Wicked Wednesday: Waxwork (1988)

It’s been a long week, kids. One of those weeks where I couldn’t give a damn about watching anything or writing anything or doing anything. So picking a movie this week needed to be done carefully. Thankfully this week an angel has been sent to me.

While perusing Shudder’s website, the artwork for Waxwork immediately caught my eye. AND Lo and behold – it stars Zach Galligan! I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Galligan on several occasions, and the man is a seriously nice guy. But just to make things a bit sweet, Bobby Briggs himself Dana Ashbrook also stars. Nothing like two attractive men in a horror comedy to make me feel like getting some work done.

But the cast is really something else on this (according to me). The Valley Girl herself, Deborah Foreman. Plus icons David Warner and John Rhys-Davies.

Mark (Galligan) is a member of a group of young snobby yuppies at this school. The kids are vain, vapid and disgustingly rich. Strangely really likeable, but mostly pretty dim.

Case in point: On their way to school one day, Mark’s friends Sarah (Foreman) and China come across a building with a new waxworks museum. A man (Warner) appears to them and invites them to a midnight party – but they can only be a group of six. The girls seem wary, but when they tell their friends, they all decide to go together.

When the gang arrive at the waxworks, the building does its best to be as intimidating as possible. Two of the friends, James and Gemma, piss off before they even get to the door. But with Fearless Leader Mark in the lead, the four remaining kids get to the door, which is opened by a dwarf.

The dwarf leads them into the house, where they’re then ushered into the waxworks. Inside the vast room they find various displays each containing a famous characters of horror: evil babies, man-eating trash cans and alien pods (a la Invasion of the Body Snatchers).

As soon as the group start to look around they head off in their own directions. Poor Tony (Ashbrook) steps over the barrier and into a display and suddenly finds himself in the middle of the woods wearing an awful wig and the leftovers of a high school production of Sound of Music. He enters a nearby cabin and speaks to the man inside, trying to figure out how he got to the woods to begin with.

At least Tony doesn’t have to wonder for too long. The man in the cabin turns into a werewolf and bites Tony just before a pair of men enter and shoot the werewolf with a silver bullet. Eh, but it’s too late for Tony – who they also shoot.

In the waxworks, a figure of Tony appears as he did in the ‘other world’.

But of course no one notices and it’s China’s turn to step over the velvet rope (has no one taught these children how to behave in a museum?). The display China enters is a rather vampire-filled affair. And while she does hold her own killing off quite a number of the fanged-beings, China herself succumbs to the evil and turns into a wax figure.

Meanwhile, Sarah and Mark think that their two friends went home together without them. They head home completely unscathed – though minus a couple friends.

In the morning, Mark realises that his friends have disappeared. He begins his own detective work and heads to the police. Inspector Roberts for help, and the inspector points out that 13 people have gone missing in less than two weeks – a rather alarming number for the quiet town. He reluctantly joins Mark to the waxworks where everything appears to be normal.

It’s not until the inspector returns to the station that he realises that all of the waxwork victims look like the missing people. He decides to return with his partner, but the idiot tells the partner to stay in the car. Roberts manages to get a sample of China’s cheek and finds black tissue underneath. While he tries to leave, he’s pushed into the mummy display and ends up trapped in the tomb – thus becoming a part of the display.

But Mark’s trip with Roberts isn’t a total waste. During their visit, he recognises the man who runs the waxworks. He invites Sarah over and the two dig through his grandfather’s things in the attic. Mark eventually finds a newspaper detailing his grandfather’s gruesome murder, which includes a picture of the only suspect – David Lincoln, who looks suspiciously like the man from the waxworks despite not ageing a day in decades.

Mark and Sarah then enlist the help of Sir Wilfred (Patrick Macnee), an old friend of Mark’s grandfather. Sir Wilfred explains to them that Lincoln was Mark’s grandfather’s assistant. He had stolen a part of a collection that Mark’s grandfather had made.

The collection is unusual. Each item is a trinket from 18 of the most evil people of all time. Wilfred believes that Lincoln has sold his soul to the devil in order to raise these 18 beings back to life and bring on the apocalypse. And in order to raise the dead, Lincoln needs eighteen victims for his figures.

The kids head to the wax museum to set the remaining victim-less exhibits on fire. Conveniently there are two left, which means both Sarah and Mark each get pushed into an exhibit.

Mark finds himself in a black-and-white graveyard surrounded by a hoard of zombies. Though he eventually is able to escape the other world when he tells himself that the zombies and the world he’s in isn’t real.

He then jumps into the remaining exhibit where Sarah is being tortured by Marquis de Sade (and really seems to be enjoying it). He shows Sarah that what she’s experiencing is also fake, and she eventually decides to leave the faux French world with him.

But despite their best efforts, their idiot friends Gemma and James choose that moment to get their courage and enter the waxworks. They both immediately jump into the exhibits and die – meaning all 13 victims have been acquired.

Suddenly the exhibits come to life: both the victims and the evil beings. No fears, though, as Sir Wilfred arrives with a motley group of old men to help Mark and Sarah out.

As the group finishes off the evil beings, a fire starts in the waxworks. Seemingly only Mark and Sarah get out of the burning building alive… or are they?

And really, what a pleasurable, silly way to end this film.

They didn’t quite nail the pacing of the story, I think. Waxwork is quick to the kills, but it makes the mistake of getting rid of the two most memorable characters (China and Tony) straight away. While Galligan and Foreman are sweet, they don’t exactly have the bite that allows them to carry the movie by themselves, and that’s down to the screenwriting more than anything.

If anything Waxwork offers a unique premise in the slasher genre. There certain aren’t a lot of “let’s go to a wax museum and get murdered” films out there, so there’s that. Granted House of Wax exists, but I’m discounting that because it was released 35 years prior and is a different kettle of fish entirely.

But god did I love Waxwork. It was just the right amount of silliness and self-awareness that I love. You couldn’t have arrived any sooner, Zach.

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