Frightmare (aka Horror Star)

Donning gorilla masks and dancing with corpses? You know, film students.
★★★
☆
Released: 
1983
Director: 
Norman Thaddeus Vane
Starring: 
Ferdinand Mayne, Luca Bercovici, Jennifer Starrett, Nita Talbot, Jeffrey Combs
The Setup: 
Film students dig up corpse of horror star. He wakes and kills them all.
Discussion: 

Someone recommended this to me as being kind of fun—and it was. We open with this woman with big 70s hair who is suddenly attacked. Then the actor misses his line and is yelled at by the director—it's a little bit like the opening to Blow Out or Body Double, both of which also began inside horror movies. The actor is Conrad Radzoff, an older star who is supposedly a horror film luminary with a long career, but who everyone has pretty much forgotten. It seems quite obvious that he is supposed to be Christopher Lee. The director of the film he's working on doesn't want to hear his whining about being forgotten, however, and soon Radzoff pushes him to his death. Then he is visited on his deathbed by his lawyer or agent or something, and tells him that he's ready to die, and that death shall be his greatest role [he says this quite a bit, actually]. The lawyer says something, and Radzoff tells him to "stop acting," then dies! The lawyer then lets out all of his repressed feelings of hatred for Radzoff, telling him, among other things, that he's the last person to tell anyone to stop acting, and just laying into him for everything, when suddenly Radzoff wakes up and kills him! Radzoff then goes and crawls into his own coffin.

There's a big public funeral, where he is installed in an enormous mausoleum [there's a shot of these tiny tombstones totally overwhelmed by this huge house-sized mausoleum, hilarious] with a flashing neon sign on the outside. Okay, it's goofy fun. I'm down with that. He plays a video at his funeral where he says that every time anyone watches one of his films, he'll be watching them.

So we next meet these film students, one of whom looks like he thinks he's Lestat and is named Saint, and his bland, whiny girlfriend Meg. There's a lot of others, but we won't even bother with them as they don't amount to anything anyway, except for Jeffery Combs as Stu, and the only reason his presence is notable is because he was in Re-Animator. So these students decide that it would be so awesome to steal Radzoff's corpse and, like, party with it. They go to the cemetery, which of course freaks the ladies out, and get into the mausoleum. There a video of Radzoff comes on and warns them that they're going to die. They steal his corpse and take it to this huge empty house. There they have regular dumb college party with the corpse in the middle of the room, including all putting on gorilla masks and dancing with the corpse. You know—film students.

SPOILERS > > >
Anyway, the next day the Radzoff's widow learns that the corpse is gone and involves the police. I have written in my notes "Hilarious widow and psychic scene," but I'm afraid that I watched the first half of this film so long ago that I no longer have any recollection of what I meant! Anyway, the day goes by with the students, then at night, Radzoff rises with a huge scream, which of course freaks all the students out.

You can imagine where it goes from here. He stalks the house [always accompanied by very odd growls and other noises on the soundtrack], and eventually starts killing the students in gruesome ways. What's kind of surprising, or at least just out of the blue, is that Radzoff now appears to have mental powers, so he is able to start someone on fire with just his mind, or levitate a coffin to bash someone's head in with. The last slasher who also had telekinetic powers was featured in Tourist Trap. Personally, I think most movie psychopaths have enough on their side with their near-invincibility, and adding psychic powers to that is just gilding the lily, but, you know, I also like variety. Ferdinand Mayne as Radzoff is clearly having the time of his life as well, and that's fun.

So a bunch of kids get killed through the night in various ways, then in the morning it's just the three characters mentioned earlier. They decide that they have to leave, but Meg insists on returning the body first. You ever notice that in horror movies, it usually never occurs to them to just LEAVE wherever they are, and if they decide to, there is usually some reason [we have to return the body] why they just can't get out right then. So soon it's just Meg and Saint, and Meg starts becoming mentally unbalanced, which is always welcome. I wish someone I knew would become mentally unbalanced so I'd have a good excuse to smack the shit out of them. She finds a black severed hand in the front yard, then says "We did something bad!" and you're like "That's right! Do you remember what it was?" But I was into her whole sense of impending doom, that she KNOWS they are going to be punished and die because of what they did. So Saint is trying to be all understanding with Meg while also getting her to help him—all she wants to do is sniffle and whimper—until the widow calls and says she knows they have the body, which causes Saint to get tough with her! No more sit n' whimper, little miss helpless. She goes upstairs where she is confronted by Radzoff, and, relatively out of the blue, impales him. I'm like—that was it? She just grows some balls [as it were] out of nowhere—like we don't even see her start to screw her courage up—and it's all over then? Then Saint takes the body in order to return it—in plain day, and the cops are NOT at the crime scene—while the cops take Meg in and it looks like she's gonna live. So if you're ever being pursued by a slasher, it's a good idea to confess your guilt, even if it's just to yourself, because it might make a difference. Meg sees Jeffery Combs' severed head on the way out—oh yeah, I for got to mention that we saw it bounce down the stairs earlier, which was pretty cool.

Well, by now we know that a little minor impaling isn't going to keep Radzoff down for long, and soon he's up and at Saint, who gets bitchslapped into a coffin, where he lies, face down, heaving and sobbing while his ass, covered in tight jeans, is up in the air. He gets cremated alive. Then there's this last little bit with a mistress and it's over.
< < < SPOILERS END

Definitely not going to change the world, but it was fun. I'm surprised that most people on the IMDb consider Radzoff to be dead, because he's running around so much at the beginning saying "Death will be my greatest role," that it seems like he's just playing dead. But then again, maybe he is dead, and that would explain his psychic powers. Because—as was scientifically established by a Swiss research team in 1933—all walking corpses have psychic powers. But we see him die and rise again so much we never know which one is real. But there is something—something they could have done a LOT more with—to the idea that these kids have been watching all these horror movies in which Radzoff stalks people on the screen, and now he's there in real life, stalking them. If that was their intention, it doesn't really come across, but it's a great idea—and a little related to the very end of Targets. Looked at that way, the other title of this film, Horror Star, is actually the better choice, awkward as it may seem at first.

Remember, always be remorseful about stealing any corpses you may "borrow." It could mean the difference between life and death.

Should you watch it: 

Sure, if you like goofy slashers, this one's pretty off-the-wall and fun.