Friday, January 28, 2011

Review: 'Waxwork'

Woo hoo! A sextet of 30-year-old high school students accepts curator David Warner’s invitation to his wax museum. They each end up getting sucked through the various exhibits into other dimensions where they must face off against a werewolf, Dracula, zombies, the mummy, and the Marquis de Sade.

Directed by Anthony Hickox, the son of Theatre of Blood-director Douglas Hickox, Waxwork (1988) is a gushing mash note to the golden age of monster movies. Part Universal Monster homage, part old dark house mystery, part Amicus portmanteau, part teens-get-systematically-slaughtered flick, Waxwork chomps off more than it can chew, but it’s still a highly enjoyable trot through some 70 years of horror clichés. Too bad it was made in the ‘80s when camp was at its most self-consciously ham-handed and B-movie aesthetics were overly dictated by music videos; there’s no shortage of crayola lighting and shitty synthesizer music here, kids. The tone is all over the place, with the tongue-in-cheek wraparound story clashing with the weirdly serious parallel-dimension monster episodes (the best being a way-too-brief black and white homage to Night of the Living Dead).

Still there are a few top-notch visual jokes, as when one of Dracula’s brides gets impaled on a wine rack and a bunch of champagne bottles froth over through her torso like gushing blood. The bad dialogue is fun but rarely funny, the best lines coming during the spectacular, climactic monster mash when Warner brings all of his exhibits to life to dispatch the survivors, and Patrick Macnee leads a horde of garden tool-wielding villagers against them. The cast is a dizzying parade of cult character actors: Warner (Time After Time), Macnee as a wheelchair-bound Van Helsing (a sly reference to Mother from the Tara King-era of “The Avengers” perhaps?), Zach Galligan (Gremlins) as the rich kid, Deborah Foreman (Valley Girl) as the good girl, Michelle Johnson (Blame It on Rio) as the bad girl, Dana Ashbrook (“Twin Peaks”) as the doofus, and John Rhys-Davies (Raiders of the Lost Ark) as the werewolf, which looks like it was sloppily recycled from special effects leftover from An American Werewolf in London. Shambling as it may be, Waxwork is a thoroughly original use of totally unoriginal material and a much better use of your time than anything starring a homicidal hockey goalie.

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