March 7, 2012

Reader's Choice: Waxwork I and II

WAXWORK (1988) - Directed by Anthony Hickox. Starring Zach Galligan ("Mark"), Deborah Foreman ("Sarah"), Michelle Johnson ("China"), and Dana Ashbrook ("Tony").

Picked by Cody

A group of preppy college students hit up a mysterious wax museum one night after receiving an invitation by the curator who wants them to check out one of his late-night shows. Despite some drama between lead character Mark (Zach Galligan from GREMLINS), and China, who he was apparently dumped by not too long ago, they remain civil enough to see what all the fuss is about beyond the walls of the monolithic wax museum that sits in the neighborhood like a pile of bricks amidst trees, a freshly-mowed lawn, and a picket fence. As if being at a wax museum in the middle of the night wasn't weird enough, once there, they're greeted by a rather energetic dwarf and a giant butler who looks frightfully similar to Lurch from the ADAMS FAMILY.

Suspicious by his absence is the curator, but that doesn't stop the group of friends from exploring the many life-like displays that the wax museum has to offer, including numerous tributes to scenes from bizarro versions of the classic Universal monster movies. Unfortunately for the central group of characters, a couple of them find out the hard way that, if you stand too close to the displays, you'll be transported to an alternate world where the monsters are real. Speaking of which, the film doesn't waste any time getting to the horror business, which can either be a blessing or a curse depending on how it's handled. In some cases, a movie - horror or otherwise - will blow its load far too soon and take away from the anticipation of getting to the "good shit"; WAXWORK, for the most part, doesn't give you too much right away and saves the monster-movie shenanigans for later parts of the film, focusing more on Mark and an unlikely love interest, Sarah, dealing with the aftermath of the sudden disappearances of their friends.

Any enthusiast of 80's films should be able to watch a movie and tell, roughly, what year the movie was filmed in, depending on the fashion trends, music, and even the look and style of the film itself. That being said, WAXWORK looks and feels like a 1988 movie - it still has slight traces of the garish and excessive look of the mid-80's, but there's also a lingering sense that a new era is on the horizon. Not that this has anything significant to do with the movie, but, you see, I'm trying to pad this review as much as I can. All of that being said, WAXWORK essentially starts out like a late 80's teen comedy before transitioning into wacky monster-movie madness, and I personally think the teen comedy aspect - if you can call it that - if the film is great. As the characters are introduced and when they eventually band together to venture out to the wax museum on that fateful night, I was very much reminded of NIGHT OF THE DEMONS in terms of the anticipation of something "fun" for lack of a better term, only for it to be squashed by the supernatural.

WAXWORK is a movie I hadn't seen in a long time, probably not since the 90's on cable or something. For some reason, it hasn't stuck with me over the years in the same way that other movies from the 80's have, but I guess that has more to do with me gravitating towards the slashers from that era than anything else horror-related. Watching it now, WAXWORK proved to be somewhat of a mess, but an enjoyable mess and a great reminder that these sorts of films just can't be duplicated in this day and age. The people behind this film cleverly used the idea and aesthetic of the wax museum to create a monster mash-up of epic proportions, with a chaotic conclusion that sees our heroes doing battle with an entire museum full of ghoulish animated wax displays.

Score: 7

WAXWORK II (1992) - Directed by Anthony Hickox. Starring Zach Galligan ("Mark"), Monika Schnarre ("Sarah"), Martin Kemp ("Baron von Frankenstein"), and Bruce Campbell ("John Loftmore").

WAXWORK II picks up right where the previous film ends, except Mark's hair grew an inch and the character of Sarah is played by a new actress who looks nothing like Deborah Foreman. The two surviving characters go their separate ways after experiencing what one can only assume was the craziest night of their lives. A disembodied hand escapes the wreckage of the wax museum and strangles Sarah's alcoholic step-father to death, leaving poor Sarah to be tried in court for the murder. Also, turns out Mark conveniently inherited "strange artifacts" left behind by his late grandfather, as well as some instructions on how to penetrate the supernatural world, which he and Sarah both eventually do in order to prevent evil forces from breaking through to the real world or something.

Four years is a long time between a film and its direct continuation, and it shows. Zach Galligan looks older and slightly chubbier than he did in the first WAXWORK, and the new casting choice for Sarah is distracting; not only does the actress look nothing like Deborah Foreman, which I already mentioned earlier, but she's taller and her hair is much longer. I may be making a big deal about this, but the fact that the people responsible for producing this film blatantly disregard continuity in terms of both Galligan and the character of Sarah's appearances just reeks of laziness, which can also be said for the film itself.

WAXWORK II is, for the most part, devoid of a plot. The gimmick of this film is that, once they're transported to an alternate universe, Mark and Sarah go through a series of sub-worlds that resemble other movies. Basically, WAXWORK II seems like an excuse to parody as many horror and Sci-Fi movies as possible; to the film's credit, it does just that. After finding themselves in homages to films like ALIEN and THE HAUNTING, the film settles in a medieval setting, where Mark is forced to battle sorcerers and knights in order to rescue Sarah. Numerous attempts at fish-out-of-water comedy painfully fall flat. The movie picks up considerably once it stops meandering in the medieval setting and gets back to the rapid-fire homages, including a brief but spot-on DAWN OF THE DEAD spoof.

WAXWORK II is directed by Anthony Hickox, who also directed the original film. A quick look at his filmography reveals nothing of note - a few horror movies and straight-to-video sequels here and there, like HELLRAISER III and WARLOCK: THE AMRMAGEDDON. He also directed a vampire-western around the same time as this called SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT, which would explain why two of that film's stars, David Carradine and Bruce Campbell, also make cameos in this movie. Like SUNDOWN, which I'm not a fan of, it seems that Anthony Hickox wanted to throw as much shit as he could at the wall with this film, but unfortunately not a lot of it sticks. WAXWORK II lacks the 80's charm of its predecessor and reeks of bland 90's straight-to-video horror. Adding injury to insult is an atrocious music video courtesy of a rap group called The L.A. Posse that accompanies the end credits.

Score: 5


  1. Hahaha! Waxwork is bad ass. Just the right amount of creepy that I love. :) Standout review Aaron!

  2. I really enjoyed the campiness of the original but I still haven't got around to seeing the sequel. Despite hearing nothing but bad things about it since it's release all those years ago I might just have to check it out out of curiosity.