Sunday, October 22, 2017

Waxwork / Waxwork II: Lost in Time

David Warner (TIME AFTER TIME) is great as the proprietor of a haunted wax museum in this mixture of THE MONSTER SQUAD and EVIL DEAD 2. Played as much for laughs as for chills, WAXWORK comes at you with a rocking score by Roger Bellon (THE UNHOLY) and a love for old horror movies sure to capture the fancy of genre fans.

Four college students — rich Zach Galligan (GREMLINS), demure Deborah Foreman (APRIL FOOL’S DAY), obnoxious Dana Ashbrook (TWIN PEAKS), and sexpot Michelle Johnson (THE JIGSAW MURDERS) — attend a secret midnight opening of a new wax museum on a residential street. The horrific exhibits show vampires, mummies, axe murders, and other monsters in bloody milieus. Lawyers prevented WAXWORK from including Jason Voorhees, so a joke about the substituted Phantom of the Opera falls flat.

The exhibits are actually alternate universes, where Ashbrook is bitten by a werewolf (John Rhys-Davies) and Johnson by a vampire (former Tarzan Miles O’Keeffe). A cop stumbles into an underground excavation and fights a mummy. Foreman, already a cult actress, is whipped by the Marquis de Sade (DEATH WARRANT heavy J. Kenneth Campbell) and loves it, which must have piqued the pants of a few ‘80s fanboys. It’s up to Galligan and Patrick Macnee (THE AVENGERS) as Roddy McDowall in FRIGHT NIGHT to prevent Warner’s murderous waxworks from releasing their evil into the world.

If you can get past the awful wigs and the tendency of the actors playing the wax figures to sway (gotta keep that camera moving, director Anthony Hickox), WAXWORKS is good-natured enough fun. The various makeup and gore effects are well done, considering the film’s $3 million budget. A black-and-white homage to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (shot in a day at Griffith Park) is perhaps the film’s most inspired vignette, and Johnson’s gore-drenched battle with vampire brides needed heavy trimming to avoid an NC-17 rating.

The incredible finale pits Macnee in his Captain Pike wheelchair and a senior citizen army, including Galligan’s butler (Lou Costello impersonator Joe Baker), in a violent free-for-all against Warner’s monsters. WAXWORK was the writing and directing debut of Hickox, whose father Douglas directed THEATER OF BLOOD. Anthony used many of WAXWORK’s cast members in his next film, SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT (also quite good). WAXWORK was a bust in theaters, but did very well on home video, inspiring WAXWORK II: LOST IN TIME as Hickox’s third feature.

Taking up exactly where WAXWORK left off, Galligan and WARLOCK: THE ARMAGEDDON’s Monika Schnarre (an ineffective replacement for Deborah Foreman, who had broken up with writer/director Hickox) are pursued by a disembodied hand that escapes the burning wax museum and frames Schnarre for the murder of her stepfather. To clear her name, the two young lovers travel through time and stumble into homages to Hickox’s favorite horror movies, including ALIEN, FRANKENSTEIN, GODZILLA, THE EVIL DEAD, and DAWN OF THE DEAD.

None of it has anything to do with waxworks, though the sequel apes the episodic structure of WAXWORK. With a lower budget, but a more ambitious screenplay than WAXWORK, WAXWORK II: LOST IN TIME shows a few seams here and there, even if some moments play quite brilliantly. A faithful tribute to THE HAUNTING is filmed in black and white with Bruce Campbell (ARMY OF DARKNESS) turning in a sharp performance as a pipe-chomping ghost hunter.

Unfortunately, for the sequel, Hickox chose to amp up the comedy, which puts the delicate balance of humor and horror out of whack. WAXWORK II is just too silly, with the slapstick diluting the tension of scenes that should be scary. Thus, one never believes Galligan and Schnarre are in danger, and without characters to care about, the film is left with a series of violent vignettes with juvenile jokes.

One benefit for genre fans is the star cameos. In addition to Campbell, WAXWORK II offers Marina Sirtis (STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION) in fab ‘60s garb, Maxwell Caulfield (GREASE II), David Carradine (CIRCLE OF IRON), Juliet Mills (BEYOND THE DOOR), John Ireland (SPARTACUS) as the King of England (!), Alexander Godunov (DIE HARD), Patrick Macnee (THE AVENGERS), even Drew Barrymore if you look close enough. Unlike WAXWORK, which Vestron released to theaters, WAXWORK II went directly to VHS in 1992.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Waxwork is very enjoyable and gets the horror/humour balance about right. I agree that the sequel strays a bit too far into humour, but is still worth a look. The vampire scene in Waxwork was very bloody, even in the BBFC censored version I saw when it was released to video.