Sunday 30 August 2009

Waxwork (1988)

Director: Anthony Hickox
Stars: Zack Galligan, Deborah Foreman, Michelle Johnson, Dana Ashbrook, Miles O'Keeffe, Charles McCaughan, J Kenneth Campbell, John Rhys Davies, Patrick Macnee, David Warner

You can't go wrong with a film that begins with a man being set on fire during a robbery, but it's such a short scene that we're told nothing about it and it merely looks cool. Instead we get introduced to Mark, played by Zach Galligan, four years after Gremlins but amazingly with only one film in between them, Nothing Lasts Forever. Mark is privileged but apparently doesn't enjoy it all the time. Mom won't let him drink with the help or have coffee in the morning. Luckily the maid does his homework and the butler's really there for him, with his caffeine and nicotine and even his wheels when he heads off to college.

He has friends there, Sarah and China, who pass a new house of wax on their way to class, one that apparently appeared out of nowhere. The owner appears out of nowhere too, right in front of them, and given that he's played by David Warner that can't be a good thing. He invites them to a special private screening that night at midnight, for them and four friends. Two of them wuss out but that leaves four of them to experience the dwarf butler and the giant and the very quiet show. And while it's quiet it's a great show, full of actors who do a pretty good but not a perfect job at not moving. It doesn't look it but it's interactive.

Tony finds that out first. The exhibits have some sort of weird portals in front of them that transport the unwary visitors into a different dimension, ones that mirror their exhibit. Tony ends up in a forest but all he can find there is a hut containing a were-rabbit played by John Rhys-Davies. I think he's suppose to be a werewolf but he looks more like the cover of Donnie Darko, which does decrease the impact a little but Tony gets the impact, full in the neck. Soon he's dead by the gun of the local werewolf hunter, only for him to end up in the waxwork exhibit.

It's a campy scene and obviously not meant to be anything else, but Waxwork really shows its aim in the next one. The delectable China finds herself in a vampire fantasy scene, which is about as amazingly over the top as could comfortably be imagined. It doesn't remotely attempt to play either seriously or consistently and just blisters through an excess of fun. In a flamboyant white dress, China meets the dashing Count Dracula, played to dashing romance novel cover excess by Miles O'Keeffe, who has her feed unwittingly on her fiance's leg. Eventually she discovers the truth in the basement, after discovering her fiance chained down with his leg carved off and the vampires attacking. It's glorious nonsense that revels in being glorious nonsense.

The other success this film has is the sheer number of horror worlds it runs through. Starting with a waxworks, it progresses through werewolves and vampires, threatens scenes with the Phantom of the Opera and the Marquis de Sade, but really follows up with an Egyptian mummy. Mark and Sarah escape, highlighting how terminally cute Deborah Foreman is after we failed to notice while she was in the shadow of the more flamboyant and traditionally beautiful Michelle Johnson as China. Going to the cops doesn't help so Mark figures it all out from artifacts his strange murdered grandfather had left in the attic.

If you think that's a leap, try this follow up. Mark and Sarah go to visit Sir Wilfred, though I blinked and so lost the reason why they even know him. In the joyous form of Patrick Macnee, he conjures up an explanation that encompasses so much and unfolds so fast that it's nigh on impossible to keep track. Basically Mark's grandfather was murdered by a man who sold his soul to the devil then collected occult artifacts to place in his waxworks so that through dubious numerology can resurrect evil sorcerers to bring about the voodoo end of the world. I'm breathless just thinking about it.

Anyone believing in a serious film after that must be out of their mind, but writer/director Anthony Hickox plays it out with style, giving us that Marquis de Sade scene after all, as well as trip into the black and white world of Night of the Living Dead. This was Hickox's first film, as both an actor and director, with the single exception of an uncredited role at the age of six in The Adventurers. He's still making films today, but after a string of horror movies with long and unwieldy names (Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat, Waxwork II: Lost in Time, Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth and Warlock: The Armageddon) he progressed on to more traditional thrillers and action movies. Every now and again he ventures back into the horror genre.

I wonder how he remembers this. It's utterly silly but just as utterly jam packed full of fun, right down to Sir Wilfred's armoured wheelchair. The props bend, the walls bend, the effects vary from pretty awesome to pretty terrible. Hickox wrote the screenplay in three days and it shows, but it's unsurprising that it spawned a sequel and no wonder they hired Bruce Campbell to appear in it. That's obviously who Zach Galligan was trying to be here, only one of many cinematic homages that veer from Dirty Harry to The Little Shop of Horrors in mere seconds. This is one of the most awesomely wild and riotous horror movies ever, especially when we hit the mad monster party of a finale. Does it make the remotest bit of sense? Nope. Do we care? Not a sausage.

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