Combustible Celluloid
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With: Zach Galligan, Jennifer Bassey, Joe Baker, Deborah Foreman, Michelle Johnson, David Warner, Eric Brown, Clare Carey, Dana Ashbrook, Micah Grant, Mihaly 'Michu' Meszaros, Jack David Walker, John Rhys-Davies
Written by: Anthony Hickox
Directed by: Anthony Hickox
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 97
Date: 06/17/1988

Waxwork (1988)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Wax to the Max

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Zach Galligan (Gremlins) stars as rich kid Mark, who is invited along with his friends to a weird new wax museum at midnight. It's run by a creepy fellow (David Warner) who seems to be able to suddenly appear in various places. Each of the exhibits depicts some kind of horror, and whenever one of the teens steps over the rope (why would they do this?) they are magically transported to that time and place. One character clashes with a werewolf (John Rhys-Davies), another with a vampire, and another with zombies. Some of the teens remain trapped in their exhibits and Mark and the police try to figure out what's going on before the world comes to an end (or something).

As appealing as Galligan is in his nice-guy way, the characters are pretty weak overall, and they spend a good deal of time arguing or picking on each other (an artificial way of building "conflict" in a weak screenplay). However, the movie's overall idea is a really cool one, playing a little bit like an anthology of different types of horror stories, with the sinister wax figures decorating the edges. It was the first feature by Englishman Anthony Hickox, who probably could have done a little more with moody lighting, instead of the bright, poppy 1980s look he chose, but Waxwork nonetheless remains a fun little artifact from its time.

Lionsgate released this on Blu-ray as part of its "Vestron Video" series; any fan of watching 1980s horror movie on VHS knows their logo. The set also includes Waxwork II: Lost in Time. Extras include commentary tracks by director Hickox and star Galligan, featurettes, stills galleries, and trailers.

Waxwork II: Lost in Time is even sillier, more creative, and more elaborate than its predecessor, while at the same time making even less sense. It works better as a guilty pleasure, an artifact of a lost time, than it does any kind of well-made classic. It begins right as Waxwork leaves off. Mark (Galligan) and Sarah (tall, lovely Monika Schnarre, taking over for Deborah Foreman) escape the burning wax museum, but Sarah is attacked by a stray, severed hand and is accused of murdering her stepfather.

A recording of Sir Wilfred (Patrick Macnee) tells them about a time-medallion that opens doors to other times (actually alternate universes), where they might find something to help. From there, Mark and Sarah jump into worlds recalling or resembling Frankenstein, Robert Wise's The Haunting, and Alien, before landing in the movie's lengthiest episode, a kind of medieval adventure with magic and swords. At the climactic battle, there are further references to Jack the Ripper, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Dawn of the Dead, Nosferatu, Godzilla, and others. Through it all, the joking, smiling, good-hearted Mark learns to be a warrior.

Despite a kind of tentative touch by writer/director Hickox -- or perhaps it was just a low budget -- Waxwork II manages to be an early "meta-movie," a crude precursor to what Wes Craven would be doing a few years later. Yet it's more along the lines of goofy fun than it is a commentary or an essay on the nature of genre. (It's like a cinematic version of a video store.) Bruce Campbell is great in a black-and-white sequence as a ghost hunter. Look for David Carradine, and a brief, wordless cameo by Drew Barrymore in the Nosferatu sequence. The great John Ireland gave his last performance here.

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