Tag Archives: Patrick Macnee

Waxwork (1988, Anthony Hickox), the unrated version

Waxwork has a distressing lack of charm. It ought to have some charm. The first act has its cast of young college students–whose college set seems to be a high school–speaking in some affected pseudo-fifties teen melodrama dialect. It ought to be sostaggeringmewhat charming. It’s not, but it ought to be.

Most of the problem is writer-director Hickox. He doesn’t direct his cast–answering the question, why wasn’t Zach Galligan a bigger star–because without direction, he’s way too slight. Even with an obnoxious, “quirky” character, Galligan makes no good impression. Though his costuming in the second half of the film doesn’t help much.

The first act is all character setup on the And Then There Were None cast. Galligan is a rich kid who speaks in dubitably accurate synonyms–see, quirky–only it stops once he gets to high school. Sorry, college. Michelle Johnson and Deborah Foreman are–inexplicably–friends with Galligan. Johnson’s the one note tramp, Foreman’s the one note virgin. Johnson has just thrown over Galligan for some other guy, which is fine since Johnson and Galligan have no chemistry. No one in Waxwork has much chemistry.

Dana Ashbrook is the last of the main cast members. He’s not good but still somehow likable. He tries with Hickox’s script; no small attempt. He’s just playing some guy who smokes a lot. He’s got no romantic connections or dialogue quirks.

They end up at David Warner’s creepy suburban wax museum for a private midnight show and discover things aren’t what they seem. The exhibits are portals to horrific worlds, leading to an overcooked werewolf–more a were-rabbit–and Miles O’Keeffe’s mind-numbingly atrocious rendition of Count Dracula. At the same time Hickox is flopping with his characters, it’s clear he does have some ideas. O’Keeffe’s Dracula has this terrifying dinner sequence where his victims-to-be have to prove their worth. Until it gets gory, Hickox and editor Christopher Cibelli ratchet up the tension.

Even at Waxwork’s worst, Hickox always manages to get tension. Maybe because the first couple encounters in the wax displays are just unending failures of the victims to escape. If any of Hickox’s scripting or directing ineptitudes came through campy enough, their contrast with the effective tension might be enough to get Waxwork its needed charm. Shame they don’t.

Of course, there’d still be the other problems to surmount. Like Roger Bellon’s score. The overtly melodramatic music–presumably at Hickox’s request–doesn’t match the actors’ performances or Gerry Lively’s pragmatic but flat photography. As a director, Hickox doesn’t have the ingenuity to pull off Waxwork at its budget. His crew displays occasional competence, but they can’t make up for Hickox’s shortcomings.

There are occasionally excellent shots–particularly with Johnson’s trip of terror–with no clear responsible party. Well, not Hickox. He doesn’t recognize their effectiveness, so maybe it was Lively with the photography or even Cibelli with the editing. Those shots only come in the first half. The second half, when its effective, is always through the tension.

Given the bad writing, it’s hard to gauge the performances. Johnson’s the best of the principals. Foreman’s got a weak story arc–involving J. Kenneth Campbell’s pirate version of the Marquis de Sade–but even without, she doesn’t make much impression. She and Galligan are ostensibly in a romance subplot, only with a negative amount of chemistry. Ashbrook does his best with the script; he’s great on his terror trip.

Aside from Miles O’Keeffe, who should be so bad he’s funny (but it doesn’t work out), the worst performance is from Charles McCaughan. He’s a “Miami Vice” attired suburban detective. He’s terrible. It’s not entirely his fault–he’s a clown–but he’s still terrible.

Patrick Macnee shows up in the second half in an ill-advised cameo.

Waxwork ought to be charming. Turns out Hickox’s idea of charming is having a buffoonish Nazi-loving professor. So no charm. And once it becomes clear Hickox’s actual successes with tension aren’t going to add up to anything, Waxwork’s a slow melt through its runtime. Decent effects work though. Shame Lively doesn’t light it better.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Anthony Hickox; director of photography, Gerry Lively; edited by Christopher Cibelli; music by Roger Bellon; production designer, Gianni Quaranta; produced by Staffan Ahrenberg and Eyal Rimmon; released by Vestron Pictures.

Starring Zach Galligan (Mark), Deborah Foreman (Sarah), Michelle Johnson (China), Dana Ashbrook (Tony), David Warner (Waxwork Man), Charles McCaughan (Inspector Roberts), Miles O’Keeffe (Count Dracula), J. Kenneth Campbell (Marquis de Sade), and Patrick Macnee (Sir Wilfred).


