When picking a film to watch this week, I was determined to watch a British horror film, since I have yet to write about one. You know, “welcome back to Brexit land” sort of thing. Spoiler alert: I ended up watching the wrong movie. There are several films that go by the name Frightmare, but instead of watching the 1974 version by Pete Walker about a couple who had been released from an asylum, I watched the Troma-distributed version from 1983.
It was an honest mistake. Swear it.
Frightmare was directed by Norman Thaddeus Vane, and starred several big names like Ferdy Mayne, who was in Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers.
Mayne resurrects his role (in a way) when he plays Conrad Razkoff, “last of the great giants of horror cinema.” Razkoff is past his prime in many ways. The film opens with Razkoff unable to please the director of the commercial he’s starring in. Razkoff proceeds to push the director off a balcony during their next break.
What happens of this? Well, nothing I don’t think, as the film then moves on to Razkoff making an appearance as a school where a group of film students excitedly great him. Razkoff is unable to handle the situation and faints. One of the students, Meg, revives him.
He later dies at his home, but not before strangling another director. Razkoff crawls into his coffin before his funeral (he’s dead, mind you). As the funeral begins, his wife claims her husband didn’t want to be cremated because he can come back from the dead. Since she’s a loving and supportive wife, she instead has him placed in a garish tomb/mausoleum building.
The group of students from earlier in the film decide to kidnap Razkoff’s body and take it back to an old mansion. As they break into his tomb, a video plays on a television of the actor, sending a warning to anyone who has broken into his tomb.
Jeffrey Combs is one of the obnoxious grave-robbers in his debut film roll. There’s a large ensemble of kids, but Combs still manages to stand out from the others. Mostly because he gets the few gags of the movie, but I’ll just credit it to his acting. Luca Bercovici (yes, of Ghoulies) is Saint, Meg’s boyfriend.
The corpse is brought back to an old mansion where the kids proceed to “hang out” with the actor. To be fair, they do treat him to a nice time. There’s spaghetti, quoting his best films and even a little dance number!
Unfortunately, this is sort of where Frightmare begins to drop off. Despite the promising premise and Mayne’s superb character role, things play out like an average slasher film, but only with really dragged-out scenes.
Many of the scenes worked like Corman’s Poe adaptions: full of fog and a bit of atmosphere through in for good measure. But this doesn’t really work for a slasher film. Much of the film is really dark, and just shows Razkoff slowly getting nearer as the latest victim runs into his trap. There’s none of the shock that usually comes with a slasher (though, to be fair, the film really does try to bring these two genres together).
Meanwhile, Razkoff’s wife is attempting to hold a seance to connect to the location of her husband’s body. None of this part of the story makes much sense either. Actually, none of the magic in this story is really explained (like why does Razkoff have a tomb with killer gas AND a television?), but it mostly forces the viewer to go, “Oh yeah. Sure. Why not?”
The wife eventually receives a phone call from Meg, who isn’t really aware of what’s going on to her friends as they disappear. I guess since she saved Razkoff’s life, she gets to be the one survivor. But she’s freaked by the house (obv) and seems convinced that something is after her. Which is pretty ironic considering we all know she’ll be the only one to survive.
Only the last death – that of poor Saint – is really shocking. If only the film tried to do more traditional morbid things like the incarceration would the film really have been dark in a good way.
Frightmare is super unusual. A bit dull, but mostly just strange. Despite its really quirky and unique story, it doesn’t really deliver, especially considering so much of the movie was really difficult to hear – I had my headphones on with the volume almost completely up. I appreciate the film’s attempt to bring two well-loved genre’s together, but it never really pays off.
Perhaps my mistake was not such a good one.