• Wax Mask (Severin Films) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Severin Films
    Released on: October 8th, 2019.
    Director: Sergio Stivaletti
    Cast: Robert Hossein, Romina Mondello, Riccardo Serventi Longhi, Gabriella Giorgelli, Umberto Balli
    Year: 1997
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    Wax Mask – Movie Review:

    When Lucio Fulci passed away in 1996, what would have been his most recent picture wound up being directed by special effects maestro Sergio Stivaletti. Produced by none other than Dario Argento, Wax Mask doesn’t compete with the more established classics of Italian horror. But as a last gasp for what in the decades prior had been one of the greatest producers of horror pictures, it’s a decent watch.

    The film is set in the Paris of the 1800s where, as the city celebrates the dawn of a new century, a maniac wielding a razor-sharp claw slashes his way through the city killing a mother and daughter in front of their young daughter. The years pass and that girl grown into a beautiful woman named Sonia (Romina Mondello). Like everyone else in town, she’s curious about the new wax museum that has just opened up nearby – it’s all anyone is talking about these days!

    Meanwhile, a man named Andrea (Serventi Longhi) makes a bet with one of his fellow prostitute loving pals that he can sneak into the museum and spend the night. The bet is made and Andrea heads into the place, only to come face to face with its owner and proprietor, Boris Volkoff (Robert Hossein). Andrea soon learn that Volkoff is not right in the head – he’s got a secret lab in the wax museum where he would appear to be dipping dead hookers into wax and building strange, and unusually sharp, metallic appendages. Soon enough Andrea and Sonia find a way to work together to hopefully stop Volkoff from killing again – but of course, he does kill again, quite a few times actually, before they’re able to sort all of this out.

    Wax Mask cares not for logic or sense and it’s loaded with plot holes, questionable character choices and generally poor writing (Fulci and Argento worked on the screen play together with help from Daniele Stroppa but it is not without some rather glaring problems). The influence of classic and gothic horror writing and films is evident throughout and the movie does not lack in visual style, but the ending is pretty terrible and almost completely succeeds in undoing all of the good that Stivaletti does with the visuals. To be fair, the movie really is quite a nice-looking picture. The costumes are well done and the locations are beautifully photographed and often times nicely lit with a lot of those bold primary colors Italians are rightly so fond of in their horror pictures. The cinematography is top notch and the score from Maurizio Abeni isn’t half bad.

    The quality of the English dubbing in the movie doesn’t help things, however (it’s obvious that most of the actors are not speaking English, the lip movements typically don’t come all that close to approximating what is being said). Thankfully this Blu-ray offers the superior Italian language option in addition to the English track. But hey, there is some good gore here and the effects are not only adequate but often times remarkably impressive. Had there been as much attention paid to the writing and the acting (most of the players here are not so good, but Hossein is at least fun to watch) as there was to the visuals this probably would have been great. As it stands, Wax Mask is not great, but it’s entertaining enough despite its obvious flaws.

    Wax Mask – Blu-ray Review:

    Wax Mask arrives on Blu-ray from Lionsgate in a 1.78.1 widescreen transfer in AVC encoded 1080p high definition on a 50GB disc that looks to have been taken from the same source as the One 7 Movies Blu-ray release from 2016. The DNR that was on that transfer is still here, as is the sharpening. One big difference, however, is that for some reason the black levels are way off here, looking more like a grey than proper black. You can fix this by changing your TV settings, but you shouldn’t have to do that. The upped brightness makes things look noticeably washed out when they shouldn’t. There are noticeable compression artifacts here as well. This still looks better than DVD, thankfully, but it is far from a perfect transfer.

    English and Italian language tracks are provided in DTS-HD 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo, with optional subtitles available translating the Italian track. As noted above, the Italian track is vastly superior to the goofy English dub, so unless you’ve got an aversion to subtitles that’s the option to go with. The 5.1 mix spreads out the score and the effects work a bit with most of the dialogue kept up front. The 2.0 track obviously lacks the rear channel activity but it sounds fine as well. No problems here, the levels are balanced and the track is clean.

