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Waxwork is a fun horror flick written and directed by Anthony Hickox that imbues the lighter toned, more colorful style of horror flicks that were made in the second half of the 80s like Fright Night and some of the later Elm Street sequels.
The story has a group of college kids including Mark (Zach Galligan), his ex, China (Michelle Johnson), Sarah (Deborah Foreman) and Tony (Dana Ashbrook) being invited to a special midnight viewing at a new waxwork that has opened, oddly, in the middle of a suburban neighborhood. The invitation is extended by it’s mysterious owner Mr. Lincoln (David Warner) himself. All the fiends of fiction and fact are represented, such as Dracula (Miles O’Keeffe), The Wolfman (John Rhys-Davies) and the Marquis de Sade (J.Kenneth Campbell). But what our young visitors don’t know, is that through the darkest magic, each display must claim a living victim and once they all do, the represented horrors will take real form and enter our world to commit their evils upon mankind. Can these youths escape and save our world from it’s worst nightmares come true?
Hickox crafts a fun horror that certainly doesn’t skimp on the blood and gore. His plot enables the intended victims to enter a portal into the world of the subject it’s display represents, so his co-eds and characters can come face to face with Dracula, The Mummy and the cruel and lustful Marquis. The results can be deviously gruesome until our leads figure out what is going on and then try to stop the diabolical Lincoln and his plan, which then culminates in a fun free-for-all between the fiends of lore and a group of armed monster fighters led by our remaining students and the Van Helsing-like Sir Wilfred (Patrick Macnee), who knew Mark’s grandfather. The only thing that takes this entertaining monster movie down a few pegs…and some of Hickox’s other films…is that the writer/director can be heavy handed with the humor. For the most part there is an even mix of gruesome, scary and campy fun, but occasionally things get silly right in the middle of a scene that should be a bit more intense. There are some delightfully gory sequences and the gore and make-up is well done, but then we get something more of a slapstick nature that neuters the effect of the more intense moments, especially during the last act brawl. For the most part things are evenly mixed and this rates as Hickox best and probably most renown of his flicks. Some of the director’s later films, including the sub-par Waxwork sequel, get very heavy handed with the humor and it out weighs the horror elements quite a bit. At least here, it is only occasional. There is some nice suspense, too, especially in the first half when we are finding out the true sinister purpose of the wax museum and it is all very colorful under Gerry Lively’s lens. And the sequences inside the various worlds of the monsters that dwell in them are the best parts.
The cast are fine though I felt the younger members could have been a bit livelier, especially in the earlier scenes. Galligan plays the rich playboy Mark who finds the hero inside himself when he discovers there is a personal involvement for him in stopping Lincoln’s sinister plan. Deborah Foreman is cute and feisty as the girl next door, who secretly crushes on Mark and shows an interesting hidden side when thrust into the Marquis de Sade’s world. Johnson is sexy and snooty as China and she shows some real fire when she finds herself at a dinner party at Dracula’s castle, the film’s most gruesome segment. Dana Ashbrook is fine as the stereotypical wiseass, Tony. David Warner is top notch, as always, as the villainous Lincoln and Patrick Macnee is a pleasure, also, as always, as the paranormal expert and monster hunter Sir Wilfred. As for our legendary fiends, O’Keeffe, Rhys-Davies and Campbell and the rest all represent their monsters well in their sequences. A good enough cast who rise to the occasion when things get interesting.
I like Waxwork. It’s fun and gruesome at the same time and get’s things right more than it stumbles. Some of the humor gets a bit heavy handed and silly at times, but for the most part, the mix of humor and horror is fine. The veterans of the cast shine and while there could have been a bit more spark in our college co-eds, they do come through when their characters find themselves in situations from their worst nightmares…or desires. A fun flick and sadly a stride Hickox would never really hit again except for the entertaining Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth. There was a sadly inferior direct to DVD sequel Waxwork II: Lost In Time four years later.
3 (out of 4) surprisingly pro-de Sade heroines.
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