Waxwork/Waxwork II: Lost In Time
Released by: Lionsgate/Vestron Video
Released on: October 18th, 2016.
Director: Anthony Hickox
Cast: Zach Galligan, Jennifer Bassey, Joe Baker, Deborah Foreman, Michelle Johnson
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After years of sitting on their catalog, it looks like things are finally loosening up at the Lionsgate vault. Who would have thought that the HD floodgates would ever open with beloved schlock like BLOOD DINER, CHOPPING MALL and this title - a WAXWORK double feature?
Well, here we are. And in addition to the two films, we are getting copious special features. Hail to the gods of Vestron.
If I had to describe 1988's WAXWORK and its sequel in one word it would probably be "goopy." These highly entertaining films relish getting down in the mud with messy but highly effective practical effects. There's stuff in these to rival the genius of THE THING's Rob Bottin - including a very impressive werewolf that's almost on Rick Bakers level. As for the plots, the first is a sort of a dwindling teenager body count setup that involves a wax museum and some convoluted family/character backstory that is really just an excuse to set up a series of fun vignettes and the second is a bonkers kitchen-sink affair where director/writer Anthony Hickox goes homage crazy.
In the first installment, rich kid Mark (Zach Galligan of GREMLINS) and a group of friends wind up at the midnight opening of a mysterious local wax museum after Zach's on again/off again girlfriend China (Michelle Johnson) is extended an invitation by the creepy owner Mr. Lincoln (David Warner of THE OMEN). Everything about this particular wax museum is a bit off. It's located in the middle of a suburban neighborhood with almost zero foot traffic. The proprietor acts like a sinister nobleman from medieval Europe. And Mr. Lincoln's hired help is right out of Karloff mansion: a lumbering subhuman butler and a nasty midget. The group - which also comprises Sarah (Deborah Foreman) and Tony (Dana Ashbrook) get separated in the museum and some of them inadvisably cross the velvet ropes of exhibitions to get a closer look at the displays. Oops. Turns out these displays are time portals - so say hello to a cabin in the woods with a rampaging werewolf and Vampire Mansion. Once Zach and Sarah figure out their friends Tony and China are missing they go to the police, but you know how that's going to pan out, right?
At this point, it's time to wheel in the Deux ex machina of character Sir Wilfred (the legendary Patrick Macnee) who plays a family friend of Mark's. The wheelchair bound but lively and playful occultist is required to spout out reams of explanatory dialog but luckily Macnee manages to do this without dragging the film down. The upshot? Mr. Lincoln's wax museum is a tool for unleashing evil unto the world from another dimension (kind of like that portal in Michael Winner's THE SENTINEL) and Mr. Lincoln himself has a bad history with some of Mark's family.
1992's WAXWORK II: LOST IN TIME sees the actual wax museum no longer part of the plot and the action centered around Mark and Sarah (now played by Monika Schnarre). A "creature" has escaped from the first film's museum - a murderous and fully ambulatory severed hand - and gone on a rampage. Sarah, now on trial for a murder she didn't commit thanks to the hand can only be cleared by capturing that beast with five fingers. So Mark, after visiting Sir Wilfred's secret hideout, locates an ancient time travel compass to aid him in finding evidence to clear Sarah. Sarah, by the way is out on bail, so they can work together...
The plots of both films are simply vehicles to set up the various vignettes that are the blood and guts of the WAXWORK franchise. Hickox has a wildly gory sense of humor and clearly some real affection for the various classics he's riffing on. He's also got a good eye for actors - seeing pros like John Rhys-Davies of INDIANA JONES fame as the burly doomed werewolf/farmer and Warner as the oily wax museum owner is a real treat. Miles O'Keefe's Dracula and the terrific rockstar/actor Michael Des Barres (as a slimy nobleman) and DIE Hard's Alexander Gounov all deserve a mention. Some segments go on too long like the apparent ALIENS homage, but others - like part II's hilarious Frankenstein riff and the bit with Bruce (EVIL DEAD) Campbell are dead on the money. And as one of the few fans of Oliver Stone's asinine but lovable THE HAND I freely admit to being a sucker for ANY movie featuring one of those roaming and crawling monsters.
These two films represent the tail end of the 80's exploitation/horror/cult home video boom. Both scream "BLOCKBUSTER RENTAL!" and are guaranteed to stir up the warm glow of nostalgia in ladies and gentlemen of a certain age. Revisiting them, however, it was nice to see how well they've held up. The horror and humor still work, the acting is decent and the gore amusingly over the top.
Both movies are presented in 1.85.1 framed AVC encoded 1080p transfers that are significant upgrades from the previous DVD release (which were full frame). Each film gets its own separate 50GB disc and a healthy bitrate. All of the key areas are strong here - deep black levels, good color reproduction, accurate flesh tones and solid fine image detail. The only real negatives are some minor issues with unstable grain resolution in both films (known as "spiking") and the second film has a couple of sequences that look a bit faded. General softness pops up a few times in various shots throughout each film, but it should be stressed that these incidents are almost certainly the result of limitations in the source material.
As for audio, the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 tracks that service both films are strong, workmanlike productions. Bottom end won't rattle your floorboards, but the dynamic range of both tracks is a far cry from the tepid DVDs. These films were also well mixed so the dialogue, score and sound effects are all well balanced with no dropouts, hiss or other flaws audible.
This is a thoroughly stacked release in terms of extras starting with two audio commentaries. Director Hickox and his star Galligan sit for a feature length commentary on both films and these are both really enjoyable. These guys like each other and are full of interesting tidbits like what it was like to work with the first film's "little person", Galligan's neurotic worries about his weight and the value of a top flight casting agent. The first film's commentary is a bit more explanatory about aspects like the FX while the second talks more about budgetary constraints and other challenges. But both tracks should be warmly received by fans due to the level of info here as well as the camaraderie of the participants. Composers Roger Bellon (WAXWORK) and Steve Schiff (WAXWORK II), contribute some sporadic thoughts in their respective isolated scores. The isolated scores are a nice touch here since both films are quite strong in that regard. These are a nice insight into the composing process.
The meatiest extra by far is the feature length WAXWORK CHRONICLES which weighs in at an impressive hour and twenty-two minutes. This manages to corral almost every surviving crucial member of the two films (sans David Warner who nevertheless sneaks in via some vintage clips) to spill the beans. This is a pretty exhaustive item. Hickox is a funny guy and everyone else seems to look back on these films fondly. The deceased David Carradine who plays a beggar in WAXWORK II even gets in with a surprisingly fresh looking archival clip. Structured in a series of chapters and reliant primarily on interviews, this documentary charts the WAXWORK films from top to bottom.
Patrick Macnee provides a vintage piece for the first film that clocks in at about 25 minutes. This full frame standard definition presentation is a fascinating historical document despite being a bit light on substance. It's fun with most of the focus on the first film's FX. Worth a look due to Macnee's infectious enthusiasm. Both films also get their theatrical trailers included and generous 7-8 minute long still galleries. The less said about WAXWORK II's music video the better. I'll simply note that it is present and accounted for in this package.
The Final Word:
This one's kind of a no-brainer. Lionsgate have finally opened up their vaults and delivered a grade A product. Any fan of these films should be thrilled. The transfers are strong, the audio solid and the extras plentiful and of a uniformly high standard. It even has nice slick O-ring packaging!
Buy with confidence. Highly recommended.
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