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"I went into darkness ... and into flames. Then I came back ... YOU called me back from HELL!!!"
From the age of Cropsy and Jason (this was filmed in 1981 and released in 1982) THE HORROR STAR, like FADE TO BLACK before it, was something of an oddity; an attempt to bring together the old time horrors of the likes of Lugosi and Karloff with the, at the time, very in-vogue teen bodycount movie.
Conrad Ragoff (played to the hilt by veteran genre star Ferdy Mayne) is the eponymous horror star, a faded boogeyman of the silver screen who's been forced to resort to spoofing his own image as a cape wearing vampire in naff TV commercials. However, the old boy still has some bite, which he proves when a director upsets him, "I was playing Julius Caesar before you were born!", he hisses, before pushing the upstart to his death over a balcony with the tip of his silver cane.
Conrad, however, is able to relive some of his former glory when the Horror Society, at a local University, hold a retrospective of his work and give him a standing ovation. It all proves too much for the old boy and he collapses, only to be revived by one of the students, pretty blonde, Meg (Jennifer Starrett). Aware that his days are numbered, Conrad confides in his favourite director: "I've never died before!", he muses; "I want to die like a star!". He gets the director to promise him a fitting send off. However, when Conrad appears to pass away the director's fawning turns to bile, "The world is rid of you - and I am rid of you ... Good night, sweet prince of ham!". But Conrad hasn't really passed over (for reasons only known to himself he was playing dead), he revives once again and strangles the bug-eyed director, before actually kicking the bucket for real.
Conrad's funeral is, naturally, a grand affair. He'd left special instructions that his body should be entombed and not cremated, as he was 'coming back', which everyone takes as a typically theatrical gesture. At the service, Conrad true to his word, appears from beyond the grave via a video screen, "I didn't want anyone to be the star of my funeral but me", he quips.
The Horror Society, however, have planned a send off of their own. Arriving at the cemetery where Conrad's body is entombed (in a mausoleum with a neon star above the entrance - how very early 80's!), one of them (a vaguely embarrassed looking) Jeffrey Combs, in his first horror role) barks, "He lives! He stalks! He sucks!". They break into his tomb, only to be greeted by Conrad himself, again via a video screen, "Welcome, this is Conrad Ragoff welcoming you from the ... dead." The students, doing what students can't help but do in these kinda films, steal his body and return it back to their digs, a gothic pile which also happens to be where the dead star shot some of his best known films. Sitting Conrad at the head of the table, replete in cape and full vampire makeup, they regal him with drunken tributes, only the final-girl in waiting, Meg, voicing any concerns. They vow to return him to his rightful resting place the next day but invite bad fortune by dancing with his corpse, before putting him away in a handy coffin in the attic.
Meanwhile, Conrad's widow, alerted to the fact that his body has been abducted, consults a wild looking psychic to help her track down the perpetrators. She informs her that Conrad is in Hell, to which the widow - chowing down on the scenery with gusto - instructs his spirit to wreak vengeance, "Send them to the flames. Burn them. Burn them!". The upshot of which, Conrad's eyelids flutter back to life and he climbs from his coffin to teach those pesky teens a lesson!
In the HORROR STAR old and new jar uncomfortably. The reanimated Conrad is never scary, as such; the gimmicky approach of the film - all neon, dry ice and arched eyebrows - is fun in its own way but it doesn't succeed as a straight ahead slasher movie by any means. Having inherited supernatural powers in hell, Conrad stalks the teens round the old mansion, dispatching them one-by-one by means that owe more to Dr Phibes than to Pamela Voorhees: one girl has her head beaten to a pulp by a levitating coffin; whilst another spontaneously combusts, her screams curiously unnoticed by her friends; but it's poor Jeffrey Combs who has the humiliation of being decapitated by a floating sword, and then to have his brains pecked out through the top of his skull by a crow (full marks, too, to him for not blinking!).
I guess THE HORROR STAR earns marks for trying something different with well worn routines, mixing the cliches of old Hollywood (the final-girl here is curiously ineffective, she does everything but faint!) with those of the new (it even has the de-riguer fat butterball policeman so beloved of makers of early 80's slasher flicks), but despite a game turn by Ferdy Mayne as the villain and some perky performances from the teen fodder it just fails to leave any great impression.
[As an end note: somewhat confusingly, THE HORROR STAR got a US cinema run under that name but when it came time to release the film on video it was renamed FRIGHTMARE, the name also of Pete Walker's superior British shocker (which had been released to US cinemas way back when with that title). When Walker's film was released in the States on video it was called FRIGHTMARE II, which confused things further making it look like some kind of sequel to THE HORROR STAR (later releases returned to the original title). To compound the confusion there was also another slasher film, released in 2001, to use the title!]
BODYCOUNT 9 female:3 / male:61) Male pushed to his death