DVD/Blu-Ray Review: Frightmare (1981)

Published on January 22nd, 2016 in: Blu-Ray, DVD, DVD/Blu-Ray Reviews, Horror, Reissues, Retrovirus, Reviews, Underground/Cult |

By Jeffery X Martin


Think about something you hate, or try to remember something that made so little of an impression on you that recalling details about that thing is difficult or impossible. The shocking truth is that thing is someone else’s favorite thing in the whole wide world. It could be a song, a book, a movie; it doesn’t matter. Somewhere out there, someone’s thinking of that thing you despise with a fondness you will never understand.

This concept is the basis of geek niche marketing. A movie that was wildly reviled as crap upon its initial release becomes the stuff of legend over time, whispered about in gritty forums, and watched on worn-out VHS tapes. Finally, a DVD company will find the film, snap up the negatives, and remaster the movie. They’ll find some experts to do a commentary. They’ll set an MSRP of anywhere between $20 and $40 and the movie geeks will come running with their wallets open and their salivary glands in overdrive.

It is important to them. And this is as it should be, because we all like what we like.

The 1981 horror movie, Frightmare, is not what I like.

It involves seven horror film fans, young adults, who are obsessed with the actor Conrad Radzoff (Ferdinand Mayne). Radzoff is a theatrical dude, insisting that everything be done with style and panache, even his own death. When he passes away, he is interred in his own mausoleum, complete with a flashing neon sign over the door. Subtle.

The seven kids break into the vault and steal Radzoff’s body, taking it back to their home for a tea party. What they don’t know is that Radzoff was heavily into bad magic. It isn’t long before his corpse is reanimated, and the kids are in for a long night of ridiculous, silly murder.

I believe the intent behind Frightmare was to combine the class and elegance of an old Vincent Price picture with the slasher aesthetic of the early Eighties. That’s an admirable desire. But if that’s the kind of sandwich director Norman Thaddeus Vane was trying to make, he used two different kinds of bread, and one side was a heel. It doesn’t mesh.

There’s even a strange science-fiction element to the movie, as Radzoff’s crypt is equipped with a video screen, and pre-recorded messages to those who would dare break into his final resting place. It also has security features, such as nerve gas and killer laser beams.

Radzoff, as the movie’s Big Bad, has all the powers of the damned, like some Mortal Kombat boss. He’s telekinetic, pyrokinetic, and omnipresent. Yes, this should make him awesome. No, it does not. [Ed.–He also looks like Doctor Orpheus from The Venture Bros.]

Radzoff hunts down everyone involved with his corpse-napping, dispatching them by putting his fingers to his temples and raising his eyebrows. He looks like he’s trying to kill people with his migraine. Should he set them on fire? Decapitate them? Pummel them with his coffin? Sneeze bees at them? Radzoff’s got options!

Frightmare is notable for being the film debut of Jeffrey Combs. He’s the one who actually breaks into Radzoff’s crypt in a scene eerily prescient of the first Mission: Impossible film. It may be the best thing about the movie, a young Herbert West, breaking in through a skylight to steal his first corpse.

As usual, Vinegar Syndrome has gone out of their minds to bring you the best possible presentation of this film. Blu-Ray, DVD, two commentaries, and an archival interview with the director. If you love this movie, this set is for you. It is comprehensive, to say the least.

If you’re not a fan, no amount of special features in the world is going to change your mind about that.

Let’s be fair about this. Frightmare is not a blind buy. Borrow this from someone, or at least, see the movie before you spend the bucks on the special edition. If you find it tickles your fancy, you’re not going to find a better presentation of Frightmare anywhere. Otherwise, just leave this one alone.

Frightmare was released by Vinegar Syndrome on September 21, 2015.

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