    As far as the extras go, this release is legitimately stacked starting with an audio commentary featuring director Sergio Stivaletti and SFX artist Michelangelo Stivaletti. Moderated by Servin’s David Gregory, it’s a pretty solid talk that covers a lot of ground. There’s discussion here about Fulci’s original involvement, about the quality and quantity of the effects work featured in the picture, the sets and overall look of the film, what the different cast and crew members brought to the production, shooting the film in the golden days of the Italian horror film boom and more. This is quite interesting and worth listening to, Gregory keeps the two men engaged in the talk and does a good job pulling information out of them.

    After that, it’s time for Beyond Fulci, a twenty-one-minute selection of interviews with producer Dario Argento, director Sergio Stivaletti, producer Giuseppe Columbo, production designer Massimo Geleng, actress Gabriella Giorgelli and filmmaker Claudio Fragasso. This is a great piece wherein the interviewees all speak quite frankly about the late filmmaker. They offer some thoughts about his filmography but also discuss his reputation for being rather surly, what he was like to work with, his involvement in this and a few other unfinished projects and quite a bit more. It manages to be interesting, touching and occasionally humorous all at the same time.

    The Chamber Of Horrors teats us to twenty-one-minutes’ of interviews with Argento, Stivaletti, Columbo, Massimo Geleng and Giorgell that focses on how Wax Mask specifically came to be made, how and why Stivalettit was brought on board to direct, what the first time director’s experiences were like and more. From there, the same participants show up in the nineteen-minute Living Dolls featurette that sheds some light on the cast, how they were all brought on board, working with a mix of Italian and French performers, the experience that Hossein was able to bring to not just his part but the production as a whole and other related topics. Sergio Stivaletti is interviewed all by his lonesome in the sixteen-minute Mysteries Of The Wax Museum featurette. This focuses right in on his SFX work as he talks about some of the more complicated set pieces that he was involved in creating, challenges that arose during the production and working with the cast and crew on the picture. In The Waxworks Symphony we spend eleven-minutes’ of quality time with composer Maurizio Abeni and by doing so learn all about his work composing the score for the picture after learning about his musical education and entrance into the Italian film industry. The Grand Opening gets Argento, Stivaletti and Columbo back in front of the camera for a ten-minute chat about the initial reception to the film when it first debuted, how it has managed to retain an audience over the years and the legacy that it now kinda-sorta hold in Euro cult horror fandom. The last of the new interviews is the twelve-minute Wax Unmasked piece where Alan Jones, the author of Profondo Argento: The Man, The Myths And The Magic speaks about Argento’s involvement in the production, how the film fits in alongside some of the other work that Argento was creating during this period and, of course, the infamous rivalry that existed between Fulci and Argento and how that settled down, obviously, before Wax Mask was started.

    Severin also includes some vintage/archival featurettes starting with two pieces that were on the One 7 Films Blu-ray release. The first of these is a twenty-two minute behind the scenes featurettes that shows the cast and crew hard at work on the picture. There’s some interesting footage in here, particularly in regards to the effects work and the sets, and it does offer the rare chance to see Stivaletti at work. The second piece focuses on the effects, which get a more detailed look in a separate thirteen-minute featurette that shows off some of the design work, the mechanics involved in bringing it to life and more. The third archival piece, which wasn’t on that older disc, is a four-minute piece called On Set With Dario Argento and it is, as you could probably have guessed by the title, is footage of Argento hanging out with Stivaletti and a few others as they work on shooting the film.

    Wax Mask – The Final Word:

    Wax Mask has its moments, but it's more interesting for what it could have been than for what it actually is. Severin’s transfer isn’t perfect, the transfer has issues, but if your glass is half full then it’s nice to have the superior Italian language option provided with English subtitles and the extras on the disc are excellent.

    Click on the images below for full sized Wax Mask Blu-ray screen caps!