One of the biggest ironies of film is that, even though moralist losers
would have you believe that everyone involved in horror films is a
warped sicko, the truth is that just about every major genre star from
Boris Karloff to Robert Englund has been extolled by co-stars as a
nice, in some cases, unusually nice person, while 'respectable' stars
of light-hearted films or "A" dramas like Danny Kaye, Judy Garland,
Stan Laurel, Marlon Brando and Joan Crawford are infamous for being
less than pleasant to be around off-camera. Sure The Chaney family was
eccentric, Bela Lugosi would probably have preferred being Dracula than
himself, Christopher Lee is(lovably)arrogant, John Carradine was a less
than ideal father and Herbert Lom is less than eager to talk about his
horror work, but horror stars are, by and large, often friendly people.
My interactions with many of them at conventions(as well as a once in a
lifetime encounter I had with Peter Cushing while on vacation in
Britain)have confirmed this for me. Even minor actors like Whit Bissel
and Paul Ehlers(star of the silly slasher movie 'Madman')have come off
as very normal or down-to-earth in person.
But wouldn't it be great, however, if for once there WAS a horror film star who truly was just as much a fiend off-camera as on? It may not be very good, but Norman Thaddeus Vane's 'Frightmare' aka. 'The Horror Star' provides you with an opportunity to see such an actor!
Ferdy Mayne, who gave what is in my opinion, the greatest portrayal of a vampire of all time as the menacing Count Von Krolock in Roman Polanski's 'The Fearless Vampire Killers' plays Conrad Ragzoff(mispronounced 'Ragoff' and 'Radzoff' several times)an aging horror film star with a homicidal temper who has this hilarious ability to brutally murder people in plain sight and just walk away from it. Still, Ragzoff comes off as the closest thing to a sympathetic character in this. It's clear he loves his wife and fans. Although I eagerly anticipated each coming slasher flick in the era when this film was made and I was young, my true interest lay in the classics of Hammer & Universal, so I felt like a fish out of water back then. I could really relate to Conrad as I too felt like a discarded relic; a fan of Gothic castles, foggy cemeteries and moonlit nights rather than horny teens getting sliced and diced(and now in this era of crappy remakes and lame plot twists I'm nostalgic for those things too!).
After dying, Conrad's body(still wearing his vampire costume) is stolen by a gang of the most blandly nondescript teenagers(each of whom pretty much has VICTIM stamped on their heads) imaginable. Seriously, the cast was almost entirely killed off and I still had no clue to who they were!(one of the teens is played by a young Jeffrey Combs; take a guess who gets top-billing on bootlegs of this movie). Conrad's grieving widow contacts him through an obnoxious medium, and he comes to life with demonic powers and goes on a killing spree, But because the teens are so nasty, with them humiliating Ragzoff's body by kissing him and dancing with him, one's sympathy ultimately ends up lying with Ragzoff rather than the teens.
It's here where the film starts going to hell. For the first 17 minutes it is a good send up of the horror film industry, with a great performance by Mayne(though nowhere near as good as Krolock)but then it just turns into a typical slasher film with Gothic overtones, Conrad may as well just be Jason wearing a Dracula costume since he has no dialog. The murders are well-handled, but fairly uncreative(though a scene where Conrad levitates a coffin to bash a woman unconscious, and later to levitate a coffin with a live victim inside into a crematorium is so awesome it must be seen to be believed.). The film also has lighting that ranges from very nice, soap opera-like chiaroscuro to so bad you can hardly see what's going on. The plot has lots of holes too, the teens specifically mention that their boarding house is where Ragzoff once lived, and it's apparently the same building that we see him living in just a few days earlier! Did his heirs rent it out THAT fast? It's obvious the teens had been living there for some time. It also seems unrealistic that Ragzoff would be allowed such an elaborate and well-publicized funeral considering that he was working in commercials and it's made clear that he wasn't an "A" horror actor like Karloff or Price but a "B" lister like George Zucco or Lionel Atwill, one of the characters even says "His entire life was a B-movie". Bizarre.
Still, there's a nice chase through a cemetery at the end, as well as a consistently creepy atmosphere. The ending is also superbly downbeat. I'd say it ranks with 'House of the Long Shadows' as an interesting attempt to revive classic horror.
Ferdy Mayne never got the deserved chance to become a horror star, but at least he got to show what he could have done. Long live Conrad Ragzoff! Let him rank with Paul Toomes('Madhouse"), Byron Orlock("Targets"), Basil Karlo(Batman villain Clayface), Luis Belski(From Marvel Comics "Dracula Lives" magazine) and Paul Henderson("The House that dripped Blood") as the greatest(fictional)horror star who ever lived!
Action / Comedy / Horror
Action / Comedy / Horror
Drama students decide to pay tribute to their favorite horror star by stealing his body from his crypt for a farewell party. They fail to realize their violation of the tomb has triggered powerful black magic, and Conrad hasn't taken his final bows yet.
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June 26, 2016 at 09:52 PM