Friday, September 16, 2011

Waxwork Review

This movie is silly, with a capital S-I to the L-L-Y.  Everything from the wax figures (that are clearly actors working as hard as they can to stand still), to the classically trained cast easily fit to perform Shakespeare but got wrangled into something significantly worse; this movie.  But does that mean I don’t like it?  Hell no!  I love it!  It captures the horror genre of the 80s perfectly.  It also pays homage to so many other horror classics.  Though the film does not end up being about what you might expect a movie called Waxwork to be about, it manages to leave you feeling thoroughly entertained in all the right ways.

David Warner is David Lincoln, a man who sold his soul to the devil for power and immortality.  His waxwork is filled with demonic wax figures, hungry for the souls of mortals.  We first meet Lincoln seducing a group of college students (sounds like a wild Saturday night jailbait monster mash if you ask me) to come view his wax collection, in hopes of turning them all into wax monsters (and no, I am not talking about THAT wax collection of his, you perverts).  Once he fills his quota of exhibits, he will turn them all into living monsters and use them to destroy the world.  Of Course!!!

"Would you fine young ladies care to come inside for a lick of my snozberry?"
Like most so-bad-it’s-good movies, the cast is beyond belief.  I always find it amazing how often the best actors are on the front of the line of the soup kitchen when in fact they really belong at the dining table of the immortal bard.  David Warner is (as always) my favorite example of this concept.  He’s been in the acting business for almost fifty years, starting out as a Shakespearian actor.  He moved onto film and television in the mid to late 60’s, having performed in various BBC television movies.  Sometime towards the 70’s, David became a regular in the horror genre (most notably, 1976’s The Omen).  I suppose it makes logical sense for any actor to leave the theatre; even the best of Shakespeare’s minions need to eat, and there are very few venues that will pay you for acting in the theatre.  Unless you like rat soup with pickles fermented in pussy juice (and on occasion I do).  With this in mind, I recommend glancing over Warner’s credentials.  He has one of the most diverse and long running resumes I have seen for an actor in the past fifty years, and he’s been appearing in everything since before Nicholas Cage made it cool to do so.  

Despite how absurd the character or the story he is performing behaves, he throws himself into the role as though it were Richard the 2rd (interestingly enough, he played the starring role in England).  Even when he knows the rolls he is playing are complete shit, he sure does have fun performing them.  This has never been more evident than here, in Waxwork.  He can deliver a cheesy one liner with more sincerity than Helena Bonham Carter at a baby eating convention.  Even seriously reciting the line “They’ll make a movie about anything these days” when told that the Phantom of the Opera has been adapted to the big screen on several occasions.  Ignore the fact that Warner’s character is a century old wizard and should know a tad bit about pop culture.  He delivers the obnoxiously silly line without cracking a sneer.  I sometimes wonder if he even knows how undignified the parts he plays are, but it really doesn’t matter.  He makes them dignified.  And in a movie filled with silly one liners, self parodying jokes and living wax figures, it helps to have a sturdy anchor like Warner on your set. 

The monsters are very memorable.  Even if they do not look “real” they sure do look scary, or at least intriguing.  Take the Wolf Man for example.  John Rhys-Davies plays the wax figure of a werewolf.  Like all the other figures, he has his own exhibit that comes to life when someone stumbles into it.  One of the first victims in the film, being an idiot, does just this and falls into the werewolf dimension (did I just call it the Werewolf’s Dimension?  I’d like to see a movie about that).  The werewolf transformation sequence is quite silly.  And though the monster’s mouth and features barely move (it’s more of a mask than a prosthetic or animatronic), it still looks pretty cool.  The other monsters are pretty out of sight as well. There is a snake person, a talking plant that actually begs you to feed it ala Little Shop of Horrors, vampires, a plethora of zombies, and many other supernatural baddies.  I love every single one of these monsters, mostly because I love looking at the makeup and special effects used to create them.  Thankfully this film was shot in the 80s.  I’d hate to see what they would do if it were shot today; everything would be CGI.  And I hate the overuse of CGI for low budget movies.  Don’t worry Asylum Films, your day is coming soon.

The climax of this film is one of the best I have seen in a while; it’s a battle between mythical monsters and old people.  You heard me right, mythical monster versus the elderly.  I know I sound like I am being a critical creature, but I do not exaggerate.  In the last half hour of the film, Zach Galligan and Deborah Foreman are trapped in the waxwork.  They are forced to watch the wax figures come to life and when they do, they will kill the two and destroy the world.  So tell me, when faced with the threat of apocalyptic death, what is the first thing you would pray to come and save you?  Perhaps a team of well trained samurai?  Or a band of magic wielding demon hunters weathered by centuries of combat?  You’d be completely wrong of course.  

The correct answer is a gaggle of geriatrics armed with guns, swords, motor broncos and walkers.  Sir Wilfred, an old man in a motor bronco played by John Steed himself, Patrick Macnee, is the character responsible for rounding up this brave collection of souls.  He has been preparing to battle David Warner for decades, and finally, now at the brink of the apocalypse, these long toothed heroes have their chance to use their cunning and their canes to destroy the monsters and save the world.  They succeed of course, (which says a lot about the durability of these world ending wax figures) marking a wonderful period in horror cinema history where a film carries a subliminal message about the importance of gerontological studies.  The band of aging soldiers blow up the waxwork and everything inside, how more fantastical can an ending get?  Perhaps if the only thing to survive the explosion besides our two heroes was the crawling hand of a wax zombie, leaving enough room for a sequel? (and a sequel there was.  Trust me friends, that blog will come soon).  What an ending.

Mrs. Peel, We're Needed

Waxwork’s strongest element is its self-parodies and references.  Because each exhibit is a scene from an iconic horror movie (The Wolf Man, Dracula, the Mummy, Phantom of the Opera, Night of the Living Dead and many more classic gems) there are a great deal of sequences that recapture the various different styles of horror of each designated film.  This makes Waxwork feel rather like an anthology film or a showcase of horror, where various different monsters get an opportunity to entertain the audience the best they can.  There is very little fright within the waxwork itself however, because the figures cannot actually hurt you.  You must be thrown into the exhibits for them to be able to do anything.  This is not exactly what I pictured in my head when I first heard the title.  What did you picture?  I thought of a movie with a bunch of wax models that come to life and killed people; or a place where people are covered in wax and turned into exhibits.  As it turns out, both of these scenarios are true for this film, but the focus of the film is more on the battle against the magical dark forces.

I highly recommend Waxwork for any audience interested in having a good laugh.     With memorable monsters, a wonderful cast and a very epic finale, this film is most definitely worth a hearty round of applause from the peanut gallery.

One final note.  I love this guy.  Can I take him home and keep him please?

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