Frightmare (a.k.a The Horror Star)
Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
Released on: October 20th, 2015.
Director: Norman Thaddeus Vane
Cast: Ferdy Mayne, Luca Bercovici, Leon Askin, Jeffrey Combs
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Written and directed by Norman Thaddeus Vane, 1981’s Frightmare (also known as The Horror Star) begins when an aging actor named Conrad Radzoff (Ferdy Mayne in a role originally intended for Christopher Lee) botches his line on a commercial shoot. The young director rags him out and Radzoff responds in kind by reminding him how important he is. It doesn’t go well and soon enough the director is dead. Shortly after that, the actor is awarded a retrospective at a university’s horror film appreciation society. He has a heart attack on stage and it’s clear that he’s not going to be around much longer. He goes home and prepares to make his final arrangements, even killing off his old director friend Wolfgang (Leon Askin) before he goes.
His funeral is an odd one – he greets the attendees from beyond the grave by way of a video that is played at the gathering, and rumors are that he intends to return from the dead. Nevertheless, he’s laid to rest in a huge mausoleum completely with a neon star with his named in lights atop the entrance. That night? The members of the horror movie society – Saint (Luca Bercovi), Meg (Jennifer Starrett), Oscar (Alan Stock), Eve (Carlene Olson), Stu (Jeffrey Combs) and a few others – steal Radzoff’s body and coffin from its place of rest. They bring him back to the huge mansion where they all puzzlingly seem to live, a massive old place decorated with horror movie posters from throughout the years and Coor’s beer cans, for one last hurrah.
When his widow, Etta (Barbara Pilavin), has a medium named Rohmer (Nita Talbot) contact her beloved and learns that his body is taken, well, from there all bets are off – Radzoff is back (sort of) and he’s not happy about what’s been done with his corpse…
Mixing elements of humor and horror in fairly equal doses, Frightmare isn’t a particularly scary movie but it is an interesting one. Vane’s film definitely takes some shots at prima donna style thespians but so too does it shine the light on how obsessive some horror fans can get. It’s interesting how the reality of what the horror fans want collides with their fantasy. Given that they idolized this guy enough to get him on stage at the retrospective he was obviously a big deal to them (at one point Eve tells his corpse how she used to fantasize about being one of his brides) but of course once they get their alone time with him, the evil we knew was in him from the opening scene comes to light, even if it is from beyond the grave.
Ferdy Mayne (who not only played Count von Krolock in Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers but who also popped up as God in fucking NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR!!!!) is great as the lead. He overacts just enough, bringing in a performance that’s delightfully hammy but also completely fitting of the part. He uses his fantastic speaking voice to craft a sinister character seemingly drunk on his own self-worth, a man so obsessed with his start power that he sets up a series of motion detectors to play videos of himself in the mausoleum where he’s buried! It’s a great role for him and he makes the most of it. The rest of the cast are perfectly fine, if fairly disposable. It’s fun to see Combs show up here in a supporting part but he doesn’t really stand out, neither to the rest of the ‘kids’ in the film – they’re not bad, just forgettable. This is, however, Radzoff’s show so that’s almost fitting. On a fun side note, however, Chuck Mitchell of Porky’s fame appears in the movie in a small role as a detective.
Frightmare arrives on Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome in a new 1080p high definition transfer restored in 2k from 35mm original camera negatives framed at 1.78.1 widescreen. The image has the expected amount of grain but it’s pretty rich in detail, even in the scenes where a lot of dry ice and fog is used. Colors look great, especially during the weird video messages that play in the garishly lit mausoleum, while texture is typically very strong too. Black levels are nice, the image is very clean and shows very little print damage and the transfer provides strong depth and clarity throughout. There aren’t any obvious problems with compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction and all in all, the movie looks very good here, very film-like too.
The English language DTS-HD Mono track on the disc isn’t going to blow you away but it sounds just fine. The dialogue is clean, clear and properly balanced and the score has some nice atmospherics to it. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion to note. No problems here, really, it all sounds quite good. Optional English SDH subtitles are provided.
The extras start off with the first of two commentary tracks. Here David Del Valle and David DeCoteau offer up a pretty interesting chat about the history of this picture, films that influenced it, how it plays around with some of the notions of horror fandom and quite a bit more. They also provide some interesting facts and trivia about the different cast members, some of the directorial flourishes, how Famous Monsters’ Forrest J. Ackerman came to be involved in the movie and more. The second track is provided by the guys who do the Hysteria Continues podcast and it’s a bit lighter. They offer up their thoughts on the film in a fairly scene specific manner and while they don’t deliver an MST3K style ribbing, they definitely have fun with the movie as they head through it. They also make some pretty interesting observations about how this film compares to other horror films being made around the same time and what sets this one apart.
The two commentaries are complimented very nicely by the presence of an archival audio interview with Director Norman Thaddeus Vane. This plays out as a commentary would but it’s not so specific as to only cover Frightmare. Rather, it’s basically a talk that covers his entire career on stage and screen, how he got into filmmaking and different projects that he worked on over the years with various participants. He talks about writing as well as directing various projects and quite a bit more. This was recorded over the phone and so it doesn’t sound pristine but it’s a great addition to the disc regardless. The disc also includes a new video interview with Cinematographer Joel King. He speaks for just over twenty minutes about how he wound up in California, got involved with the local arts scene and transitioned into working with still cameras and then eventually working as a cinematographer. There are some interesting stories here about the different transitions he made, career wise, and some of the people who helped him out along the way.
Aside from that we get an original theatrical trailer for the film, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection. Also, as this is a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack release, a DVD version of the movie is also included with the same extras as those found on the Blu-ray disc. Both discs fit inside a standard sized Blu-ray case that features some slick reversible cover art allowing you to display either the Frightmare piece or an alternate piece under The Horror Star title.
The Final Word:
Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray release of Frightmare is a good one, presenting the movie in very nice shape and with some top notch extra features too. As to the movie itself? It’s as interesting for how it depicts rabid horror fans and how it portrays actors as it is for anything else. It’s never really all that scary but it does feature a great lead from Ferdy Mayne and some interesting moments of decent atmosphere. If nothing else, this one is different, and never less than entertaining (and as such, well worth checking out).
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!
norman thaddeus vane,
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