Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Not to be confused with the 1974 English cannibal film of the same name, Frightmare (aka The Horror Star) is the story of recently deceased horror veteran Conrad Radzoff (Ferdinand Mayne) who claims that death will be his best performance yet! The night after he is entombed into his specially constructed mausoleum (complete with a blinking neon star), a group of drama students break into the crypt and decide to take old Conrad back to their place for some partying! After a creepy dinner with the diners all wearing masks, they each take turns dancing with the corpse and one girl even goes to far as to smooch him! They put Conrad back into his coffin, but are too tuckered out to take him back to his final resting place, so they just put him in their attic and call it a night.
The next morning the cops discover Conrad is missing from the mausoleum and his widow enlists the help of a psychic medium to find out where he is. Turns out he’s in hell, but is hellbent on returning and getting revenge on the young whippersnappers that disturbed his slumber. His widow heartily agrees, saying, “Burn them! Burn them! BURN THEM!”
Having been summoned, Conrad rises from the dead and stalks the kids in the house, killing them one by one.
What is so interesting about Frightmare is that it tries to bridge the gap from Gothic-tinged Hammer horror (think fog-shrouded cemeteries, genteel-looking old men in Dracula capes, damsels in distress) with the kids-being-stalked-by-an-unstoppable-killer slasher formula. I liked the “classic horror” atmosphere of the film, but the slasher aspect felt a bit off. The story had some holes (a cop, who looks more like a mafia don, keeps popping up but doesn’t add anything to the story), pacing problems, awful dialogue (“We did something BAD!”) and the kills left a lot to be desired. Even though the result is a mixed bag, this seemingly strange combination of old and new horror styles makes Frightmare worth a look anyway.
The film was written and directed by Norman Thaddeus Vane and one good thing about his script is that he spent more time developing the character of Conrad Ragzoff than he did the kids’ characters. I felt much more empathy for Conrad than I did any of the annoying college kids, who exist mostly to get picked off. Conrad is one of the best things about the film, and the character is obviously an homage to Christopher Lee. Actor Ferdinand Mayne even resembles Lee and has the same kind of aristocratic air as he does.
Speaking of Mayne, he was truly a joy to watch in this role, especially in the opening scenes when he is still alive and in the videos he leaves behind for the funeral and those that appear to greet visitors to his crypt. Another actor to note in the film is Jeffrey Combs, who plays one of the clueless kids in one of his earlier roles. Most of the actors who play the college drama students don’t have much to do, but they all do a pretty good job of playing stupid and dying horribly. Even the “Final Girl”, just sits around and whimpers and only survives because she faints dead away at the sight of the resurrected Conrad.
As for the deaths, Conrad kills most of the kids with telekinetic powers rather than with his bare hands. One girl spontaneously combusts into a fireball, another girl gets squashed by a flying coffin, a guy gets locked in Conrad’s crypt as it fills with poisonous gas, another guy gets decapitated by a flying sword, and so on. The only “hands-on” deaths occur when a guy gets his tongue/jaw ripped out and then strangled, a woman gets her mouth stuffed with a wad of cash and another guy gets stuffed into a coffin and burnt alive in the crematorium. It was disappointing that the deaths weren’t at all gory (especially since at least half of the film was trying for that slasher vibe), but it wasn’t a deal-breaker. Instead, the film treated the deaths in the more restrained, classic horror tradition instead of going all-out like a slasher flick.
Still, there are some pretty silly scenes throughout the film besides the previously mentioned death scenes. One was the partying scene where the kids pass around Conrad’s corpse like he’s a party favor, which is so disturbing it borders on ludicrous! Another more “laugh-out-loud” scene is the over-the-top séance scene where Conrad’s widow and psychic medium are trying to contact the dead Conrad. The ladies put on such hysterical performances here that I dare you not to laugh! The film also features some god-awful music and sound effects that sound just like one of those cheap Halloween party CD’s, complete with howling and growling.
Frightmare has a lot of issues and I think it would have a lot of problems connecting with horror fans today. Still, it is an interesting little movie that tries to combine old-school horror with the slasher formula. Sometimes it doesn’t succeed, but it is still interesting enough to check out, especially if you love Gothic-tinged horror movies. Though Frightmare isn’t a “must-see” for all horror fans, those that appreciate both the old and new aspects of horror filmmaking may just find themselves enjoying it like I did!
Buy it on Amazon!