Thursday, November 19, 2015

Waxwork (1988)

Four college students, Mark (Zach Galligan), Sarah (Deborah Foreman), China (Michelle Johnson) and Tony (Dana Ashbrook) - the Poor Little Rich Boy, the Virgin, the Slut, and the Idiot respectively – make a very special late visit to the mysterious Wax Museum of an even more mysterious man (mysterious David Warner). As we all well know, wax museums are incredibly dangerous when there’s no masked luchador around, so it doesn’t come as much of a surprise when China and Tony get sucked into different exhibitions which, it turns out, work as time bubbles where they live out and die in some rather unhealthy episodes (the vampire life of Miles O’Keeffe and a very short werewolf tale with a minute of John Rhys-Davies shouting grumpily as is his custom) to eventually become waxen parts of the exhibition.

At first, Mark and Sarah don’t think too much about their friends’ disappearances, but when they stay gone the next day, they start a little investigation that’ll lead a poor cop (Charles McCaughan) into a mummy-induced death, and give Mark some opportunity to learn important things about his family history from his godfather Sir Wilfred (Patrick Macnee). Sarah for her part’ll learn all about her rather un-horror-movie-virginal desire to be whipped to death by the Marquis de Sade (J. Kenneth Campbell) – who for some reason likes to dress like a pirate. It’s all part of mysterious David Warner’s rather dubious plan for destroying the world (“Somebody has to!”), and only a Poor Little Rich Boy, a masochistic Virgin (something I’d really love to become a new horror movie character archetype) and Patrick Macnee can save us!

Ah, US late 80s and early 90s horror, you are a bit weird aren’t you, with your insistence on turning everything into a comedy (like our contemporary horror TV shows, come to think of it), and never showing stuff that could actually disturb someone on a deeper level beyond the pleasant “yuck”.

If you can cope with that, though, Anthony Hickox’s Waxwork should be quite a good time, for this is a film that may not have any intellectual or emotional depths (or even many shallows of that sort) but that is also so full of an utterly un-ironic love for the horror genre’s past it’s bound to charm (possibly the pants off of) anyone who shares this love. The film demonstrates its love by including oh so many sight gags and so many moments of joyful genre nonsense you’ll mostly probably really miss stuff just by blinking, I couldn’t help but be impressed by their sheer force of numbers.

The waxwork exhibition episodes are of course mostly a basis for the film to let rip homages on all the most classic horror monsters, specific films (I particularly dig the early George Romero camera angles in the zombie bit), and all things macabre. Just imagine, the film grins, what if your Universal or Hammer horror would end really badly for the heroes and include many more buckets of blood? Turns out that’s very fun to watch, particularly in the hands of Hickox (now a solid direct-to-DVD-action director, then a promising horror guy), who knows how to time the icky stuff, as well as the jokes and directs everything as if he had a big happy monster-mashing grin on his face. The film even has so much love to share, it also finds space for a bit of a swashbuckler homage, as well as an excursion that makes the masochistic subtext of certain classical horror movies text. Bonus points also for having the oh so typical virgin character really getting into the whole death by de Sade thing, and orgasms, and not only not killing her but making her mildly ass-kicking afterwards (though I curse the film for not keeping that development in the much inferior sequel).

There’s so much love going around here for everything: Warner and Macnee clearly standing in for classic horror hams and beloved actors and doing good by it, the shrugging absurdity of the film’s finale that just might be the most fun updated peasant mob versus monsters sequence we’ll ever get to see, and so on, and so forth, until a crawling hand (hi, Ash!) crawls good-bye.

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