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For the life of me, I don’t understand Italian horror movies. I know that films like Stage Fright (Deliria if you prefer) have a following, and from a purely visual standpoint, there’s a lot here to like. I’m not going to deny that having a killer running around in a giant owl mask isn’t a visual feast. But the plot of this movie borders not on incoherent but on nonsensical. Everybody acts like an idiot to make the plot work, and the world this film exists in is so divergent from the real world that I don’t know where to begin.
I mean that this movie nonsensical in the most immediate and complete way. For this plot to work, everyone involved in the story needs to be an idiot, the healthcare system of wherever this is needs to be run by 8-year-olds, and the police department is unable to count to 10 even with the full use of their fingers, including the thumbs. It is another film that seems to demonstrate the idea that Italian horror directors identify specific scenes they what to film first, and then cobble together other scenes to link them. Assume that the rest of this review is under a spoiler tag because we’ve got to go all the way to the end to really explore the stupid.
The basic conceit of this film is that there is a theater troupe working on a musical about a serial killer called the Night Owl. Because theater is a visual medium, the fictional Night Owl serial killer has a gigantic owl mask that he wears. One of the actresses, Alicia (Barbara Cupisti), hurts her ankle and needs to go to a hospital to get it looked at. Alicia, by the way, will be our final girl. She is taken out of the rehearsal against the wishes of the director (David Brandon) by Betty (Ulrike Schwerk). Betty, by the way, will be the opposite of our final girl in that she’ll be one of the first victims.
So where does Betty take Alicia? To a psychiatric hospital, of course, to get her ankle looked at. And one of the psychiatric doctors takes a look at her ankle for her. All of this is to introduce us to Irving Wallace (Clain Parker, but also Luigi Montefiori under the owl mask), a former actor who went on a psychotic killing spree. Think he’ll get out? Think he’ll attack the cast and crew of The Night Owl?
Anyway, while Alicia is getting bandaged, Irving Wallace kills a guard and gets into the back seat of Betty’s car, which gets him to the theater. Alicia gets fired for leaving, Betty gets killed and her body gets discovered. And what makes the most sense to happen now? The police put a car outside but the cast and crew of the play lock themselves in and continue rehearsing. Of course they’ve locked themselves in with the killer, who starts to kill them all off. And of course the killer gets the key to the doors, which somehow cannot be opened from the inside without a key. And there are no windows, for some reason, so there is no way for the people inside to alert the police outside.
And because everyone in this movie is an idiot, Irving Wallace starts killing everyone one by one, paring them down until he gets to just Alicia left. Now, I will freely admit that some of the deaths are pretty spectacular. Wallace drills through a door and through the body of one person, for instance, but this is again a case where the image was certainly thought of without a clear way to make the scene happen. The only way to get the guy in position to be drilled is to have him try to block the door in the most awkward way possible. Give someone 1000 tries to block a door, and they will do so in a different way 1000 times. But, since we need the drill to go through the door and through the guy, this is what we get. That said, it is pretty great when one of the cast members is literally ripped in half, although we don’t get a good view on how that happens—we just see the end result.
The biggest middle finger to the audience, though, is the ending. Alicia, having survived, realizes that she has lost her watch, so she goes back to the theater—a place with more than half a dozen bodies in it a few hours before and almost certainly still an active crime scene—to retrieve her watch. And what’s going to happen? Well, Irving Wallace, the madman who killed those more than half a dozen people is still there and trying to kill her. The police managed to clear up the crime scene of bodies and also managed to miss the fact that the fucking killer wasn’t there despite Alicia claiming to have killed him. And then they left this massive crime scene where people were literally ripped in half unattended. Are they fucking Uvalde, Texas cops?
I’m willing to suspend my disbelief to allow for ghosts, demons, spaceships, laser guns, monsters, and a hell of a lot more, but this crosses the damned line.
Why to watch Stage Fright: Visually, it’s pretty great.
Why not to watch: It’s the definition of lacking verisimilitude.