Thursday, September 27, 2018

FRIGHTMARE (1983) (88 Films Blu-ray Review)

Label: 88 Films 
Region Code: Region-FREE
Certification: 15
Duration: 87 Minutes
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1)
Audio: Eglish 1.0 DTS-HD MA Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Director: Norman Thaddeus Vane
Cast: Ferdy Mayne, Luca Bercovici, Nita Talbot

Frightmare (1983) is a tasty slasher mash-up combing the body count of an 80s slasher with the vintage Gothic trappings of a Hammer film starring Christopher Lee, only this one stars Ferdy Mayne as aging horror star Conrad Radzoff (Ferdy Mayne, The Fearless Vampire Killers) whose bloodstained star had faded with age, once iconic the aged star is relegated to appearing in lousy TV commercials. At the top of the film we see him filming a commercial, when a take is blown the star gets a dress down from the director in front of the cast and crew, the ornery star walks up to him a short time later and pushes him to his death from balcony. Later Radzoff attends an event to a more appreciative crowd, at the local college he is given a lifetime achievement award for his work from the school's Horror Society, but while accepting the award he suffers a heart attack on stage, and he is revived by student Meg (Jennifer Starrett). He later retires to his home knowing death is near and plans his death, including some very elaborate funeral arrangements, but shortly before dying he manages to summon the strength to strangles his disrespectful chauffeur, who also happened to have been his former director, played by Leon Askin, who was General Burkhalter from TV Hogan's Heroes, for those old enough to remember it. Funny story, that show got me into a bit of trouble when I started scrawling swastikas on my first-grade homework, I loved the show and thought the Nazis were inept bad guy, but had yet to learn what exactly it was the Nazis stood for. Anyway, Mrs. Goldstein took exception to my artwork and kept me after school one day and showed me VHS footage from the Holocaust and set me straight about what that symbol meant. 

After the star's proper death there's an elaborate funeral service with a 'from beyond the grave' video message from him addressing his fans, after the survive his body is then interred in a rather fabulous mausoleum decked out in neon and video screens with more videos from beyond the grave that are intended to play to visitors coming to pay their respects, but also a message for those who would dare disturb his eternal slumber. Mourning the loss of their icon the horror society break-in to the mausoleum and steal the horror star's corpse, bringing it back to a mansion where they party with his corpse in disrespectful ways, not dissimilar to Bob Clark's Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things. They dance, drink and make-out with he star's dead body, eventually taking him up the attic and storing his body in a coffin. At around the same time his grieving widow discovers the body of her beloved has been stolen and approaches a spiritual medium who reaches out to the spirit of the horror star to try to find the body, during which Radzoff is somehow re-animated inside the coffin, rising from the dead he stalks the mansion and the body count begins. 

From here on in the film is pretty much a by the book body count film with the teens being picked off one by one by the angry horror star, who takes great pleasure in killing his fans in a myriad of gruesome ways. There's a tongue ripped out, a levitating coffin smashes a victim in the face, a beheading, a live cremation, someone bursts into flames and someone else is suffocated by noxious fumes released inside the booby-trapped mausoleum. That mausoleum is quite a technological marvel, set up with video screens, loads of neon-lighting, and a poisonous smoke machine, it's not very plausible for the time but it works for the movie. 

The film has loads of atmosphere, thanks in large part to cinematographer Joel King who did a lot on a little budget, tthere's lots of smoke and fog being pumped into the frames, good use of light and shadow, but the narrative has some big gaps in story and logic, but this is a film that I've always been able to watch and not get bogged down in the whole 'well, that doesn't make sense' arguments, I just dig it. Ferdy Mayne (Night Train to Terror) is near perfection as the Christopher Lee-ish horror star even if why he's out to kill everyone is properly explained, but maybe that hey disturbed his final sleep is reason enough, right? I like his air of self-importance, and be on the lookout for a very young Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator) as one of the members of the horror society, and Chuck Mitchell (Porky from Porky's!) as a cop investigating the theft of the horror stars body. 

