01st Dec2015

‘Frightmare aka The Horror Star’ Review (Vinegar Syndrome)

by Mondo Squallido

Stars: Ferdy Mayne, Leon Askin, Jeffrey Combs, Luca Bercovici, Nita Talbot, Leon Askin, Jennifer Starrett, Barbara Pilavin, Alan Stock | Written and Directed by Norman Thaddeus Vane


“There was Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, and Conrad Ragzoff! They were all stars who lived and died. But only one returned…”

Fandom takes on a whole new meaning when a group of film loving college students decide to pay the ultimate respects to their favourite horror icon, the recently deceased Conrad Radzoff (Ferdy Mayne). How do they do this? Hold a memorial? Have a Radzoff horror marathon? Nope, they decide to steal his freshly buried body and give hime the ultimate farewell house party back in their mansion! Like most cases however, this is one of those instances were one of your heroes is actually an arsehole (Cough-Tom Savini-Cough!). You see, Radzoff had an often fatal temper. Not even a cameo from Leon Askin (The Robe) is safe! To make matters infinitely worse for our group of corpse stealing cinephiles, Mayne decides to carry on his bloody streak from beyond the grave. One by one, the students learn a valuable lesson; let sleeping corpses lie (see what I did there?, especially if they happen to be a bloodthirsty prima-donna!

Frightmare is a somewhat unique experience. A supernatural slasher that although rather straight-faced, is still fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously. That being said, in between Radzoff dying and him picking off the students, the film does plod a little. It’s still a very solidly directed and written film however. There’s some solid cinematography that utilises light perfectly from Joel King (The Mighty Ducks) and an atmospheric score from Jerry Mosely (Blood Tide) who should have gone on to do greater things as the score seems to take reference and pay homage to many horror film scores of yesteryear, as well as being contemporary with some fantastic synth work. All in all, aesthetically the film ticks all the boxes. The deaths, although not too graphic are staged and executed solidly thanks to the work of Jill Rockow (Pirates of the Caribbean) and Chuck E. Stewart (Con Air).

The star of the show is of course Ferdy Mayne. Sure, he can be campy as hell in his performance, but it works perfectly within the context of the film. A role intended for Christopher Lee (Dracula: Prince of Darkness), Mayne fills the boots perfectly and even though we see clips of young Ragzoff, it takes a minute to realise it’s actually footage of a young Christopher Lee. Although a despicable character, it’s so satisfying to see him kill the group of unlikeable students. This isn’t because of bad writing, it’s because they are complete douchebags. Within the group of students we have performances from a young Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator) and Luca Bercovici (Drop Zone). The film is really well cast and everyone puts in a great performance, no matter how significant their role is.

If you’re a fan of horror cinema that deals with horror cinema, this is a film you must watch. Thanks to film historian David Del Valle, the film itself is littered with actual props and memorabilia. From the poster of Lucio Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters to the decapitated head of Frank Zito from Maniac. There is so much to ingest in that regard. Not only that, but there are typical horror tropes and references throughout for the seasoned horror fans out there to discover. All in all, I enjoyed Frightmare more than expected. Sure, it won’t change your perception of the slasher genre, but it has enough there to warrant repeat viewings.

In terms of the release, I can’t say I’ve seen the previous Troma release, but from my research, Vinegar Syndrome have done a great job upgrading this film in both a visual and audible sense. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not Vinegar Syndrome’s greatest effort, but it’s still a lot more than most labels would do. On the disc we have two commentary tracks; one from The Hysteria Continues and one from David Del Valle and David DeCoteau. There’s an archival audio interview from Vane himself prior to his death, an interview with cinematographer Joel King, original theatrical trailer and reversible artwork showcasing The Horror Star artwork. It’s a great release for both fans and newcomers.

Frightmare is available as a DVD & Blu-ray combo from Vinegar Syndrome and available to stream on Exploitation.tv


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