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TTC: “Waxwork” (1988)

“Shit! It’s the old ‘door opening by itself’ thing!” ~~Mark Loftmore

Picture it: The ‘burbs, Anywhereville, Middle America, 1988. There are endless rows of prefab-esque homes with manicured lawns and sensible cars in the driveway. It’s the kind of neighborhood where your teens — your smoking, drinking, schtupping-anything-that-moves teens, the little darlings — can feel safe walking to school. Then people start disappearing and a wax museum pops open in Suburbia, and the curator (David Warner) invites the hormonal humpers to a “midnight showing.” Sure they can go! At least it’s not a strip club.

Hey, on the off chance they turn up as life-size wax figurines, just think how much you invisible movie parents (IMPs) will save on the grocery bill! Plus, you’ll never need to buy candles again, though figuring out how to get the wick in there will require ingenuity.

This may sound like every IMP’s worst nightmare, but it’s an Oscar-caliber concept for a film deserving a spot in the Terrifically Terrible Cinema lineup. Anthony Hickox’s “Waxwork” is an abominably amazing dog’s breakfast of Dead Teen-Ager Movie stereotypes, horror movie conventions, hackneyed dialogue (it is inspired crap), dreadful special effects (the blood is more “Cherries ‘n’ the Snow” than “Ravishing Red”) and costumes that put that ’70s era Godzilla suit to shame (the “werewolf” looks like the lovechild of Chewbacca and A Knight Who Until Recently Said “Ni”). However low these kinds of movies should go, “Waxwork” goes lower. With panache. By “panache,” I mean: This film contains a scene where someone, about to kill Dracula in bat form in an epic this-is-the-end-of-the-movie! smackdown, pipes up: “Make my day.” Shoutouts to Dirty Harry are rare — rare as functioning brain cells in a Kardashian sister — in horror films, so this reveals two things:

1) Hickox is committed to making his viewers laugh at any cost.
2) You’ve really made it as an entertainer when people are quoting you before going full “Gangland” on a teensy flying mammal. 

Before Dracula gets a bullet in his brainpan, there is the matter of how he got there. Or, rather, how the ‘burb teens ended up in this mess in the first place. There’s much fun to be had in the Meet-and-Greet, almost as much as there is the flaming End of Days finale. (No, really — all that’s missing is the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. Maybe they need new agents.) The erstwhile and comically self-aware “hero” of “Waxwork” is Mark (Zach Galligan, a dead ringer for a Zach Braff/Topher Grace hybrid), the poor, put-upon rich kid/nice guy who can’t even convince mummy to let him drink coffee. We know he has heart because he wears linen blazers. Mark’s inner circle includes China (Michelle Johnson), a wanton bad girl who asserts “I do what I want when I want. Dig it or fuck off”; Sarah (Deborah Foreman), the shy, well-mannered virgin (there’s no such thing as an hornery virgin); and Tony (Dana Ashbrook), the One Who Drinks. All decide the late-night museum showing can’t be that bad, and all end up sucked into the macabre wax scenes fighting for their lives against Dracula, and a werewolf, and a super-P.O.’d Egyptian mummy, and the Marquis de Sade.

Once the wax villains come onscreen, it’s all over but the guffawing. Hickox has no shame — no shame — and neither do any of the actors he’s appointed to this grand venture, who perform as if “nuance” is a shameful word. Michu Meszaros and Jack David Walker relish in the funny sidekickery as the Waxwork man’s henchmen (re: “velcome to Vaxvork”), and Galligan whips out the cheesy lines like “Guys, if I’m gonna play the hero here I need a little room” with a personable smirk. In fact, every line gets that kind of delivery because it’s the only kind that feels right. Everyone in the cast is aware how bad “Waxwork” is … and they’re happy about it. Which is as it should be.

Even Warner, a first-rate übervillain, gets his digs, remarking “They’ll make a movie about anything nowadays.” Yes. Yes they will. And that makes my day.

(Thanks go to Unrulytravller for this excellent recommendation.)

11 Responses

  1. Great review M. I especially enjoy your description of the werewolf a “the lovechild of Chewbacca and A Knight Who Until Recently Said “Ni.”” I laughed out loud when I read that. And your characterization of Mark is spot on too. I always saw him as the rich version of the Charlie Brewster character from “Fright Night”– another movie that could be added to TTC, with the exception that it is a pretty decent flick, minus of course the bad 80’s soundtrack and outfits, but hey, movies are a product of their time so there is nothing to be done with that.

  2. I always wanted to see this one as a kid and I never got to. Nothing is more entertaining than a ‘so bad it’s good’ flick and this seems to fit the bill. I will now have to continue my lifelong mission to watch it!

  3. I am watching Waxwork 2: Lost in Time right now, and I have to say it is pretty terrible. I haven’t decided if it’s terribly terrific or not, but I can’t stop laughing at it. You HAVE yo watch and review it ASAP.

    • I’m watching it tonight. It has time travel and a severed head in it – I declare it cannot be BAD bad!

  4. I think you will be surprised because my final verdict is that it is BAD bad. I hope you enjoy it more than I did.

  5. Excellent review. Not seen this film but I think I’ve got to check it out. That poster is one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen!

  6. This looks deliciously awful. I should check it out. Thanks for the review.

  7. I’m so happy to see this movie get some love– it’s a completely under-appreciated gem in B-grade horror comedy history. It’s imaginative and schlocky and too much fun to turn down– great review!

    • @ Dan — When you see the little dude from the poster on the screen, you’ll wet yourself.

      @ Edgar — It’s a little difficult to track down “Waxwork,” but it’s well worth the effort. After I saw the movie, I bought it. I plan to use it as my sunshine on cloudy days.

      @ Andrew — Hey, you’ve seen this! I didn’t think anybody but the guy who recommended it had seen “Waxwork”! Groovy. The movie is an absolute scream. Such a pity it was followed up by that BAD bad sequel.

  8. […] “Waxwork” (full review) — There are crappy films, and then there are films that revel and delight in […]

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