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.)

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