Bigger, broader, but not necessarily better, returning director Anthony Hickox expands the original film’s wax museum plot into a time travel adventure movie, resulting in more horror movie homages and a much goofier tone. If the original is a predecessor to Scream, this movie can be seen as a warm-up to Scary Movie.
The movie picks up pretty much where the original leaves off, with our heroes Mark (Zach Galligan) and the recast Sarah (Monika Schnarre) fleeing the burning wax museum. In hot pursuit of the kids is a zombified hand that escaped from the Night of the Living Dead inspired exhibit. The hand ends up in Sarah’s apartment and murders Sarah’s stepfather in a ghoulishly comical fashion. Since no one believes Sarah that her father was murdered by a severed hand, she ends up on trail for murder.
Long story short, the young couple decides the best way to clear Sarah is to find proof that the dead can be reanimated. So by using a doodad called Solomon’s compass, they’ve found their way into what is called “God’s Nintendo game” where the epic battle of good and evil is played out. It really feels more like God’s VHS collection, because the different time lines they travel are based around various classic horror films. If that sounds like an overly complex plot for a monster movie, it’s because it is.
Like the original Waxwork, this movie’s wrap around plot is mostly just an excuse to do short vignettes. The problem is they’ve turned the spoof dials all the way up to 20 and ripped off the nobs. The original was wonderfully campy, but this is just a hair too much for my tastes. It’s not terrible, but it fails to be as joyful and funny or as the original.
The film pays homage from everything to the James Whale Frankenstein films to Dawn of the Dead. They even found a way to work in a brief cameo for none other than Godzilla. But the best sequence hands down is the brief spoof of Robert Wise’s The Haunting. Featuring horror legend, Bruce Campbell and Star Trek star, Marina Sirtis, this bit finds just the right balance of humor and horror. Snagging some “splatstick” from the Evil Dead films, the humor here is right on target.
Galligan is better here than he is in the original. Allowed to drop his petulant rich kid persona, Mark evolves into a more likable accidental hero. Since he is playing more of an everyman, Galligan is looser and more naturalistic. He’s particularly good in his scenes with Campbell, the two make a for an excellent comic pairing.
Midway through the movie, we’re dropped into the fantasy backdrop with the late Alexander Godunuv playing the evil Scarabis. Scarabis dabbles in black magic, devil worship, and is plotting to take over the throne of England. Godunuv was a charismatic actor, but he’s wasted here. He mostly just roams around his castle looking bored, which at times feels deliberate, but doesn’t change the fact that Scarabis isn’t as interesting as he should be.
Balancing this out is rock singer turned actor, Michael Des Barres as George, Sarabis’ sleazy, effeminate right hand man. Made up like a sword and sorcery goth rocker, Des Barres keeps the forces of evil interesting, if only in the few scenes he’s in. Sardonically witty and wonderfully sadistic, George kicks the film up a notch.
There is also a flood of cameos and bit parts from good character actors. We have Patrick MacNee returning as Sir Wilfred, but also David Carradine, George “Buck” Flower, and Martin Kemp all gleefully hamming it up in small roles. If the movie has one saving grace, it’s that it has a killer supporting cast.
Waxwork II isn’t without a certain entertainment value, but it just seems lacking in something. The original is cheesy fun. But it’s hard to specifically point out where this movie fails in that department. I can only say that it seems to lack something at it’s core. While watching both movies back to back makes for a great double feature, you’ll likely find yourself wishing this sequel was more like the original.