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".
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!