When I was a kid, I loved the movie Gremlins. To be completely honest, I still love the movie to this very day, over twenty years later. I mean, really – what’s not to like about it? It was the perfect blend of horror and comedy. The creatures in it were fantastic, the characters were interesting, and the score was phenomenal. It was a true showcasing of industry talent, with some legendary names attached to it. Names like Rick Baker, Jerry Goldsmith, and Joe Dante – just to pick out a few. Aside from being one of the best Christmas movies ever made, Gremlins is a personal childhood favorite of mine. And I’m not the only one who feels this way. It was a pop culture bombshell upon its release and has been an influence on movies, television, and merchandising for decades after the fact. In a nutshell, Gremlins is absolute perfection.
But I digress. This is not an article about Gremlins. No, the short spiel that you just read was merely a segway. A spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. While the actual film that I’ll be discussing today does share a common lead actor with Gremlins, it is nowhere near to being of the same caliber. In fact, the two films really don’t have much else in common aside from both featuring Zach Galligan as the main protagonist. Well, on second thought, I suppose that’s not entirely true. They are also both creature features. They are both wacky and off-the-wall, and they are both quintessential products of the 1980s – but that really is where the similarities end.
Breaking the Mould
Waxwork came out in 1988 and, as previously mentioned, stars Zach Galligan in its leading role. This is especially relevant because Galligan’s presence is one of the most notable things about the film. You see, Waxwork has always managed to fly just underneath the radar. I had never even heard of it myself until I happened across it on Shudder recently. If I were to describe the movie to someone who has never seen it, one of the first points of interest that I would mention is that it has that dork from Gremlins in it. No, not Feldman – the other, older dork. Galligan aside, the cast of Waxwork also includes Deborah Foreman, Dana Ashbrook, and David Warner. It was distributed by Vestron Pictures and was a box office bomb, earning back only $808,114 of it’s 3.5 million dollar budget.
Waxwork was the first feature film to be directed by Anthony Hickox. Interestingly, Hickox hails from a genealogy that is positively steeped in the movie business. His father, Douglas Hickox, worked as a director on several pictures and carried an impressive filmography under his belt. His mother, Anne V. Coates, was an award-winning film editor, who had a career spanning 60 years. He is also the great-nephew of Lord J. Arthur Rank, who founded the Rank Organization – a company that practically dominated the British film industry for years. And what of his siblings, you may ask? Well, you guessed it: they also work in the film industry. His sister, Emma, followed in mom’s footsteps as a film editor. His brother James, like his dad and brother, is also a director. The whole damned family is just silly with the cinema, it seems. Go figure.
The Whole Ball of Wax
The plot synopsis of Waxwork sounds intriguing when presented in theory. A veritable rollercoaster ride of magic, monsters, and adventure. The story follows a group of high school friends, who are just looking for a fun way to pass the time. After receiving an invitation from a mysterious stranger, they decide to visit the new wax museum that he has just opened in town. Unbeknownst to them, the waxwork and its owner are hiding a dark secret. He is actually an evil sorcerer, who is bent on bringing about a voodoo apocalypse. The exhibits featured in his museum are secretly portals that open up into interdimensional pocket worlds.
Oh, but things only get worse for our young heroes from here. These pocket worlds happen to contain eighteen of the evilest characters to have ever existed. Monsters and madmen from across both history and fiction, that require blood sacrifices to bring them back into the world of the living. And guess what? Tonight, high school kids are on the menu. Sounds pretty intense, am I right? I definitely thought so. I mean, eighteen different horror creatures to gawk at? You can just shut up and take my money right now.
A Frighteningly Good Time
While the monsters that appear in the film may not be of the highest quality, the sheer volume of them more than compensate for their lack of production value. Waxwork is a rogue’s gallery of knock-off creatures. There is a Frankenstein’s Monster, who looks like he was stitched together from old leather handbags. A Dracula, who probably spends most of his free time playing in a Meatloaf cover band. A Wolfman, who was likely once used as an extra in The Howling. Hell, there are even zombies and a giant venus fly trap. Waxwork is a bona fide bombardment of popular movie villains.
The overall presentation of the film is nothing to write home about. It is generally acceptable in terms of its pacing, cinematography, and acting performances. There are no underlying themes to analyze – no attempt made to pass the product off as art. It simply is what it is. The special effects are pretty laughable, as well. For example, the film’s ‘wax sculptures’. They are extremely realistic. So much so, that you can actually watch them twitch and breathe as they desperately try to hold still for the camera. That is all part of the charm of Waxwork, though. It is absolute hilarity and I love it.
Waxwork is ridiculous, but that is the best thing about it. Like many other films of its kind, the simple fact that it is so bad is exactly what simultaneously makes it so good. The word of the day is entertainment, here folks. What else can I say? Any true horror fan who is worth their salt will, at the very least, appreciate this loving tribute to the genre. When all is said and done, Waxwork is no Gremlins – but it is still pretty darn good.(4 / 5)
If you enjoyed Tales from the Trash Bin – Waxwork (1988), please check out our other movie editorials, here.