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The Howling (1981, Joe Dante)

All due respect to Rick Baker, but Rob Bottin’s werewolf transformation in The Howling is superior. The transformation lasts so long it’s no longer shocking, just interesting. It’s so deliberate, it got me wondering what the werewolf would do if he needed to change in a pinch… if he didn’t have three or four minutes to spare.

The Howling is actually a really peculiar movie, both technically and in terms of plotting.

It is, possibly, Joe Dante’s straightest work. He’s making a regular picture here, with newsroom stuff, with cop stuff. It’s different from anything else I’ve seen of his–when Belinda Balaski is running from a werewolf, he handles it without any humor. It’s beautiful direction, even if there is a strange animated shot at one point (which makes little sense, because there’s some fine stop motion at the end, so why didn’t they just use it earlier too).

But The Howling is actually full of humor. The last shot of the film is a hamburger cooking, it’s goofy. There are constant, omnipresent references to werewolf films–there are ten characters named after werewolf movie directors–there’s a clip from The Wolf Man, there’s even a picture of Lon Chaney hanging on a wall–in story. But these references are somehow detached from the rather serious and straightforward way Dante tells the story. He’s got Kevin McCarthy giving a straight performance–Kevin McCarthy giving a straight performance in a Joe Dante film. It’s incredible.

Where The Howling gets in trouble is Dee Wallace. It isn’t just her performance, which is okay (though she’s never quite believable as a go-getter anchorwoman), but the way John Sayles’s script treats her. The concept–reporter discovers her elite psychiatric resort is really a colony of werewolves–really seems to imply she ought to be the main character. But she isn’t. She isn’t even the first to discover the werewolves. She isn’t even the second… wait, yes, she is. She is the second.

But Sayles avoids giving Wallace much to do and the film suffers for it. There are big plot holes–for example, it’s never explained why Wallace is invited to the werewolf club. It’s also never explained why her husband–played by Wallace’s real-life husband, Christopher Stone–accompanies her.

No, where Sayles finds the most interest–and maybe Dante too–is with Dennis Dugan (yes, Dennis Dugan) and Balaski. Both of them are fantastic, full of chemistry, having a great time, as TV news producers investigating. Their scenes are wonderful–they get the Dick Miller scene and it’s a doozy–and the film comes alive whenever either are onscreen.

The Howling also skirts around being particularly disturbing. Wallace is having real psychological problems, occasionally represented onscreen as dream sequences, but it’s hard to imagine her having a really hard time. Her basic recovery is just too fast.

There’s some good acting from John Carradine and Slim Pickens. Patrick Macnee has less to do than Wallace, if it’s even possible. Stone leaves a lot to be desired… Robert Picardo’s got a small part and he’s fantastic.

What’s nicest about the film is the way it gets so much better in the last third. The first act and most of the second invite all these questions, all this thinking–the last act doesn’t bother with it, but still manages to close with a great scene. Unfortunately, it isn’t the last scene in the film, just the last scene in the narrative. The final scene’s a misstep, because The Howling spends so much time as a rather quiet movie about people, only to go with a big comic finish.

It’s nice for a film to take its entire running time to impress (or close to it–the last shot’s awesome, but it’s a diversion from dealing with the emotional aftereffects of the previous scene); makes the viewing experience all the more rewarding (and somehow exciting).

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Dante; screenplay by John Sayles and Terence H. Winkless, based on the novel by Gary Brandner; director of photography, John Hora; edited by Dante and Mark Goldblatt; music by Pino Donaggio; produced by Jack Conrad and Michael Finnell; released by AVCO Embassy Pictures.

Starring Dee Wallace (Karen White), Patrick Macnee (Dr. George Waggner), Dennis Dugan (Chris), Christopher Stone (Bill Neill), Belinda Balaski (Terry Fisher), Kevin McCarthy (Fred Francis), John Carradine (Erle Kenton), Slim Pickens (Sam Newfield), Elisabeth Brooks (Marsha Quist), Robert Picardo (Eddie Quist), Margie Impert (Donna), Noble Willingham (Charlie Barton), James Murtaugh (Jerry Warren), Jim McKrell (Lew Landers), Don McLeod (T.C. Quist) and Dick Miller (Walter Paisley).


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