Friday, July 2, 2010

STAGE FRIGHT (1980) - if you have a problem with butterflies, swallow some insect repellent (i.e. booze)

Here is a widescreen frame from the DVD release. My VHS copy only shows half a light bulb and most of the girl, cropping out the rest in order to please the retards that can't comprehend the difference between a square and a rectangle.

Australia presents many advantages that us yanks don't get to enjoy. They have hotter chicks, awesome Aborigines that can kill a lion with a spear, better beer, and, more pertinently, quality DVD releases of Australian B-movies that only got a shoddy VHS release in the states (if a release at all). Exhibit A is Stage Fright (originally Nightmares in its native country), which got a VHS release in 1987 by “VidAmerica”, in one of the most unspeakable pan and scan transfers in history. The stylish scope photography is butchered beyond belief, like viewing a movie through a peephole. I guess I could just import the DVD, but I’m friggin’ broke, and I’d get murdered with the exchange rate anyway (the American dollar is the new peso, I guess).

So, a young version of Jenny Neumann (of Mistress of the Apes and Hell Night “fame”) is walking a potentially disastrous Freudian tightrope. She’s a young innocent that wuvs to squeeze her teddy bear, but this bliss is interrupted when she is forced to watch her mother make out with some dude (I don’t know his name, but it sure as hell ain’t “daddy”). For example, mommy is driving along, necking with her boy toy, with Jenny in the back seat. Jenny yells at the dude for rubbing on her madre, and this distracts her, resulting in a violent crash with another vehicle. Mommy plows head first through the windshield and bites the dust (well, glass), and the girl waits patiently in the back seat for help, covered in blood, staring at her mother’s corpse. It’s not clear what happened to the boyfriend though. Maybe he ran off to find another mommy to molest.

Unfortunately, Jenny’s father blames her for the accident (admittedly she distracted the driver from the back seat). If this wasn’t enough psycho-sexual trauma, a male nurse tries to get some five-year-old Jenny sugar, but she turns down his advances, even stabbing him with a piece of broken glass. This further fractures her psyche, causing the camera to spin around, all intercut with images, screaming, and an awesomely caustic string score by Brian May (not the dude from Queen, although he rocks).

Jenny wakes up in modern day Australia (circa 1980), all grown up and smoking, an actress auditioning for a play. Curiously, she has an American accent, despite apparently having lived her entire life in Australia. Maybe she spent the rest of her childhood locked in her room, only watching American television (probably a lot of Sid and Marty Krofft foolishness, what with growing up in the seventies). It looks like her life may finally be coming together, what with a potential career on the horizon. Also, she meets a nice Aussie bloke who likes to kiss her on the nose (I’m sure he does other stuff to her too).

Unfortunately, some heavy breather is lurching around in the vicinity of the playhouse. One couple in particular is getting down to some heavy breathing of their own, including some titty squeezing and some surprising beaver petting (the beaver wasn’t surprised; I just wasn’t expecting a prolonged close-up of a vagina). The intruder grabs a piece of broken glass, slicing the girl’s tits and castrating the dude. I can’t help but think our heavy breather has some intimacy issues.

Jenny admits to her new beau that she’s never had a boyfriend (remember, she’s been watching T.V. this whole time), and flashes back to her mom ass grinding against her boy toy (it’s her only point of reference, apparently). She gets to do one of those acting exercises where she conjures up a bad memory to evoke emotion (like in Body Double). She does so remarkably quickly, yelling about her mom being a bitch and so forth, and this ability would seem to bode well for her career. These flashbacks and visions about her mom being a whore continue throughout the film, as she apparently hasn’t buried the past like we all might have hoped.

The play is supposedly about “the comedy of death”, but is not coming together particularly smoothly (death is certainly present, but precious few laughs). The director is some blowhard asshole who directs by screaming insults (in his own distinctly Australian manner), and I doubt poor Jenny’s mind will be clear enough to remember all these lines. The play’s fate is put in further jeopardy when one of the thespian ladies slightly touches Jenny’s beau, and later gets the heavy breathing glass shard treatment. Then again, maybe this is just a coincidence. An Aussie oinker shows up asking questions, and one of the guys admits he showed up at the theater late at night to meet her because she’s a “randy bird” (that’s Aussie code for “slut”).

Well, it’s finally performance night, and Jenny catches glimpse of some broken glass when a portrait falls off the wall, and thereby starts getting twitchy right off the bat. The audience is laughing during the play, not because death is hilarious, but rather, because the performance is super shitty. Jenny reluctantly heads to the after party, and immediately gets hit on by some scumbag critic. The reviews come in, and they are, shall we say, less than glowing. Unluckily for the critic, a pane of glass breaks near him while he’s wandering around in the dark, setting off the heavy breather to give his own opinion of the critic’s worth. These critics (both dead and alive) don’t deter the troupe from putting on a second performance, including another boink session backstage (between acts, no less).

The sets up the sex slasher showdown, and the “twist” ending, in which the film actually plays by the rules and themes it had already set. In other words, if you can’t figure this one out…just give it up. Really. Stop watching movies. Regardless, the film is a stylish, violent, psycho-sexual assault wrung out of a hamfisted script that doesn’t really go anywhere. I guess it’s like an awesomely sleazy, but one-dimensional, giallo (albeit from our friends down under) masquerading as a slasher.

At the heart of the film is Jenny Neumann, a never quite scream queen, and a presence both photogenic and (somewhat) sympathetic. Her character’s inner turmoil is impressively relayed through cinematic means (including a lot of flash cuts), rather than the more conventional way of creating characters and shit through the script. After all, it’s more effective to, in effect, experience a character’s mental state, rather than have a doctor or whoever talk about how batshit crazy they are.

P.S. Here is an additional post pertaining to the U.S. DVD release by Severin.


  1. You're probably well aware at this point but there's a new US dvd from Severin. It's a direct conversion of the Aussie PAL transfer, which means it's softer in comparison and has the usual artifacts that come with that whole deal (per reviews), but has goodies like a director commentary that the Aussie doesn't have.

    I actually have yet to see the damn thing but I've been real curious for awhile and I found it dirt cheap the other day, so pulled the trigger

  2. @Robb
    I actually wrote an addendum post about that. I'll link to it at the bottom. I watched the disc and I thought it looked pretty good (the Pal conversion must've been better than most). I'm also quoted on the back of the case, which was a bit of a shock to me when I bought it! :)