Wax museums have been ample fodder for the horror genre for some time. Notable examples are 1933’s Mystery of the Wax Museum and its 1953 remake House of Wax, which stars Vincent Price. A lesser known, but no less lovable entry in this subgenre is Anthony Hickox’s 1988 horror-comedy Waxwork.
A prolific b-movie filmmaker, Hickox’s film is an early example of the self-referential style of horror movie that would later be popularized by the Scream franchise, although Waxwork has a much larger cinematic appetite. Not just settling on the slasher genre, we are instead served up several different mini-movies including Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolfman, Romero-style zombies, and even the Marquis De Sade. Cameo appearances are also made by Jack the Ripper, the Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein, Audrey II, and even some pod-people from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. There is literally something here for almost every type of horror fan. As a result, this flick puts the pop into popcorn movie, as it is a lot of fun to watch.
The plot, such as it is, centers around the mysterious Mr. Lincoln and his wax museum. Figures of the 18 most evil beings ever to walk the Earth have been recreated in wax. Little do Lincoln’s customers know, but the figures also have items once owned by the fiends and if you get too close to the exhibit, you get sucked into it. Each time a person falls victim to this plot, Lincoln is one step closer to bringing the monsters back to life and kick-starting the apocalypse.
Lincoln is played by the great David Warner, who seems to be having a ball every time he’s on screen. Warner’s delivery suggests a great sense of irony and self-awareness about Lincoln. Coupled with his over the top wardrobe choices, the character very much has the feel of a classic Vincent Price villain. When asked why he is trying to destroy the world, Lincoln glibly replies, “Someone has to.” He doesn’t need anymore motive than being bad, even if he’s being post-modern about it.
Because this is an 1980’s horror flick, the wrap around story also centers on a group of young people. Although here we get a pulpy, almost vintage Hollywood version of uppercrust college students that all seem to come from blueblooded backgrounds. There is a slight retro vibe to these kids, even their fashion sense seems a mixture of ’80’s and ’50s. This choice helps carry us into the Hammer Horror style every time someone gets sucked into an exhibit.
The defacto leader of the kids is Mark Loftmore, played by Gremlins star, Zach Galligan. While Galligan is not a great actor, he’s serviceable enough and doesn’t seem embarrassed by the quirky material. Galligan was more believable as a “boy next door” type in the Gremlins films. I never quite buy him as a rich kid. But he seems like he’s having a good time, so I can forgive him for being miscast.
The rest of the group is rounded out by Deborah Brightman, Michelle Johnson, and Dana Ashbrook. Brightman gets to have the juicest role of the lot, playing the virginal Sarah, as she is seduced by the Marquis De Sade. Although Michelle Johnson is also entertaining as a Marilyn Monroe wannabe who falls under the spell of Dracula. Both women look perhaps a bit too mature to be college students, but they are very attractive and certainly provide eye candy for many male viewers.
There’s plenty of eye candy for the ladies as well. Aside from the square jawed, clean cut, Galligan, J. Kenneth Campbell plays the Maquis De Sade as a Fabio type, ripped off the cover of a bodice ripping paperback. Former Tarzan, Miles O’ Keeffe is also present as a long-haired, gravely voiced Dracula who is a far cry from Christopher Lee or Bela Lugosi. But might very well be a good lead-up to Gary Oldman.
Beefcake and cheesecake aside, the rest of the cast is also pretty good. John Rhys-Davies stands out in a too brief but entertainingly hammy turn as the Wolfman. Patrick MacNee also gets to chew some scenery as a wheelchair bound occultist, who leads a band of elderly monster hunters. Though my real fave of the bunch is Mihaly Meszaros, the diminutive Hans, Lincoln’s evil butler. TV buffs with good memories will of course remember Meszaros as ALF, but it’s great to see him sans furry costume. His high pitched voice and Teutonic barring make for a very memorable character.
Waxwork is extremely campy and never takes itself too seriously. Despite it’s clear influences from older films, this movie is totally of the 1980’s. By that I mean, it’s both cheesy and completely bonkers at the same time. Fans of hardcore horror might find this to be a turn-off. Although such fans might be brought back to the film by learning it is relentlessly gory in the way only ’80’s horror can be.
While not a perfect or artsy film by any stretch of the imagination, Waxwork is extremely entertaining. Which of course, has it’s own kind of worth. Crammed to the gills with nostalgia value for horror fans who grew up on classic monster movies, it’s a great movie for late night gatherings with friends, junk food, and casual viewing. If that sounds like your idea of a party, then hunt this puppy down, fire up your DVD player, and get ready for a good time.