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Miss Wilkes Review: STAGE FRIGHT
A KILLER OWL USES HIS JAZZ HANDS TO COMMIT MURDER
★★☆☆☆ (Don’t Bother)
Directed by Michael Soavi
Like you, I have a large list of potentially good-bad horror movies I’ve been saving for a rainy day. One of them was Stage Fright, a film so bottom-of-the-Walmart-bin I couldn’t find a synopsis on streaming channels; a perfect choice to be background noise during an afternoon of writing.
I turned it on and didn’t get any writing done.
The first scene is a close-up of a prostitute, smoking and walking on a sidewalk at night, and I’m guessing the atmosphere they were going for was a Taxi Driver grittiness. You hear cars honking and johns yelling off camera. After the woman leans against a shadowy doorway, a tiny feather—so tiny you might not even know what it is—falls in front of her face. Apparently, this is meant to signal the killer, and two hands grab her from behind to pull her into the darkness.
The woman screams, causing people to run out of tenement buildings and down the sidewalk to see what happened. They find the prostitute dead in the dark alley, and then, without any fucking warning, a man-owl leaps over them into the street to the sound of a 1980s Miami Vice saxophone solo. Turns out the scene is actually a dress rehearsal for an off off off off off off Broadway musical about a killer man-owl. The saxophone is being played in the rafters by a Marilyn Monroe impersonator…I spot a pissed-off Paul Sorvino in the corner…actors strip the killer avian down to a white leotard so they can have sex with him… All in the first five minutes!
As you can imagine, I stopped what I was doing so I could savor this random pick. Don’t you sometimes feel like an archaeologist when you discover an awesomely bad B movie? As that sinister owl pranced on that stage like he had happy feet, I smugly believed I’d uncovered some rare jewel.
I thought this movie was about to rock my world.
Unfortunately, I was wrong. After the screaming director stops rehearsal, he tries to placate the financier—who is in fact, not Paul Sorvino—by saying, “Can you imagine the effect on the public? The victim r*pes her own murderer. It’ll be sensational!” Actors scramble and take their places to practice a different scene, where a young woman does ballet pirouettes around an actress getting assaulted by two men. This is the movie I’ve stumbled onto—not treasure, but fool’s gold.
Stage Fright is a paint-by-numbers slasher flick with the director lazily going from victim to victim, trying to kill them in creative ways and failing. There’s the woman attacked trying to start her car in the rain, there’s the guy in the dressing room who doesn’t notice the assailant behind wavering fabric…you’ve seen this movie a hundred times with far more interesting characters. As our murderer quickly kills his way around the
high school auditorium theatre stage, you don’t have time to care about any of them before they fall prey. Characters in Stage Fright are algorithms created by terrible horror movies: Sassy Gay Actor, Wise Black Janitor, Nerdy Girl, Generic Stage Hand, The Ho, Angry Director, and Sweet Ingenue, who is so bland I couldn’t pick her out of a lineup. The only thing going for the film is that the murderer wears the hilarious owl head, but even this gets old after awhile.
From the beginning you know who dun it, so without a mystery, you’re left with nothing. After spraining her ankle, our heroine gets help at the local mental hospital (don’t ask) and wouldn’t you know, that’s the very night Irving Wallace, a former actor who went berserk and killed at least sixteen people, escapes his cell. This also happens to be the same night the fiery director has decided to lock his actors in the building in order to hone their talents.
There were obviously high hopes during production; from the ending, it’s clear they expected Irving Wallace to become a sort of Michael Myers, a monster who can’t be killed. Sadly, Stage Fright is simply Fame meets Guardians of Ga’Hoole. Enjoy the first five minutes and move on.
GENRES: Funny, LGBTQ+, Serial Killer