Anthony Hickox, Writer and Director of Waxwork, is the son of Douglas Hickox, a prolific British Director who most notoriously directed Oliver Reed in Sitting Target, Vincent Price in Theatre of Blood and John Wayne in Brannigan, and Anne V. Coates, a famous Editor who won an Oscar for Lawrence of Arabia (his brother and sister work in the cinema industry respectively too as Director and Editor). He is also a B-movies/classic horror films fan and therefore when he got the opportunity to work on his first project at the end of the 80s, it’s no surprise that it took the shape of a highly referential horror movie which compensated for the lack of budget and time allocated with a devoted love to the classic figures of the genre.
Waxwork follows friends Mark (Zach Galligan, Gremlins), China (Michelle Johnson, Blame It on Rio), Sarah (Deborah Foreman, Valley Girl), Tony (Dana Ashbrook, Twin Peaks) as they visit a waxwork museum which has recently opened in their town. Invited to a special midnight viewing by the museum's mysterious owner, the group arrive and are led through various displays containing characters from famous horror stories. However, the gang soon find themselves in a fight to survive as the exhibits come alive and start pulling them into the gruesome scenes they portray.
Waxwork cleverly elaborates on an idea created by Screenwriter Charles Belden for Michael Curtiz’s 1933 film Mystery of the Wax Museum, the idea of wax figures being, or having been, alive, later ingenuously re-imagined in 3D by André De Toth (despite being one-eyed!) in his 1953’s House of Wax with Vincent Price (the latter was also remade by Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan) in 2005).
On this rather basic setting, Hickox creates a declaration of love to Horror cinema which summons classic monsters from Dracula to the Mummy and, in the purest 80s Spielberg tradition, confronts them to suburban teenagers. This clever aspect allows the audience to identify with these unexpected heroes who are literally transported into famous horrific set-pieces. The mini stories reserved for these sequences are not really elaborated but they allow Hickox to save time by appealing to the knowledge of its audience, supposed to share the same references as him. Furthermore, although Waxwork seems to take on the appearance of an anthology film during its first half, it features an original plot which subsequently unfolds to lead a wider universe.
If Hickox can be blamed for not making the best use of all the figures he convokes, it is difficult to accuse him of trying to measure himself against the works to which he refers. As mentioned in the film’s end credits, Waxwork was "dedicated to: Hammer, Argento, Romero, Dante, Landis, Spielberg, Wells, Carpenter, Mum and Dad, and many more...". Hickox’s intentions were very clear from the start: devoting a whole film to pay tribute to the works or personalities that marked him was a spontaneous initiative (he wrote his script in three days) and he was always conscious of his own limits. He shows great deference to these illustrious ancestors and seeks at best not to ridicule them, while resorting to a second constant degree preserving him from all pretension. The connection with the audience becomes even more natural, and not forced as in some of the films produced nowadays. It was not the first time this had been done (Fred Dekker released his Monster Squad just a year before) but this trend, in which Waxwork inscribed itself, differed greatly from that of the fanboys because of their true humility, reflected in a second degree emphasising the communion of the director with his public and the consciousness of a director.
Hickox was also lucky enough to surround himself with great technicians such as Bob Keen (Hellraiser), responsible for some sumptuous special effects, in particular for the Werewolf and Dracula stories, and a enticing cast including David Warner (The Omen), in the role of the Waxwork Man, and Patrick Macnee (The Howling) in the role of Sir Wilfrid, after Michael Gough, Sir Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Donald Pleasence were considered.
Waxwork is a generous B-movie aimed at nothing else than having fun by sharing a common love for iconic monsters of the Cinema, without any form of self-satisfaction.
Waxwork was released in the UK by Lionsgate Home Entertainment, part of its new Vestron Video Collector's Series label (already available for some time in the US) on 28th August.
Waxwork is presented in a 1080p transfer respecting its original 1.85:1 ratio. Overall the quality of the image is very good, especially both day sequences at the beginning of the film and darker ones in the wax museum, and there are only some instances where the level of details appears less strong (I’ve noted one in particular between Mark and Sarah ¾ into the movie). The level of grain seemed to have been softened but this will most likely appeal to some viewers. In any case, kudos to Lionsgate Home Entertainment For allowing audiences to rediscover this minor cult classic in very good condition.
On the sound side, the Blu-ray disc features one audio track, English DTS-HD MA Stereo which, despite not being especially powerful, works efficiently allowing to greatly appreciate the various atmospheres of the mini stories. I haven’t noticed any defects or distortions. The disc also features optional English subtitles for the Hearing Impaired.
The Waxwork disc offers a nice variety of extras:
Audio Commentary with Anthony Hickox & Zach Galligan (no subtitles)
This is a rather fun audio commentary track, in English Dolby Digital Stereo, which features numerous anecdotes about the film and allows to witness the friendship between the director and his star.
Isolated Score & Audio interview with Composer Roger Belon (no subtitles)
This is a track in English Dolby Digital Stereo introduced by Michael Felcher, Owner and Operator of Red Shirt Pictures. It features an interesting interview of Roger Belon (the Highlander TV series) and the score of Waxwork.
The Waxwork Chronicles (1 hour 22 min, no subtitles)
This is an excellent retrospective documentary separated in six segments:
- Museum & Portals (20 min)
- Through the Looking Glass (13 min)
- An Eye for Details (9 min)
- Mark’s Magic Ride (7 min)
- Faces in the Crowd (17 min)
- Blood and Wax (16 min)
It features recent interventions from the following cast and crew members:
- Anthony Hickox (Writer/Director)
- Christopher Cibelli (Editor)
- Staffan Ahrenberg (Producer)
- Bob Keen (Special Make-up Effects Supervisor)
- Steve Hardie (Special Make-up Effects on Waxwork and Production Designer on Waxwork II: Lost in Time)
- Zach Galligan (“Mark”)
- Paul Martin (Production Assistant on Waxwork and First Assistant Director on Waxwork II: Lost in Time)
- Monika Schnarre (“Sarah” in Waxwork II: Lost in Time)
- John Chichester (Art Director)
- Paul Jones (Special Make-up Effects)
- Bruce Campbell (“John Loftmore”)
- Dana Ashbrook (“Tony”)
- Christopher Bradley (“Stephan”)
- Kenneth Campbell (“Marquis de Sade”)
- David Carradine (“The Beggar“)
The Waxwork Chronicles covers numerous elements from the origins of the project to the cinematography and special effects. If features also some extracts of the Making of Waxwork. The sequel, Waxwork II: Lost In Time is also profusely discussed and numerous extracts are showed (most likely because, in the US, both films were released as a bundle).
The Making of Waxwork (24 min, no subtitles)
This is an archival promotional making of created for the release of the first movie in 1988. Fun but obviously less detailed than The Waxwork Chronicles.
The disc also offers the theatrical trailer of the film, in SD, and a substantial stills gallery.