Thursday, August 4, 2011

In short: Aquarius (1987)

aka StageFright

Original title: Deliria

Freshly escaped insane killer Irving Wallace (Clain Parker) secretly hitches a ride on the back seat of dancer Alicia's (Barbara Cupisti) car to the soundstage where the final rehearsals for a very 80s low-rent musical about a serial killer the woman dances in are taking place.

Irv doesn't hesitate, and kills the musical's costume designer in the appropriately gruesome manner. Alicia finds the body, and the police is called. The cops don't find the killer around the soundstage, so they take their leave again, only posting two deaf and stupid colleagues in front of the building in case, well, I don't know in case of what.

The musical's director Peter (David Brandon) sees a golden opportunity here, spontaneously renames the killer of his piece into Irving Wallace and locks his play's core cast in with him, letting the dancer who's going to die next hide away the key, so he can, well, I don't know what the key business is supposed to be about. Oh right, because the killer's in the building too, and we wouldn't have much of a movie when everybody could just leave when Irving begins to slaughter further dancers.

Aquarius is the first of a handful of pretty swell horror movies actor, assistant director (among others for Argento's Tenebre and Phenomena), and all-around Italian movie person Michele Soavi directed between 1987 and 1994.

The film is a perfect example for my pet theory that in Italian horror of the country's prime periods, dumb writing and horrendously convoluted and illogical scripting was not the slightest impediment to a film turning out pretty exciting. It's all a question of presenting the stupid as if it were as quotidian as a visit to the loo. You might think it's lazy writing, but when it works, this technique gives a movie all the aspects of a particularly bizarre dream.

Of course, just having a script of doubtful taste and logic (but with some great ideas on how to set up murder scenes) is not all that's needed to make a proper Italian horror movie of dream-like aspect. There's also the small but important point of having a director who's able to take all the ingredients in the script and make them sing with style. Fortunately, Soavi shows himself to be very great at being stylish. He takes half of the stuff he probably learned while working with Dario Argento, some Hitchcock-style suspense, the gory pay-offs of post-Friday-the-13th slasher movies, and applies some of the lessons he learned about the importance of what happens in the visual background of a scene from John Carpenter's original Halloween to it, and fastly makes you forget how dumb the whole script is. When Aquarius doesn't feel like a dream, all floating camera movements and nightmare edits, it's tight and exciting.

Seemingly, all the thinking that wasn't applied to the script went into the visual presentation, leaving the viewer - as is so often the case in Italian genre cinema - with a film where the style is the substance.


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