31 Days of Slashers: Stagefright: Aquarius (1987)

The thirty-first and final entry in the 31 Days of Slashers series is Michele Soavi’s Stagefright: Aquarius (1987), also known simply as Stage Fright or Deliria. This Italian slasher film focuses on a group of actors who are locking themselves in their theatre to rehearse their new show. Unbeknownst to them, a madman (who happens to be a former actor) has escaped from the nearby mental institution and has been locked in with them. As rehearsals drag on and the cast starts feuding with one another and with the director, murders start occurring. Will any of them survive the masked madman that is slowly killing them off one by one?

One of my favorite elements of Stagefright: Aquarius is the incredible owl mask that the madman wears for the majority of the film. Masks are such an integral part of the slasher sub-genre, and so often they can be rather boring or simply repetitive. Soavi’s film features this overly theatrical mask because it was originally intended to be worn in the play by a dancer. While the idea of a large owl mask may seem peculiar and not particularly frightening, there is honestly just something incredibly eerie about it that really works in the film’s favor. Also, there is a moment in between kills where the killer just sits on stage with a black cat in his lap. There are so few moments in slasher films that really match this bizarre and still oddly chilling moment of a killer simply petting a cat and admiring his handiwork.

Michele Soavi was a protege of iconic Italian horror maestro Dario Argento, and Argento’s Giallo aesthetic is clearly a heavy influence on Soavi’s work. The death sequences are shot in really engaging ways that perfectly capture the terror of the actors being murdered by the masked madman. There is one where the Owl pops up behind a shower curtain that actually made me jump when I first watched the film.

Italian horror has always been a really rich resource to American horror fans. There is just so much artistic craft on display in these Giallo-infused slasher films that they are simply a visual delight. Soavi’s eye for color, while not as extreme as in some of Argento’s films, is utilized quite well here to highlight the rich textures of the theatrical space. The details on the owl mask, in particular, are quite striking. If you haven’t seen many, or any, Italian horror films, Stagefright: Aquarius is a perfect jumping-off point, as it features visual threads that you can follow into countless other films in the genre.

Through its fantastic costume design, its great use of location, and its shocking death sequences, Stagefright: Aquarius is an Italian horror masterpiece that is greatly underappreciated. It features so many captivating moments and proves to be a great stepping stone for folks developing a taste for Italian horror.

Stagefright: Aquarius is currently streaming for free on Tubi and Vudu and with membership on the Shudder, AMC+, and Arrow Video Player apps.

Thanks so much to everyone that read any of the 31 Days of Slashers posts this month. I hope that you were able to come away with at least one film that you haven’t seen before and that you’ll enjoy watching. This was a really fun little project and I will definitely do it again next year. That being said, horror films are not simply limited to October and are meant to be enjoyed all year. Have a great Halloween!

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