An immortal David Warner tries to bring on the end of the world by killing people with wax museum exhibits. Zach Galligan, Bobby Briggs, and the perpetual 80s teen Deborah Foreman play three of a group of six potential victims who are invited to a private midnight showing at the museum. John Rhys-Davies cameos as a werewolf, and Patrick Macnee is a monster hunter. As each person disappears into the exhibits’ dimensions one by one, they get to experience a sort of “be careful what you wish for” scenario, whether it’s a wish for a sophisticated lover, a secret fetish, and interest in a certain period of history, or simply to get back an item they dropped on the wrong side of the velvet rope. All the Dude ever wanted was his rug back.
Every time I watch Waxwork, the only thing I retain until the next time is the revolting steak tartare scene, and the Marquis De Sade scene. And every time, I wish the movie was over about 40 minutes in, but then I wait until the final battle at the end and I think, “this is awesome; why did I wish it was over?” I believe this is because of bad pacing. This could have been an amazing anthology (and I hate anthologies for the most part, so I’m not saying this lightly) about each person’s demise by exhibit, if the trips into the other worlds had been longer, more serious, and trippy. But me, I always wish everything was more trippy, so you can discount that opinion.
Instead, we have diversions about a bad romance, a questionable professor at the victims’ college, a pointless police investigation, plagiarism, snobbery, and probably some elements I’ve forgotten. There was a good idea about bringing on the end of the world that could have used more attention, if not just focusing on the individual private hells and forgetting about the apocalypse.
But here are my two or three main problems with this admittedly enjoyable piece of 80s cheese, and they’re all personal rather than objective critiques like the pacing. First of all, what does every movie villain hope to attain by bringing on the end of the world? Is the Dark Lord or whoever going to thank you and let you live a nice life, or is he going to destroy you too? Even if you are rich and powerful now, you’re living in a shitty end of the world scenario where highly fashionable punk rockers on motorcycles fight over gasoline. Secondly, I absolutely hate to attend haunted house/funhouse thingies because I startle so easily I need a nerve pill after the thing is over. I went to one, once, when I was a college freshman, and let me tell you that running through the woods being chased by frat boys with chainsaws is a good way to turn an ankle, or at least mess up your shoes. And I will unfriend anyone who thinks it’s a funny joke to hide behind a tree or a parked car and leap out at me in the dark. Thirdly, why do all late 80s/early 90s movies feature an ensemble cast of mostly forgettable actors making wisecracks that aren’t very clever, and daytime scenes in which too much light is coming through a window or blinds?
If you like Waxwork, or even if you have a love/hate relationship with it, see also: Hauntedween, Hell House LLC, and The House That Dripped Blood, which is an old anthology in which Peter Cushing stars in a good wax museum segment.
At the moment, Waxwork is free on Vudu with ads, or available with a Prime subscription. It has its problems, but it’s pretty well preserved for an 80s movie in terms of effects.