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Case Number 03540: Small Claims Court

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Waxwork / Waxwork II: Lost In Time

Artisan // 1991 // 204 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron (Retired) // November 12th, 2003

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All Rise...

The Charge

I'll stop the world and melt with you

The Case

A bunch of meddling kids show up late one night to a gothic Waxworks (conveniently located near their Junior College campus, which itself is smack dab in the middle of upper class suburbia) to investigate the strange goings on there because, basically, they were invited to do so. Upon entering, they meet a dwarf with a crazy accent, see a lot of heavily made-up actors standing around trying to play statutes, and one-by-one become transfixed by obviously fake fright façades. But this collection of glorified candles has an evil secret. Thanks to a series of stolen artifacts of ancient ambiguity, these tacky tableaus are capable of coming to life: meaning that once a dipstick visitor falls into its awkwardly staged stupidity, the doin's go all supernatural. So leave it to the nation's future middle managers to wander into these shabby set pieces to set the wheels of weak wickedness in motion. We are then treated to some werewolf wackiness, a vampire dinner party (complete with yummy servings of raw meat in thick clotting blood sauce—didn't see that one coming, huh?), and a monochrome zombie jubilee. But when one curious lassie ends up loving her sadistic dream state date at the whip of the Marquis De Sade, it's time for the only unaffected fool and a band of old men in wheelchairs and walkers to battle the reanimated effigies. If they don't succeed, a cameo David Warner will set loose his figurines on an unsuspecting public and guarantee his Waxwork will take over the world.

Then, as if to address the massive amount of slaughter that occurred in the name of an indistinct Madame Tussaud's curse, one of the non-descript cretins who crashed the first paraffin party is put on trial for murder (her stepfather's badly bludgeoned corpse doesn't aid in her defense). She, along with another leftover cast member looking for a potential paycheck, decide that the only way they can win an acquittal is to find various supernatural objects and display them in front of the judge (apparently a highly trained lawyer is not needed). Well, when the duo stumble upon the Widgit Farfetchian Time Traveling Throwing Stone Compass, they use the confusing era invader to wander aimlessly through badly staged recreations of horror movies, haunted houses, and interminable sword and sorcery stinkweed. At one point, they stumble into the domain of "should have been Barishnikov" badguy Alexander (not) Gudonov and his kingdom of the kinky. There they suffer through endless discussions of incest, body switching, and gratuitous Michael Des Barres. When an "Avenger" voiced raven, representing another player from the previous film, shows up to fill a hugely gaping plot hole, you know you're in for a flummoxing fiasco of pandemic proportions. Even with a forced happy ending and an attempt at an inter-dimensional love story, one still can't help but feel that Waxwork II: Lost in Time would have been better subtitled "Without a Purpose."

About the only way to describe Waxwork and Waxwork II: Lost in Time are as half-assed hackneyed homages to dozens of better-made monster movies tossed together with private inside jokes and a couple of name actors to mask the made-for-video funk flying off their dumb dithering. Like one of those horrible "Stars On" greatest hits packages where piss-poor soundalikes massacre mainstream pop songs for the sake of some resale value, these paltry paraffin fool's paradises use their flimsy premises to recreate nuggets of horror goodness. Unfortunately, the "tribute excuse" merely makes moldy moose barf out of classic pantheons of the paranormal. They've forgotten the key ingredient to turn these tasteless terror truffles terrific: professionalism. Waxwork plays like one big goof, an attempt at parody and praise infiltrated by cheesy special effects, non-existent characters, and incoherent story lines. Literally like walking into a play mid-second act, the Waxwork films have no problem depositing us in the midst of a vampire power struggle or awkward alien invasion as the reptile retread stalks and slays its snacks. Then it simply turns and says "Golly, aren't you glad you're here, kind viewer?" If you voice a visceral, vitriolic objection, the filmmakers toss in some crude jokes and uncharacteristic gore to hopefully hobble your seething hatred. Anthony Hickox, director of these derivative diversions, thinks that abundant bloodletting and beast buffoonery will make up for corniness and a complete lack of scares. All it does, though, is accentuate the underdone nature of these films.

Of the two, Waxwork is better if only by a votive or two. Lost in Time could have been a really breezy, very stylized and subtle love letter to the genre, but it gets bogged down in the middle ages since we spend way too much time in a disgraced ballet dancer's sphere of the hopeless. The minute Alexander Gudonov steps onscreen, the movie stops dead in its toe shoes. Not because Alex is bad—he has a mannered presence that can work when placed in the proper part—but unlike the juicy, jokey Bruce Campbell segment that sends up and rips off both the Evil Dead and The Haunting films, the crocked kingdom of the defective defector is dull and dreary. It's a history lecture on the feudal system with overdone production value and vague regalities. Once Al and Zach "What? The Gremlins money has run out already?" Galligan start a scene shifting sword fight that jumps between a gooney Godzilla rip off, Jack the Ripper's West End, and a fleeting glimpse into Dr. Jekyll's boudoir, there is still hope for a refreshing rich conclusion. But the wholly stupid courtroom bookending just doesn't work and the interpretations of terror legends like Frankenstein are more camp than creepy. At least the first Waxwork makes no bones about being goofy and gauche. The acting is all over the map, from subtle to plaster blasting, and the storylines careen between gentle reverences to spoilt spoof. Sure, the gallons of grue are just fanboy panaceas, but the overall tone is lighter and less lazy than the baffling sequel. Waxwork has its moments. Waxwork II: Lost in Time is just direct to video jester junk.

There is good news and bad news for those interested in picking up this DVD. The good news is that both films are offered at a reasonable price, making the package as a whole a fairly decent value. The bad news is that the disc is released by Artisan, meaning that corners will be clipped and shortcuts implemented to get the least out of the video and sound presentation. Indeed, Waxwork looks atrocious, modulating between bad VHS and fuzzy UHF transfer quality. There is one scene—it's when Blame it on Rio's Michelle Johnson decides to pay Count Vlad a visit—where the image goes wildly out of sync and ghosts, as if it was being layered over the top of itself. It looks terrible and further cements Arty's position as the least popular purveyor of digital dreck in the industry. Waxwork II: Lost in Time was made for cassette so it intentionally looks lousy. As for sound, well, there is nothing much to report. The Dolby Digital Stereo Surround produces the necessary percussive waves to stimulate the eardrum, therefore allowing us to hear the hack dialogue and lame attempts at humor. And in keeping with its austerity policy of providing no contextual or reward-oriented material on their DVDs, Art delivers nothing but menu screens and the option of being able to PLAY the film of your choice as part of this double feature fraud. While it's nice to get two films for the price of one, it's much nicer when they and their intended audience are treated fairly and considerately.

Waxwork and Waxwork II: Lost in Time may not deserve glorification via special edition treatment, but fans will find this emaciated effort less than tempting. Dinner by candlelight is romantic, and an aromatic pillar near the bath might make for a relaxing repast from the ruts of the real world, but no amount of bee backwash or beef tallow can shed sufficient light to demand you spend time around these intellectually anorexic exhibits. These slimy, stupid tributes to terror are just terrible.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 66

Perp Profile

Studio: Artisan
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• None
Running Time: 204 Minutes
Release Year: 1991
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Horror

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb: Waxwork
• IMDb: Waxwork II

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