Waxwork is currently available on instant Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Waxwork (1988) – Rated R

“Invited over by a mysterious magician (David Warner), Mark (Zach Galligan) and his college friends attend a private tour of a macabre wax statue museum near campus, where the exhibits suck them into the frightening worlds of dangerous werewolves, vampires and other monsters. Full of satisfying suspense and gore, this inventive horror film finds Mark teaming up with unlikely allies in order to shut the waxwork down and escape with his life.”

“Can’t a girl get laid around here without being burned at the stake? “

Waxwork is a loving homage to the classic Universal monsters of the 30s and 40s. Instead of remaking them in earnest as Hammer did, Waxwork takes a page out of the previous year’s Monster Squad (1987) and lovingly pokes fun while employing standard horror tropes. As Kevin Williamson would so brilliantly do later in Scream, writer/director Anthony Hickox’ characters have some self-realization that they are in a horror movie.

The Waxwork setup allows Hickox to tell little individual horror stories while having them be more firmly interconnected than in portmanteau films like Tales from the Crypt or From Beyond the Grave. Be aware that it is not family friendly as Monster Squad, Waxwork is quite gory.

Acting is not particularly good with the group of young people (was that part of an homage to the slasher genre?). Zach Galligan is okay as spoiled rich brat Mark. Zach achieved fame with Gremlins (1984) and would do sequels to both Gremlins and this but not much else. Michelle Johnson, so gorgeous as the object of lust in Blame It on Rio (you know you’re something when co-star 21-year-old Demi Moore is considered the plain one), is quite pretty here as well but her acting is terrible. Deborah Foreman, the cute young star of Valley Girl, Real Genius, and April Fool’s Day, is quite engaging as the virgin Sarah. In spite of being young stars, none of the three would go on to do much else – perhaps Waxwork has a curse?

As with the Universal horror films, the acting is so much better with the villains. The best here is David Warner as the sinister owner of the Waxwork, Mr. Lincoln. Miles O’Keefe, once touted as the new Tarzan (1981) is a very urbane Count Dracula. John Rhys Davies is seen briefly as a tortured werewolf. J. Kenneth Campbell assays the legendary Marquis de Sade. Not a villain but Patrick (Avengers) MacNee is a welcome guest star.

Waxwork was one of the first films that died at the box office ($808,114 sales vs. $1.5 million in cost) but then achieved cult status on home video (~$20 million!).

People Watch: Look for an uncredited Kane Hodder (Jason Voorhees in many a Friday the 13th) as the Frankenstein Monster. Writer/director Anthony Hickox cameos as an English Prince.

Sequel-itis: Waxwork II: Lost in Time (1992), currently available on instant Netflix, is cute but fails to capture the magic and delicate balance of Waxwork. Zach Galligan and Patrick MacNee return and genre veterans David Carradine, Bruce Campbell, and Drew Barrymore co-star.