A staple of VHS rentals in the late-1980’s and early 1990’s – when horror films were becoming increasingly self-reverential thanks to the likes of An American Werewolf in London (1981) and Fright Night (1985) – Waxwork was the directorial debut of Anthony Hickox, the son of Theatre of Blood director Douglas Hickox, and is his love-letter to Universal’s classic monsters as well as contemporary horror icons by way of 1953’s House of Wax.
Gremlins star Zach Galligan is rich douche Mark who is forced to man-up when his high-school pals start disappearing after visiting a waxworks museum that has bizarrely just opened up in an old mansion in their swanky LA neighbourhood.
Run by the mysterious Mr Lincoln (David Warner, dressed like a ’66 Batman villain) and his vertically-challenged assistants, the mansion is a front for their diabolical plan to collect the last remaining souls they need to bring life to 18 effigies of ‘the most evil souls who ever lived’ in order to raise the dead and bring about the end of the world.
After three friends step over the ropes of the exhibits and find themselves at the mercy of a werewolf, Dracula and the Phantom of the Opera, while a chain-smoking detective (Charles McCaughan) has a live burial date with The Mummy, Mark and another of the gang Sarah (Deborah Foreman) discover a link between Mr Lincoln and Mark’s late grandfather – who was fascinated by death and horror.
They then seek out Patrick Macnee’s wheelchair bound Sir Wilfred, a friend of the family, who reveals Lincoln’s diabolical plan. But when Mark and Sarah set out to stop Lincoln, Mark finds himself trapped in a Romero-esque zombie graveyard while Sarah is lured into the Marquis de Sade’s sex stable….
Waxwork certainly ticks lots of boxes. It’s very gory, with great physical effects of heads being ripped off, crushed and exploding, and one particularly gross out scene of a human leg being gorged on as though it were a shoulder of Serrano ham.
It’s got great visual style, with nods to EC Comics and Mario Bava’s colour palette; and packed with little in jokes (I particularly liked the references Vincent’s Price Henry Jarrod in House of Wax: indeed the idea of using real people as waxworks is lifted straight from that classic horror). Even the synth score (always the letdown of movies of this era) from Emmy-nominated composer, Roger Bellon is pretty darn effective.
All-in-all it’s tremendous fun, and now that Lionsgate have resurrected it from the Vestron archives and given it a re-mastered restoration it is well worth a revisit – just mind you don’t step over those ropes.
Film location fans might like to know that Mark’s house (aka the Higgins-Verbeck-Hirsch Mansion in Wiltshire) was also used in William Castle’s The Night Walker, as well as Willard and Ben, and Witchboard.
• Audio commentary with Anthony Hickox and Zach Galligan (after listening to this, I really would like to hang out with these guys).
• The Waxwork Chronicles featurette (This leans quite heavily on the sequel, which I now so want to see. To bad it wasn’t released here as a double bill like in the US).
• The Making of Waxwork (This 30-minute archive featurette is narrated by Patrick Macnee – yeah!!!!)
• Theatrical trailer
• Still gallery
Waxwork is distributed by Lionsgate Home Entertainment UK as part of the Vestron Video Collector’s Series
DID YOU KNOW?
The evil souls collected for Waxwork exhibition are:
• The Marquis de Sade
• The Werewolf
• Count Dracula, his son and the Brides of Dracula
• The Phantom of the Opera
• The Mummy
• A zombie
• Frankenstein’s monster
• Jack the Ripper
• The Invisible Man
• A voodoo priest
• A witch
• A snakeman
• Pods from Invasion of the Body Snatchers
• Rosemary and her Demonic Baby
• An axe murderer
• A multi-eyed alien
• Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors
• Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
I SHOULD HAVE GONE ON THE SWAMP TOUR
After dispatching serial killer Victor Crowley with a shotgun and a chainsaw, Marybeth (Danielle Harris), the sole survivor of his murderous rampage of Honey Island swamp, takes his scalp to the authorities to prove he’s not just an urban legend.
Suspecting her of the mass killings, Sheriff Fowler (Zach Galligan from Gremlins fame) locks Marybeth up and sends out a group of officers and medics to recover the bodies. But when they too go missing, Lewis heads into the Louisiana swamp with some reinforcements, where a SWAT team is also looking for answers. And it’s not long before they do… for Crowley (Kane Hodder) has indeed regained his form and is ready to rumble.
Meanwhile, Fowler’s Crowley-obsessed journalist ex-wife Amanda (Caroline Williams) breaks Marybeth out of jail in a bid to find the one thing that will end Crowley’s curse – the ashes of his dead father. It’s then a race against time to get back to the swamp where Marybeth must personally hand over the remains before the SWAT and police teams are completely wiped out by the unstoppable killing machine.
EVIL NEVER DIES
You needn’t have seen the first two films to enjoy this latest Victor Crowley gore-fest, as the dungaree-wearing bayou bad boy’s bloody back story is revisited and expanded on here, and there’s a whole bunch of new victims for him to rip, shred and tear apart.
Creator/director Adam Green hands his monstrous creation over to BJ Connell, who takes great pleasure in poking fun at the contrived events of the previous film, while serving up a bloody brilliant new brew of thrills, spills and irreverent giggles.
The gloriously grisly highlights include a medic having his brains blown out of his skull with some cardio pads, the horrid SWAT leader getting his heart and spine ripped out, and a weedy officer having his arms torn off in revenge for bazookering Crowley’s cabin. The blood gushing is prolific and blackly comic: one poor medic has to choose which death would be worse: Crowley or a crocodile, while another utters the film’s best line: ‘I hid. And that’s the only reason why those are not my balls hanging from that tree’.
Look out for Adam Green playing a drunken Mardi Gras party reveller and the legendary Sid Haig, who has a hilarious cameo playing a racist war veteran who thinks its still 1953.