Friday, October 31, 2008

Film Review: WAXWORK (1988, Anthony Hickox)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 97 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: David Warner, Zach Galligan, John Rhys-Davies, Dana Ashbrook, Deborah Foreman
Tag-line: "Stop on by and give afterlife a try." AND "More fun than a barrel of mummies."
Best one-liner(s): "Drink your milk, you're late for college."

"Are you afraid the world will see the Marquis de Sade can only beat little girls and can't fight like a man?" You heard me right. And it's GREMLINS' Zach Galligan delivering that line. This movie is kind of like MONSTER SQUAD meets BILL AND TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE for pseudo-adults. It's got everything. Vampires, werewolves, the Phantom of the Opera, the Mummy, the baby from IT'S ALIVE, the Marquis de Sade as a one-liner-dropping villainous swashbuckler...?! Then it takes the ball from the long tradition of wax-related horror films (from German Expressionism's 1920's WAXWORKS to Andre de Toth's 1950's HOUSE OF WAX) and runs with it. This is the 80's take on the genre, and it's very similar in tone to movies like DOLLS and GHOULIES, where it has the dreamy atmosphere of an old horror video game, some real cornball humor (every German is a Nazi...and that's hilarious!, generic fun-time music plays with frequency, there's always a midget...and that's hilarious!, etc.), and the scares are made up of a kind of half-clever, gory, jokey oddness, an atmosphere generally consistent with the eerily illustrated posters. But this film becomes better than the rest because of a few key reasons:

1. David Warner. Warner plays the villain with a kind of delicious awkwardness that only a brilliant British thespian slumming it in an American B-horror movie can muster.

Consequently, his scenes have a certain exquisite tension where you're unsure if in the middle of a scene he's going to snap and do something crazy and British and unscripted.

2. Dana Ashbrook (Bobby from TWIN PEAKS). Though his appearance is brief, when TWIN PEAKS actors grace horror flicks with their presence (PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, VAMPIRES, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART II, etc.), everybody wins.

3. One-liners, one-liners, one-liners. This movie is a one-liner machine. During the finale, when an army of humans led by a wheelchair-bound man fights a horde of wax figurines in an anarchistic, anachronistic free-for-brawl, one-liners are getting tossed around at the rate of roughly three per minute. In one random minute:

"Kiss me, Sarah!"

"Kiss this!"

"Take me..."

"Take this!"

and "Make my day!"

[blows head off of bat with .44 Magnum].

An evil midget is even tossed into the plant from LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. Yeah, it's that kind of movie. Here's four wax-dipped stars, but don't get TOO close...

-Sean Gill

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