian classic. None the wiser, you place it your system and hit play. Would you be astounded that I praised it so highly and email me to complain? I would say that probably no. You would maybe question my sanity, but hey; you wouldn’t be the first to do so. My point is that this Australian stalk and slasher is no rancid test of viewing endurance. It’s just that it doesn’t really do enough to make itself stand out. Not a patch on the other entry that it shares a title with, but it will provide you with some cheesy thrills.
Serious collectors should give it a whirl, but don’t go expecting anything outstanding. I mean, it could result in you getting angry, breaking a mirror and chasing some naked bunny out on to the street. I don’t want to be responsible for that dear readers 😉
Final Girl: √√