31 Days of Hell: The Horror Star (1983) - Reviewed

German character actor Ferdy Mayne, best known as Count Von Krolock in Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers, could have easily been mistaken for Hammer Horror legend Christopher Lee’s doppelganger when he isn’t speaking the charmingly evil one-liners of Vincent Price.  One time the versatile movie star even shared the screen with frequent Lee collaborator Peter Cushing in The Vampire Lovers when he wasn’t playing a French military general on Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon.  A jack of all trades who managed to appear in some 230 films and TV shows, Mayne was that guy you saw everywhere in movies but rarely ever in top billing.  That is, until cult writer-director Norman Thaddeus Vane and Lloyd Kaufman’s Troma Entertainment came along. 

After early considerations for Christopher Lee were scrapped, Vane and Troma found the perfect role for Mayne with horror movie star Conrad Razkoff in the offbeat horror-comedy The Horror Star (aka Frightmare or Body Snatchers, depending on the territory).  Akin to Popcorn, Scream and Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, The Horror Star is meta horror-comedy concerning a recently deceased horror film star whose body is exhumed by a group of college kids (Jeffrey Combs among them in his big screen debut) as part of a horror film society honorary prank.  Needless to say the deceased Razkoff doesn’t take too kindly to his body being used as a prop for these kids’ amusement and after a medium attempts to make contact with him, Razkoff donned in classic Count Dracula garb with a black and red cape rises from the dead to take bloody revenge on the students for disrupting his peaceful rest.

Microbudget, somewhat disjointed and not particularly interested in developing the college kids beyond setting them up for a gory demise including a decapitation scene that could easily rival the infamous sheet glass head slicing in The Omen, The Horror Star derives its ghoulish charm largely from letting Mayne skulk about picking the kids off one by one in between delivering morbid one-liners.  A film with its tongue clearly firmly planted in cheek, The Horror Star isn’t particularly frightening or engaging and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense on paper, but as the bodies pile up in increasingly creative fashion including a memorable tongue ripping scene, horror fans are unlikely to care. 

Against a miniscule budget with some peculiar sound design which finds room for the sound effects of Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber being drawn (I kid you not), The Horror Star manages to be handsomely photographed by Joel King of Just Before Dawn, establishing a decently enveloping horror atmosphere despite the obvious limitations.  Mostly however, The Horror Star celebrates the infectious charm of Ferdy Mayne who was clearly having a blast with this little horror-comedy hybrid that mixes together Hammer Horror charm with elements of the modern slasher movie.  No the premise of college film students stealing the body of a beloved horror film star for fun doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but once Mayne is reanimated and wreaks supernatural havoc on the kids, there’s much bloody gory fun to be had here!

- Andrew Kotwicki