Some movies are timeless. Classics like The Exorcist, Halloween, or even Jaws are as fresh today as they were on the day they were made. Other movies, like 976-EVIL, Evilspeak, and Nightmares are products of their time, snapshots of the era in which they were conceived. Made in 1988, Waxwork is another one of these time capsule movies.
Waxwork is about six college kids – Mark (Zach Galligan from Gremlins and Hatchet III), Sarah (Deborah Foreman from April Fool’s Day and Valley Girl), China (Michelle Johnson from Dr. Giggles), Tony (Dana Ashbrook from “Twin Peaks” and Late Phases), James (Eric Brown from “Mama’s Family”), and Gemma (Zombie High’s Clare Carey) – who are invited to visit a pop-up after hours wax museum at midnight by its strange proprietor (David Warner from The Omen and Body Bags). When they arrive, they are greeted by a tiny man named Hans (Mihaly “Michu” Mesza, who portrayed the title character on “ALF”), who lets them roam free among the exhibits. As they explore, each gets sucked into a different exhibit, living out the scene until they become a permanent part of it. Mark and Sarah figure out what’s going on in time to save themselves, but in what may be the biggest mistake of their lives, they return the next night to try and save their friends.
Written and directed by Anthony Hickox (Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth), Waxwork is sort of like an anthology movie with a coherent feel to it. Each person that steps into a display winds up becoming a part of it, so they live out the stories depicted within about werewolves, vampires, mummies, even the Marquis de Sade. So, on the surface, Waxwork is about the kids, but the movie is made up of a handful of different segments that are all wrapped together by the wax museum. It’s like an anthology film with a very elaborate wraparound.
And Waxwork is a total work of the eighties. From the fluffy hairstyles to the flipped-collared clothing, from the hazy soft lighting to the unashamed chain smoking, everything about the film is a product of the “me” decade. There’s even a detective (played by Slaves of New York’s Charles McCaughlin) who seems to have come from the Sonny Crockett school of law enforcement, where he plays his own game of good-cop-bad-cop, mostly being a douchebag but still showing moments of “Fonzie” cool. Between its overall visual aesthetic and its brainlessly corny dialogue, there’s no doubt that Waxwork is an eighties movie, through and through.
Another aspect of Waxwork that tips its hand as to when it was made is the makeup effects. The creature effects are all practical, with each monster played by a real actor or stuntman, so the film is packed with cool looking werewolves, mummies, and vampires. The werewolf, designed by Steve Hardie (Nightbreed), is particularly impressive, looking like something out of a screen test for An American Werewolf in London or The Howling. In addition to the creatures, Waxwork also boasts some fun, Karo syrupy gore gags that feature buckets of blood and more than a few missing body parts. Even the special effects in Waxwork scream eighties.
The score for Waxwork was composed by Roger Bellon (The Unholy, Final Jeopardy), and it is also unabashedly eighties-sounding. It’s an electronic synthesizer score, with pulsing chord stings and biting melodic passages, and while most of it isn’t very remarkable, the title theme is probably the most recognizable piece of music from the eighties that listeners still won’t be able to figure out where they’ve heard it. So next time someone is trying to stump you with an eighties horror theme, say Waxwork. You might be right.
There are good movies, and there are fun movies. While Waxwork may not exactly be a good movie, it’s definitely a fun one. And it may be a product of the eighties, but at least it’s not a cookie-cutter slasher.