Finding itself in a fairly well viewed rotation of 80’s horror crap that would find itself regularly getting played on the old VHS, Anthony Hickox’s 1988 goof-fest Waxwork was a perennial favorite of my youth. Silly, gory and camper than Colleen Camp singing “Camptown Races” at a camp site, this bizarre, almost forgotten, romp of a horror/comedy was a product of Vestron Video, a fairly dependable 80’s label that churned out many a trashy cult classic back in the day and Waxwork was no different.
A gleefully immature monster mash that assigns itself the quest to smush as many classic creatures from cinema into it’s run time, the film is one whole tenuous excuse to feature everything from the usual monster entries (werewolves, vampires, mummys, zombies) to the impressively vague (the killer baby from Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive is referenced as is Audrey II from Little Shop Of Horrors) and as a result turns out to be the best kind of hot mess…
Mark is a rich kid making his way through life while dealing with his petty problems. His butler (yes, butler) sneaks him the coffee and cigarettes that his mother has banned him from and he’s constantly feuding with China, his on again, off again girlfriend who recently has currently announced they are “off” by dating the head of the football team. Rounding off their little group is mousey virgin Sarah and mouthy jokester Tony and one night they all choose to visit a mysterious Waxworks that, for some reason, has opened up in the middle of the neighbourhood and that is run by the sinister David Lincoln (we know he’s sinister because he’s played by David Warner), but this is no ordinary waxwork. Every effigy is of an evil creature throughout history and to step into the display means you get magically transported into a pocket dimention where if the creature kills you in it’s themed scenario then it owns your soul and if Lincoln manages to get a victim for each of his 18 displays then everything will come to life and spread their evil across the globe. Tony and China get taken out first, by getting nibbled on by a werewolf and Dracula respectively, but Mark and Sarah managed to leave without suspecting that their friend list has dropped sharply by two, but soon get paranoid that they’ve been kidnapped and boiled in wax or whatever (they wish) and try to get the police involved. When that decision leads to a suspicious detective getting buried alive by a Mummy in an Egyptian tomb (a somewhat novel way to get taken down while working a case to be sure), the two “teens” try to take measures into their own hands armed with a bundle of exposition from family friend Sir Wilfred, and so they attempt to save the world while avoiding the snapping teeth of zombies or the snapping whip of the Marquis De Sade who’s display areas both still need victims…
Even taking into account that Waxwork is Anthony Hickox’s first film in a subsequent career of 90’s horror sequels, there’s a noticable, rough around the edges, anything-goes aspect about the supremely dorky Waxwork that I’ve always found oddly appealing. The concept is utter nonsense, the leads are noticably too old to be average college teens (Gilligan was 24 for Christ’s sake) and the plotting feels like the script was roughed out in biro on a napkin, but there’s something genuinely endearing about this strange little film with an even stranger concept.
You can tell that the director is having huge fun giving all these classic monsters and maniacs an absurd makeover and the idea of giving each creature it’s own little vignette turns out to be pretty inspired as it breaks the film up and allows it to play with differing styles in a hugely entertaining way despite an obviously limiting budget.
Hoovering up as much of said budget as he can is Hellraiser and Dog Soldiers special effects guru Bob Keen who unleashes an army of rubbery creatures, a gorgeous fucking werewolf and some impressive gore effects which sees a Mummy stamping out a dude’s skull like a cigarette, or some luckless schmuck getting spectacularly torn right down the middle by a lycanthope.
It’s this relentlessly adolescent mindset that allows the movie to sail through it’s weaker moments (there’s a good chance they gathered up the test audience for this movie from a creche), the sets all suspiciously look the same size whether it’s a remote cabin in the woods, a vampire’s basement or a Mummy’s tomb and the Marquis De Sade segment (fittingly) looks like it was shot on a dodgy porn set, but 80’s horror is all about stretching your vision beyond your means.
Making up for the odd wonky performance and stiffly choreographed fight are neat roles for I’ll-be-in-anything stalwarts David Warner, John Rhys-Davies and Patrick Macnee who delightfully chew the scenery while they pick up an easy paycheck and it’s a legitimate joy to have them and even the director steps in by humbly cameoing as an English Prince.
Ultimately it’s this sense of a group of people making a silly movie that features popping vampire heads and a death by wine rack that wins out and because it looks so fun to make it manages to rub off onto the viewing experience too and it all comes to an appropriately ridiculous head when Hickox’s script goes full Blazing Saddles and ends in a massive fist fight between the evil creatures and a mob of unconvincing looking old people rounded up by Macnee who slowly charges into battle in a motorised wheelchair. It’s the moment where the film truly reveals what it wants to be – willfully stupider than a bus full of Ralph Wiggums – and while it does chafe with the film’s rare serious scenes (Deborah Forman’s Sarah experiencing her first orgasm at the taste of De Sade’s lash is actually quite well acted but also feels a tad out of place in a movie where a little person is fed to a carnivorous plant) it totally completes the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink, carnival of fucking weird that Hickox is obviously shooting for.
Childish, riotous and definately not everyone’s cup of tea, Waxwork is nevertheless a genuinely sweet entry in that rare brand of movie that takes a bunch of familiar movie monsters and crams them into a single film without a single worry about how silly it all gets.
Somehow, it waxworks…