Waxwork (1988)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #420

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Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: June 17, 1988
Sub-Genre: Horror/Comedy
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $1,500,000
Box Office: $808,114
Running Time: 100 minutes
Director: Anthony Hickox
Producer: Staffan Ahrenberg
Screenplay: Anthony Hickox
Special Effects: Bob Keen
Cinematography: Gerry Lively
Score: Roger Bellon
Editing: Christopher Cibelli
Studios: Vestron Pictures, Contemporary Films, Electric Pictures, HB Filmrullen, Palla
Distributor: Vestron Pictures
Stars: Zach Galligan, Deborah Foreman, Michelle Johnson, David Warner, Dana Ashbrook, Miles O’Keeffe, Patrick Macnee, John Rhys-Davies, Micah Grant as Jonathan, Eric Brown, Clare Carey, Mihaly ‘Michu’ Meszaros, Jack David Walker, Charles McCaughan, J. Kenneth Campbell, Jennifer Bassey, Edward Ashley, Joe Baker

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Suggested Audio Candy

Roger Bellon “Whip Me Daddy”

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There are a number of things which quicken my pulse. Waxworks are fairly close to the summit of that list along with clowns and porcelain dolls and my first experience of them was through the medium of film with André De Toth‘s House of Wax. However, it wasn’t until I paid The London Dungeon a visit that things took a turn for the more portentous. A long-time favorite British tourist attraction, the dungeon has recently become far more interactive and now features live actors and special effects whereby, back then, it was populated primarily by stiff plastic posers. It was here that I learned of the rack, stocks, black death, and guillotine along with the meaning of the term “hung, drawn, and quartered.” Ominous, real ominous. Of course it was laced with gallows humor but this was lost on a wide-eyed child whose retinas could barely register the debauchery on-hand. I was terrified but, in the same moment, perpetually seduced by these macabre reenactments of torment.

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What better locale then for debutante Anthony Hickox to exploit for his dark fantasy Waxwork. His film celebrated the output of studios such as Hammer and Amicus, introducing a number of its stalwarts into a deliciously woven contemporary horror B-movie which delved into the past repeatedly while keeping one foot firmly in the present. Cue all manner of vampires, werewolves, rippers, and mummified meanderers and all presented via almost anthology-style narrative. I love me a compendium so felt like a kid in a candy store as the museum opened its doors for business.

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It told the tale of a group of university students, Mark (Zach Galligan), China (Michelle Johnson), Sarah (Deborah Foreman), Gemma (Clare Carey), James (Eric Brown) and Tony (Dana Ashbrook), receiving an exclusive invite to a midnight showing at a mysterious waxwork museum from its dubious proprietor, David Lincoln (David Warner). Naturally, these hormone-driven teenagers were powerless to resist such a tantalizing proposition and accepted willingly. No sooner had they arrived and been greeted by pint-sized butler Hans (Mihaly ‘Michu’ Meszaros), than they became mesmerized by the grotesque creations within. Jack the Ripper, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, the Marquis De Sade, Count Dracula, and the Wolf Man were all present and correct and it appeared as though they had hit pay dirt.

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That was until each of them, in turn, became interlaced within each frightful parable. Hickox played the homage card unabashed, infusing each bite-sized fable with no end of Gothic authenticity but merged this with the contemporary fairly seamlessly. His screenplay was knowing, characters purposely over-elaborate, and you always had an idea that he could let his beast off the chain at any given moment. Despite delving into horror folklore and being respectful of its heritage, Waxwork was primarily a schlock-filled B-movie with only one requisite, that being to entertain. It did so effortlessly.

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The casting of Galligan and Foreman as clean-cut heroes Mark and Sarah was inspired and they owned every sympathy as their friends commenced being vanquished ad hoc. Joe Dante’s Gremlins had already established Zach as the all-American sweetheart of the epoch and his charismatic turn did nothing but bolster these claims. In addition, a fine ensemble comprising John Rhys-Davies, Patrick Macnee, the always delightful Warner, and Hickox himself in a diminutive capacity, all committed themselves gladly to the debauchery.

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Gerry Lively worked tirelessly with the director to fashion vistas evocative of their period and embellished the screen with a plethora of optical persuasions. As for the supreme effects, Bob Keen offered all of his blood, sweat, and tears, putting in two months of eighteen hour shifts into fashioning his macabre masterpieces and it showed repeatedly. When you consider that the screenplay took Hickox three nights and days to rustle up, it leaves you in no doubt that Waxwork was always intended to be a visual spectacle first and foremost. Narrative just offered it a platform to pummel our senses from and it did so frequently.

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The final act divided audiences as Hickox ultimately slackened the leash and allowed his monstrosities to wander free. All hell broke loose and any former restraint was ignored in favor of all-out, balls to the wall, lunacy. I dug it if I’m honest; what use are buffalo if not enabled to roam? One could argue that it escalated a little willy nilly but splitting hairs never particularly interested Keeper. There was far too much panache on exhibit to be sidetracked by fine detail. Focusing on such was to deprive yourself of its numerous charms. Slick and infinitely entertaining, Waxwork was a delightful distraction from the largely uninspired dross pouring into the marketplace at the time and remains worthy of your allegiance.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Grue Factor: 4/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: A multitude of pails filled to overspilling with deep red and thrown about with gay abandon; Waxwork offered a veritable gallery of grue, pale canvases sprinkled liberally with the blood of virgins, and occasionally shook up like the proverbial soda and opened it directly under our grateful noses. Skin fell off bones as though from a rack of slow-roasted lamb, heads were subtracted from windpipes forcefully, and necks quenched upon freely; while the transformation scenes were second to none when you consider the lean $1.5m budget Hickox had at his disposal.

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Read Gremlins Appraisal

Read House of Wax Appraisal

Read The Company of Wolves Appraisal

Read The Cabin in The Woods Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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