StageFright – Aquarius (1987) poster

StageFright – Aquarius (1987)


aka Bloody Bird

Italy. 1987.


Director – Michele Soavi, Screenplay – Lew Cooper [Luigi Montefiore], Producer – Joe D’Amato, Photography – Renato Tafuri, Music – Simon Boswell, Special Effects – Roland Dank, Robert Gould, Dan Maklansky & Alan Sloane. Production Company – Filmways.


Barbara Cupisti (Alicia), David Brandon (Peter Connor), Mary Sellers (Laurel), Jo Anne Smith (Sybil), Ulrike Schwerk (Betty), Martin Philips (Mark), Robert Gligorov (Danny), John Morghen (Brett), James E.R. Sampson (Willy), Piero Vida (Jack Ferrari), Lori Parrel (Corinne)


Alicia is starring in a play about a psychopathic killer when she twists her ankle during rehearsals. The wardrobe mistress Betty takes her to a nearby psychiatric hospital for treatment. However, while they are there, a psychopathic killer makes an escape and hides in their car, killing Betty. The play’s iron-handed director decides to exploit the murder and brings the premiere forward. He locks the cast into the theatre and hides the key to force them to rehearse all night. What nobody realises is that he has also locked the killer in with them.

This violent giallo thriller served as introduction for director Michele Soavi who was subsequently propelled to the forefront of Italian horror cinema with stylish efforts such as The Church (1989), The Sect/The Devil’s Daughter (1991) and the cult Dellamorte Dellamore/Cemetery Man (1994). Prior to this, Michele Soavi had served as an assistant director to Dario Argento, Joe D’Amato and Lamberto Bava, even to Terry Gilliam on The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989). He then directed a documentary about Argento Dario Argento’s World of Horror (1985). Although Soavi has since fallen into tv and abandoned genre material, he did for a time seem one of the promising new talents of Italian horror cinema.

StageFright – Aquarius has all the familiar touches of the giallo film. The contrived set-up has the heroine going to a psychiatric institution for medical treatment; while, with almost superhuman regard, the killer refuses to lie down and stay dead. There is an extremely high level of violence with Soavi showing in graphic detail power drills being shoved through bodies, severed torsos and the like – all of which initially serves to give the impression that Michele Soavi is a director without any style, just a penchant for ultra-violent dispatch.

The owl-masked killer sits amid a stage filled with dead bodies in StageFright - Aquarius (1987)
The owl-masked killer sits amid a stage filled with dead bodies

However, there are also a number of occasions where Soavi demonstrates considerably more style – particularly in moments that he blends the suspense with the illusion of the stage, like one sequence where the director directs the killer in the play how to kill an actress unaware that he is directing the killer who really is killing the actress.

Once Soavi has gotten his string of victims out of the way, he develops the film into a vividly drawn-out series of suspense sequences – in one scene, the heroine is hiding in a shower cubicle as a friend is stabbed by the killer in the adjoining cubicle and she must do all she can to stop her friend crying out for help and giving her presence away; or where a cat trips a fan blowing away a pile of feathers revealing the key embedded in the cracks of the stage and the heroine’s suspenseful crawl under the stage to try and get it while the killer sits directly above.

Trailer here

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