Director: Norman Thaddeus Vane
Script: Norman Thaddeus Vane
Cast: Ferdinand Mayne, Luca Bercouici, Nita Talbot, Leon Askin, Jennifer Starrett, Barbara Pilavin, Jeffrey Combs, Alan Stock, Scott Thomson, Carlene Olson
Running time: 87 minutes
Frightmare, or The Horror Star as it is also known, begins with snooty Shakespearean actor Conrad (Mayne) playing on his film screen ‘horror star’ persona for a commercial. Hamming it up badly, Conrad is criticised by the director so he later spitefully pushes his rude critic off a high balcony and flounces off in a smug huff!
Later we see Conrad beginning to give a presentation to a local film society, but, shortly into his pompous speech he collapses. He is rescued by a pretty student (Meg) who gives him mouth to mouth resuscitation. Later on, back home, he’s recovered, but has another director with him prepped to film his own death proper, but when his new director refers to him as the ‘sweet prince of ham’ he turns on him too and suffocates him.
We then see Conrad wandering around in a vampire cape, with an elaborate walking stick, and he also seems to sleep in a coffin, as you do! Next minute it appears that he has died…
After his funeral a group of students from the film society break into his fancy mausoleum and ‘borrow’ Conrad’s body for some hijinks. Taking him back to their massive sorority house they party and dance with his corpse, after which weird things start to happen and the students start getting bumped off one by one…
One’s enjoyment of a film like Frightmare depends on a viewer’s own fondness for cheesy 80s-based, low-budget horror flicks that, in some ways, have dated quite badly but, in other ways, have matured like a lump of stinky Stilton cheese.
On the plus side the cast are all pretty engaging, if not really of high standard in the acting stakes. None of them are dreadful, and it’s great to see a very young-looking Jeffrey Combs, with slicked-back hair, strutting his stuff in an early film role. The movie is also well shot and lit by Joel King who worked with some big name stars and directors during his extensive career. The music is quite odd, but really works for the film; its discordant tones and strange noises giving the movie an edge. I also quite enjoyed the theatrical humour throughout, particularly Conrad’s cheesy ‘from beyond the dead’ video messages.
On the negative side the rather campy corpse of an old horror film actor isn’t particularly threatening – more amusing if anything – hence the film wasn’t scary since the threat came across as weak, even though he’s clearly a dangerous entity. Plus the script is weak and confusing at times, particularly when Conrad dies – one minute he’s alive, the next dead. Did I miss something?
Overall, Frightmare is an average but quirky horror with more cheese than charm. However, it is worth seeing since it does at least try to be different from many of its ilk, which one has to commend.
88 Films are distributing Frightmare on Blu-Ray. As per usual, 88 Films has done a great job with the transfer and there are plenty of special features including:
A booklet featuring the essay ‘The Horror, the horror, mulling over Frightmare’ by Matty Budrewicz and Dave Wain;
Bobo’s Confession (16.25 mins) – an interview with actor Scott Thomson who has some sort of weird-looking stuffed dog sat next to him throughout! The actor candidly recalls long night shoots on a low budget, and the DoP taking a long time to set up shots, and, when criticised by the director, him saying: ‘Do you want it to look great or shit – I can do both?!’
Interview with Joel King (21.21 mins) – Joel was originally a photographer from Minnesota before he got a job with a studio after getting into a fight! Joel is obviously quite a character and reveals that he worked on Duel with Steven Speilberg as an assistant cameraman, and later on such great films such as The Stunt Man (with Peter O’ Toole) and Carrie, (with Brian De Palma). He reveals that they were originally thinking of shooting the film, Frightmare, in black and white, hence the use of strong back lights. The hardest thing he found during the shoot was controlling the smoke on set
Stills gallery (2.04 mins) – 5 posters and 16 stills;
Trailer (1.28 mins) – Here titled ‘The Horror Star’, this has Jeffrey Combs being badly dubbed in it!