Anthony Hickox’s Waxwork comes in the vein of many horror thrillers before it, like Mystery of the Wax Museum or House of Wax, but this 1988 film is stylistically much different from those predecessors. That’s mostly due to its humor and its anthological style, almost a series of vignettes about classic monsters combined into one encompassing story about a scary wax museum caretaker and his plot to give his wax sculptures life. Inanity ensues, as it should from this kind of concept – Hickox has fun with the premise, allowing lots of horror tropes to shine through in a low-budget film that is, while entertaining, not the most well-made cinematic endeavor.
The film follows a group of friends who decide to enter the appropriately named Waxwork museum, only to find out the horrors within. In this case, the horrors aren’t just the spooky figures on display or the creepy caretaker (David Warner) who runs the place; it’s also the attractive allure of the displays, drawing people close and then sucking them into the scene, most of which resemble some sort of Hammer Horror set. Once his friends go missing, Mark (Zach Galligan) and the girl-next-door Sarah (Deborah Foreman) go looking for them, first cluing in detectives to their disappearance after a visit to the museum and then, with nothing left to lose, setting out to find them in their own scary wax scenes.
Hickox’s setup is probably one of the simplest ways of writing a horror movie, but it’s surprising how effective Waxwork can be when it comes to its short excursions into the wax scenery. Because each wax depiction is different – ranging time periods and settings – Hickox is able to deliberately change the pacing and tone of each scene as the film progresses, an option that most directors don’t get unless working in an anthology format. Waxwork boasts werewolves, mummies, and vampires, hitting the traditional mark of horror; but it also ventures into experimental territory, diving into a tale about the Marquis de Sade (J. Kenneth Campbell) and the complex territory of BDSM.
This gives Waxwork a significantly more fun atmosphere than if the wax simply came to life, and Hickox runs with each scene – not only changing the tone of the film’s vignettes, but also the soundtrack. He also adds buckets of blood, sometimes literally drenching the sets with gore. Waxwork isn’t the smartest film by any stretch of the imagination, and it truthfully has little to say thematically besides a rather trite look at Mark’s change from douche rich kid to a lovable hero who finds more relationship material with the cute Sarah rather than the sultry China (Michelle Johnson), but it’s easy to overlook those qualities when the film is continually pelting the viewer with solid horror movie references and carnage. Hickox even opts for black-and-white in homage to George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, an easy reference but one that works well.
The movie does suffer from its lower budget at times, though, primarily in its final fight sequence with multiple wax characters and Sir Wilfred’s (Patrick Macnee) merry band of waxwork fighters. The script, while serviceable, is one of the film’s weakest aspects, full of cringe-worthy one-liners and an emphasis on making even somewhat tense scenes into comedy bits. Ultimately, these aren’t major detractions, but they are noticeable in a film that doesn’t have much to offer in terms of storyline except various throwbacks to retro horror.
But those callbacks are the real reason why horror fans have kept Waxwork in their hearts even 28 years later, despite problematic dialogue and a nonsensical plot. Hickox’s film is gleefully simple, enthusiastically bloody, and viewers will find much to love about its headfirst dive into the annals of horror. Waxwork has been preserved well, and it’s a treat for fans.
Click page 2 for Waxwork II: Lost in Time review.