A young group of NYC actors are rehearsing an off off off broadway musical (the next lower rung entails performing at IHOP) called "The Night Owl", and they are debuting in a week. Admittedly, this show has me scratching my head/ass. A fake Marilyn Monroe is blowing her sax while a dude in an owl mask (a gay John Morghen, semi-famous for getting castrated in Make Them Die Slowly) is being accosted by a gang, his clothes ripped off at gun point. Curiously, somebody throws a dummy of the lead girl up in the air, and Cinderella shows up (not the band, the chick from the fairy tale) and gets raped on a bed sitting in the middle of a street. I guess this is supposed to be a metaphor for something. Maybe the owl represents man’s longing to fly, but the urban jungle impedes his progress. I’m not quite sure how Marylin fits into the equation. Maybe her and Cinderella are lesbian lovers. Why not.
Later, a girl in a baby doll dances around her bedroom with a mannequin, and the owl guy pops in and stabs her repeatedly. He uses a real knife instead of a fake retractable one, a bit of improv on part of the new actor playing the part. It seems that some escapee from the local insane asylum decided to give himself a part in the play. Whether on stage or in real life, crazy people are always going off script. Afterwards, the asshole director gives his cast and crew the “show must go on” speech, saying that they can’t afford to abandon a paying gig, what with their careers in the shitter. He also mentions that the added publicity from the actors being murdered will generate interest for the show. I guess that makes sense.
While this owl dude is running around, two worthless bacon badgers are outside in their porkmobile, providing “security”, which amounts to cracking wise on the city’s dime. Meanwhile, everyone is inside the studio, running around, looking for the key to unlock the door, and getting slaughtered in the process. For example, the asshole director gets his arm hacked off with a chainsaw before getting decapitated with an axe (that’s how you deal with a grade A slimebag). As director Michele Soavi is a protégé of Dario Argento, there are many stylish suspense sequences that are better viewed than articulated.
It all ends in one of those “psycho killer dead body galleries”, this time onstage. Owl boy starts sticking feathers in the victim’s mouths for some reason (I guess that’s how fake owls get off), and then pets a cat while he sits in a chair. The final girl eventually kills him three separate times, and we are left to wonder why a seemingly sweet owl would commit such heinous acts. No motive is ever presented, so we are forced to manufacture our own. Yes, the message is clear. Despite surface appearances, owls are indeed assholes.
While the Italian giallo was a big precursor to the slasher film, here some Italians adopt an American form and fittingly set it in New York. There is also a bit of Argento-esque self-reflexiveness, what with the musical being based on the killer’s real life exploits as a psychopath, although that still doesn’t add any clarity to what was witnessed during the opening performance. This means he escaped from the nut house just in time to star in his own life story, while forcing out the musical numbers. The killer is also presented as a psychopathic performer, pumping classical music through the speakers to accompany his cat and mouse antics, and intentionally offing people in the most elaborate and brutal ways he can come up with. Here’s a maniac that finally seems to be having a grand old time, without disrupting scenes with endless one-liners (like that Krueger guy). All in all, Stage Fright is the last truly great slasher, maintaining the integrity of the form while making it leaner and even more cinematic, and spinning it with a self-reflexive twist.