Audio/Video: Frightmare (1983), which is also known as The Horror Star, arrives on region-free Blu-ray from 88 Films using the same 2K restoration that Vinegar Syndrome did for it's own US release a few years back, it's presented in 1080p HD framed in 1.78:1 widescreen. The film is shot with a certain dreamy aesthetic with shrouds of fog and smoke throughout, there's an inherent haziness to it, but the grain is nicely managed and colors looks nicely dense and accurate. Audio comes by way of an English DTS-HD MA Mono 1.0 audio track with optional English subtitles, the elements are in good shape and sound good, if not exactly crisp and pronounced. 

88 Films do not skimp on the extras for this one, we get four audio commentaries on this release, beginning with the three that originally appeared on the Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray. The first with David Del Valle and David DeCoteau, a second with the The Hysteria Continues podcast crew, and an archival audio interview with Director Norman Thaddeus Vane which plays over the film like a commentary track, These are all great tracks, De Valle and DeCoteau have a wealth of knowledge about the film and the key players, while the Hysteria Continues track is more fun but also laced with loads of researched information. The audio interview with the late director has some sketchy audio but gives a nice overview of he director's career. Also carried-over from the VS release is a 12-min interview with cinematographer Joel King, who seems like such a character, having worked a few classic films including Brian de Palma's Carrie, opening the interview with "if you don't know light, you're not a photographer", going into his early career as a photographer and how he came into movies. He shows off some still photographs he took of Peter O'Toole and Sissy Spacek on various sets, speaking about working on Duel with Spielberg, borrowing stuff he learned on Carrie for this film, and how the film was lit with the possibility that it might end up black and white.

88 Films advance over the VS release with two new video extras, we get a new interview with actor Scott Thomson (Ghoulies) who recalls reading Stephen King's 'Danse Macabre' and chugging five espressos before going into his audition, the various shooting locations, and how his name helped inform his character, and him being a bit of horror-snob, plus we get a brand new audio commentary by Nathaniel Thompson and Tim Greer from Mondo Digital who cover some of the same info as previous commentaries but add some new insight and interpretation. Extras are finished-up with a trailer for the film and an image gallery with various poster designs and promotional images.  

The single-disc release comes housed in a cool red Blu-ray keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork, one side is the Frightmare artwork with the reveres showing the alternate The Horror Star artwork. The first 300 copies sold via 88 Films website includes the variant artwork, which was actually borrowed from the anthology film From Beyond the Grave, you know, the one with the awesome dagger through the skull image, both the spine of the wrap and slipcover are numbered, this being number thirty-eight in 88 Films' Slasher Classics Collection. We also get a 4-page booklet with writings on the film from Matty Budrewicz & Dave Wain.

Special Features: 
- Limited Edition Booklet notes by Film journalists Dave Wain and Matty Budrewicz
- All new 2K Scan and Restoration from 35mm Camera Negative
- Bobo's Confession - An Interview with Scott Thomson (16 min) 
- New Interview with Cinematographer Joel King (21 min) 
- Archival Audio Interview with Director Norman Thaddeus Vane (Played over the Film)
- Audio Commentary with David Del Valle and David DeCoteau
- Audio Commentary by the Slasher Loving Podcast, The Hysteria Continues
- Audio Commentary by Film Journalists, Nathaniel Thompson and Tim Greer from Mondo Digital
- Original Theatrical Trailer (1 min) 
- Stills Gallery (2 min)  
- Reversible Cover Artwork

Frightmare offers some fun old dark house creepiness and a slasher-y bodycount goodness, but it has some slow spots and the suspense is lacking. You'll stay for the fog-drenched atmosphere and Ferdy Mayne's fun performance but it's hard not to feel the shortcoming of the story and difficulty of tone, it feels like a send-up/parody of the genre almost but the humor just isn't there, which isn't to say I don't like it, I do, just go into this one with some tempered expectations, it's a bit on the loopy side of Gothic horror. 88 Films Slasher Classics Collection edition of the film is region-free and comes with all Vinegar Syndrome extras and a few new ones, making this the definitive version of the film to own.