Stagefright: Aquarius (1987)
The actors and crew of a stage production find themselves locked in a building with a vicious murderer wearing an owl mask. Amid all the 80s synth music, stabbing implements and Italian horror violence, will they find the key to open the door and escape? Or will this become a too-wit too-who-dunnit?
The movie opens with a dress rehearsal of a campy, unintentionally funny, bad-taste dance-musical about serial killer who looks like an owl and tosses mannequins in the air. And I'm already thinking - I really want tickets for that show! The whole first section of the film has a silly feel about it. One dancer sprains her ankle, so she and a friend sneak out to get her foot treated at a nearby psychiatric hospital. They ask about a sinister figure they notice in a locked cell, and the doctor throws ethics and confidentiality out the window, telling them all about the patient. He is a psychopath and former actor, known as Irving Wallace. Meanwhile we learn that examining a pretty young woman's ankle involves massaging her thigh a lot, but as the women don't seem to notice, let's not dwell on it.
The psycho-actor guy manages to kill someone and walk out of the maximum security hospital without anyone noticing. He sneakily gets a lift in the women's car without them knowing. And when one of them is found brutally killed in the car park, the show's director decides to take advantage of the bad publicity, and promptly changes the name of the serial killer on stage to Irving Wallace.
Ok, that's the silliness out of the way, and things get more serious from now on. This movie features surprisingly inventive kills with decent practical horror effects. It knows it's limitations well, and uses clever editing to its advantage. The first murder the characters witness takes place on stage with the killer wearing the owl costume, and is remarkably well done and very chilling. Certain scenes use the synthpop and 80s rock soundtrack to great effect, and in unexpected ways. The camera work involves a mix of hand-held shots, killer POV, victim POV, and the lighting adds a lot to the atmosphere. Yes, the big owl head thing is a bit bizarre, but once you get your head around it, it does look pretty sinister.
This is often described as a Giallo movie, though I'd say it's more a slasher at heart. Either way, it's a LOT of fun, even if it does have a few faults. There are some unintentionally campy moments, but there are frights too, and I liked the balance between them. I was amused and entertained all the way through, and would recommend any fans of 80s Italian horror or slashers to give this a look.
Trailer (contains spoilers)