Monday 31 August 2009

Waxwork II: Lost in Time (1992)

Director: Anthony Hickox
Stars: Zack Galligan, Monika Schnarre, Martin Kemp, Bruce Campbell and Michael Des Barres

Beginning literally as the original Waxwork ends, Mark and Sarah escape from the burning ruins of David Warner's evil house of wax, not realising that they missed the severed zombie hand that followed them off the lot. What we find here is that it followed Sarah all the way home, perhaps wondering why she's being played by a different actress. At least it has the decency to kill off her evil stepfather, Buck Flower, with a hammer. It's a real slapstick hand, one that coats her in mustard, throws buns at her and then as she stuffs it down the garbage disposal coats her with blood to finish the whole effect. No wonder they hired Bruce Campbell for this sequel.

They hired a lot of other people too. Patrick Macnee returns as Sir Wilfred but only to leave a convenient message via a prerecorded film on the projector at his house. Apparently he's left his entire estate to Mark, along with his collection of strange artifacts, Mark's grandfather's too. I wonder how that gets written up in a will: 'I leave all my strange artifacts to...' This is a pretty awesome collection too, as they discover when they go through the looking glass like Alice: silver bullets, Jason's mask, even what looks suspiciously like the Ark of the Covenant from Raiders of the Lost Ark. There's even a Cantagrian Time Door Opener or some such thing that allows them to follow the paths of the angels through time.

If writer/director Anthony Hickox had fun with the first Waxwork film, he had a riot with the second. He rips off everything he can possibly think of. Somehow he throwns us 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien and Star Trek in twenty seconds flat, and all this as we're recovering from the Frankenstein set. Apparently these angels that travelled through time to Frankenstein's castle because that's where Mark ends up, wondering how Martin Kemp, the bass player from Spandau Ballet, could be hired to play Baron Victor von Frankenstein. Actually he does a pretty good job but then he did leave his pop music career pretty emphatically by starting out in film as Reggie Kray. This is definitely one of those movies where you have to constantly readjust to work out which way is up. Blink and you'll miss a movie reference.

Meanwhile back on the planet Earth, Mark's back in black and white following paranormal investigators Bruce Campbell, Marina Sirtis and Sophie Ward into Hell House. Did I mention that there's a serious cast here? We haven't even met David Carradine, Alexander Godunov and Michael Des Barres yet, not to mention Godzilla, the king of the monsters himself (well, sort of), and even Drew Barrymore for good measure. The most bizarre thing here is that the film's greatest success is also its greatest failure. It's very cleverly done because the camera angles, sound effects, music and the pace are tailored towards whichever homage we happen to be in at the time.

This approach is admirable and makes us admire Hickox's skill, attention to detail and his personal viewing history, but the constant changes in pace don't help. The sheer speed of the Frankenstein and Alien segments renders The Haunting/The Legend of Hell House section a little sedate, though we have no problem adapting from colour to black and white. It survives mostly through the Three Stooges skits with Bruce Campbell, but they in turn make the Arthurian section even slower, regardless of how much fun Michael Des Barres is and how awesomely Patrick Macnee breaks the fourth wall. Luckily the finale is there to speed it all back up again.

Given that there's actually nothing to connect these sections, they could technically go on for ever and be shuffled around into any order you like. It would make a great TV series, chopped up into 45 minute chunks that ran for years. The finale of this film, which eschews the monster battle royale idea from the first Waxwork and instead tries to spoof as many movies as it can as fast as it can, with Mark fighting the evil Scarabis through all of them like a genre equivalent to the end of Blazing Saddles. If a TV series just played like this it could become a great Friday night drinking game to identify them all. I think Anthony Hickox would approve.

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