Friday, September 11, 2009

Hidden Gem: Waxwork (1988)

Trying another new segment here. This is for severely overlooked horror films, even by fan standards.

Now, there were certainly some gems in the late 80's, that's for sure. They ranged from the outrageously cheesy (Night of the Demons) to the fantastic (The Serpent and the Rainbow), but if there was one overlooked camp classic to sneak in at the end of the decade, Waxwork is in my eyes most assuredly it.

The film is directed by Anthony Hicox, who would go on to direct Waxwork II: Lost in Time and Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth. It stars Zach Galligan (Gremlins 1&2), Deborah Foreman (April Fool's Day), John Rhys-Davies (Lord of the Rings, Raiders of the Lost Ark) and the always epic David Warner (In the Mouth of Madness, TRON, The Omen).

The focus of the movie is, obviously, a Waxwork. But whereas I went in expecting another ol' dip the bodies in wax to hide them type of movie, I was pleasantly surprised to find a rather awesome new take. This is a campy supernatural film, and the true plot is that the owner of the Waxwork wants to unleash hell on earth by offering up victims to his horror-themed wax exhibits. When the people step through the exhibit, they step into the world inhabited by that specific character. Dracula's victim finds herself in a castle, the werewolf's victim in a forest, etc. Now, one would think this would shift to play like an anthology film, but the plot remains surprisingly coherent throughout.

The plot point that sealed the deal for me, however, was the one spot where the film truly rose above just being a campy 80's monster movie. The heroine, Sara, is very sexually repressed and instead of having her simply do battle with a burly monster at the end, Hicox instead explores the theme throughout. Sara clearly has desires of her own. Desires that may even go a step further than what her friends are doing. For example, the wax figure that captivates her most is not The Count, nor Frankenstein's Monster, nor the Phantom of the Opera... it's the Marquis de Sade. A figure she nearly seems to idolize... until she meets him face to face.

Of course, any 1980's monster pic depends heavily on its gore and effects, and this film has these by the buckets. The special effects are done by Bob Keene, the genius who worked on the early Hellraiser films.

So, while Waxwork may not take its spot amongst the classics, it does explore some interesting themes when it wants to. What can truly be expected here is simply good, clean, messy fun. It is, just as the tagline reads, "more fun than a barrel of mummies."

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