Often I’ve revisited a movie that I wasn’t too keen on originally to find that I have a new fondness for it. In the case of 1983’s FRIGHTMARE, nearly the opposite is true. It bowled me over upon first view and now I think that was more of a right place, right time sort of thing. It just goes to show you how outside factors can really influence a person’s feelings about something and how the old thumbs up or thumbs down, “good” or “bad” system of rating movies (or anything) is pretty dumb (or at least shortsighted and limiting).
If I remember correctly, I saw FRIGHTMARE sort of spur of the moment. My Dad took my brothers and I to see some action movie (I’m picturing BLUE THUNDER in my head but I could be wrong) and once we got to the theater, I saw the poster for FRIGHTMARE and naturally had a strong pull toward that instead. (No shade toward BLUE THUNDER intended). Somehow I was able to finagle my way into seeing FRIGHTMARE by myself while everybody else bonded over explosions in the theater next door. Seeing any horror movie in the theater was pretty exciting in those days but there was something especially thrilling and liberating about seeing one by myself. It felt like a fence had been trampled over and I was standing over a cliff and if I leaned too far over, I had nobody to pull me back.
FRIGHTMARE is about a group of crafty kids who are such big fans of celebrated horror icon Conrad Razkoff (played by slightly less celebrated horror icon FERDY MAYNE) that they steal and desecrate his recently deceased corpse and trigger supernatural shenanigans that insure their own doom. What’s great about FRIGHTMARE is how it’s all about horror films and fandom and how it marries old school gothic horror with the popular tropes of the day and (most especially) how it features a mansion and a decapitation. The effect looks pretty standard today but in 1983, I remember it being quite the money shot.
What’s NOT so great about FRIGHTMARE is that it’s way too dark (was it always this dark? I can’t believe that) and it has a frustrating habit of mumbling and meandering. I don’t mean to be an ingrate to this B-movie that once gave me shelter when I was green, it’s just that JEFFREY COMBS is in it (rumor has it, he was cast for his resemblance to the already-made decapitated head prop) and once you realize that in two years he’d be put to full, impossible-to-ignore use in RE-ANIMATOR, the whole affair starts looking even soggier by comparison.
FRIGHTMARE is available to watch free online thanks to TROMA. It’s doubtful it’ll rock your world but it’s got some cool ideas even if their execution is wanting. (There’s also a CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS moral flapping around which I’m totally down with and adamantly adhere to. You really shouldn’t force a dead body to dance with you without expecting it to kill you later). In any case, it’ll always have a special chair at my table for initiating me to the fine art of going to the cinema solo. I’m also granting it one extra flapjack for featuring the guy who played Porky in PORKY’S and one extra peanut butter pinecone birdfeeder for being so thrifty as to borrow its poster art off of FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE.