This handsome, blue-eyed, blond actor-turned-filmmaker first ventured behind the camera under the bloodshot eye of celebrated Italian horror maestro Dario Argento. Soavi began acting in 1976 but his classic good looks consigned him to playing Americans in cheap Italian knockoffs of Hollywood genre movies, notably in the absurdly gory work of Lucio Fulci. His fortunes changed upon meeting Argento who was then casting for "Inferno" (1980). Soavi lost the part but gained a mentor when hired as an assistant director on Argento's "Tenebrae/Unsane" (1982). Horror proved both hospitable and inspirational for Soavi, even inflecting his atmospheric direction of the music video for Bill Wyman's "Valley", from the soundtrack of Argento's first English-language feature, "Phenomena/Creepers" (1985), on which he also served as assistant director. Soavi performed similar chores on Argento's "Opera" (1987) and several horror outings by director Lamberto Bava.
Soavi paid homage to his teacher with his deft helming of the nonfiction portrait "Dario Argento's World of Horror". Moreover, his 1987 feature directorial bow, "Bloody Bird" (a.k.a. "Deliria", "Stagefright", and "Aquarius"), revealed the influence of "The Visconti of Violence" with its penchant for baroquely lit bloodletting. However, the story, with a crazed actor in an owl mask dispatching a theatrical troupe, was less than inspired. Nonetheless, the effort won the Fear Prize at the 1987 Avoriaz Festival.
Intriguingly rather than immediately proceeding to directing another feature of his own, Soavi next took a job as a 2nd unit director on a lavish international co-production--"The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" (1988). Helmed by the visionary Terry Gilliam, this troubled and ultimately financially disastrous production was shot in Spain, West Germany and the Cinecitta Studios in Rome, Italy. Though, at first, Gilliam would seem to be a wildly different mentor from Argento, Italian horror specialist Maitland McDonagh observed "Soavi found himself working with one of the few major English-language directors whose flaws are the same as Argento's: love of spectacle at the expense of narrative and clarity, and set design to the detriment of characters." Reviewers would later voice similar qualms about films that Soavi would direct.
Argento produced Soavi's next two dark fantasies, "The Church" (1988) and "The Sect" (1991; released on video in the US in 1992 as "The Devil's Daughter"). The first was a stylish outing in which demons infest a church in Budapest while the latter concerned a villa overrun by a Satanic cult. The latter was distinctive for its surreal imagery, both beautiful and disturbing. Soavi's eccentric follow-up, "Dellamorte Dellamore/Cemetery Man" (1994; released theatrically in the US in 1996), displayed similar qualities as well as a strong central performance by Rupert Everett as a brooding cemetery worker who must routinely dispatch the newly risen dead back to the grave. Based on a novel by Tiziano Sclavi derived from a popular series of comic books featuring "Dylan Dog", the film generally baffled US reviewers who perceived it as failed satire.