You Have to See This! Waxwork (1988)

Anthony Hickox’s “Waxwork” is a delightful mess. It’s a fun and awfully interesting distraction that gets you to the finish line thanks to its tongue in cheek humor, and in spite of its uneven tone. Sometimes it’s a dark comedy that celebrates horror tropes, and sometimes it’s a stern horror movie with Zach Galligan jumping from douche bag to protagonist over and over. Seriously, his establishing scenes in the movie literally made me think “Is this really the movie’s hero?”

A group of rotten teenagers are invited to a local “Waxwork” wax museum by its mysterious curator David Lincoln. Little do they know that each wax exhibit is a supernatural portal in to another realm composed of monsters and ghouls of many kinds. Before long young Mark and Sarah learn that the curator has sinister plans for the unwilling participants, and it’s now up to them with the help of a wheelchair bound historian to stop him and destroy the gallery of supernatural beings.

I’ve seen “Waxwork” a thousand times and I’m still not too sure what to make of it, exactly. While “Waxwork II” out and out embraced its horror spoof tone with Bruce Campbell adding spice with his talent for slapstick comedy, “Waxwork” wants to convince you it’s scary, but also doesn’t seem to take its own premise too seriously most of the time. It’s an inherently goofy movie with way too many questions that are put forth but never resolved or logically explained. Even the final scene of a crawling hand makes zero sense, and only seems placed for a gratuitous sequel stinger. As we all know, “Waxwork II” is as much as a follow up to “Waxwork” as “Return of the Living Dead II” was to the original film. Are there other wax museums out there like the one we see in the film? Why did no one catch on to this supernatural trap earlier?

Can you beat the wax works and defeat them somehow or did Larry find an accidental glitch when he’s tossed in to the “Night of the Living Dead” exhibit? And if these attractions kind of appeal to our inner nature, what did the zombie exhibit signify for Larry? And why didn’t Hickox just employ the use of stills or freeze frames rather than simply asking the actors signifying the wax works stand as still as possible? Seriously, if you look closely, every time Hickox cuts to one of the wax exhibits, you can plainly see the actors doing their damndest to be as still as possible. This is supposed to allow the illusion that the wax sculptures are so life like they’re incredibly enticing and alluring, but it ends up coming off as inadvertently goofy.

“Waxwork” mostly works as a fun diversion when it’s not having trouble figuring out its own tone, as the very eighties-centric cast goes up against some of the worst monsters in history. Folks like Zach Galligan, Deborah Foreman, and Dana Ashbrook lead the charge in what feels a lot like an ode to William Castle films. They’re a small group of privileged douche bags who spend most of their time bickering about their own lives and trying to deceive each other. They arguably get their comeuppance after receiving an invitation from the curator of a mysterious wax museum. Visiting the museum late at night (because that’s what everybody does), each of the friends end up getting sucked in to the wax exhibits which happen to be supernatural portals in to another realm where they’re thrust in to broadly sketched scenarios involving familiar horror tropes.

Friends China and Tony don’t stand a chance when they find themselves stuck in realities they’re incapable of comprehending. Tony finds himself lost in the woods at night and happens upon a cabin where an older man (John Rhys Davies) transforms in to a werewolf and bites him. After witnessing the werewolf murdered by a pair of hunters, he’s rendered a victim of the curse turning in to a werewolf and is murdered. China, on the other hand, meets someone as deadly and sexy as she, as she’s a guest at a party where a group of noblemen and women consume a salty dish of meat and red sauce. Despite her disbelief and resistance, she falls prey to the throes of the castle’s master, Count Dracula.

When the pair go missing and become a part of the museum’s displays, the rest of their group, Mark and Sarah, begin investigating where they disappeared to, and learn that the museum is at play. They just have to find a way to get around the dwarf doorman (Mihaly Meszaros), and violent butler with a tendency for snapping peoples’ necks. Hickox has a lot of exposition to unfold in such a short time, so he enlists Patrick McNee as wheelchair bound Sir Wilfred, who tells the pair about the museum’s large history, the supernatural gallery, and Mark’s unusual connection to the roots of the place, which involves his grandfather and the museum’s villainous curator, as played by David Warner.

There’s so much explaining. Along the way there’s Sarah’s inexplicable obsession with sadism, and Mark getting in to a pretty funny sword fight with the Marquis De Sade. So when they destroy this wax museum does that mean Mark has to fulfill a destiny to destroy all wax museums around the world? And are there copies of these realities he has to commit to ending? David Warner at least has a good time as the villain David Lincoln, who plans to lure eighteen victims to turn their souls over to the former curators. Through this process, the dead will rise and destroy the world because… you know… he’s a bad guy and that’s what bad guys do.

They either take over the world, or destroy it.

“Waxwork” is a novelty from beginning to end that might inspire a hearty giggle every now and then and nothing more. I’d be hard pressed to call it a horror masterpiece, but it’s at least a neat approach at a horror comedy with a good sense of self-awareness.

Deadtime Stories (1986): Collector’s Edition [Blu-Ray/DVD]

Pee-yew! You have to appreciate Shout! Factory for restoring what is easily one of the worst anthology movies of the eighties. I admit to being a completely newcomer in regards to “Deadtime Stories,” and upon finishing it, I was not surprised it was such a rarity for so many years. “Deadtime Stories” watches like someone really loved “Creepshow” and decided to make their own version with only a quarter of the budget. Then mid-way when the studio realized how awful the movie was, they decided to turn it in to a comedy at the last minute so horror fans can convince themselves the whole disaster is intentional and a tongue in cheek jab at the anthology crazy of the decade.

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The Werewolf Reborn! (1998)

It’s another episode of “Filmonsters!” and while I appreciate the inherent idea behind Full Moon composing hour long movies with broadly written monsters that vaguely resembled Universal’s staples, this second movie isn’t good. In fact it’s almost the exact same movie as “Frankenstein Reborn!” To evoke emotions in the vein of RL Stine’s “Goosebumps” the producers make a young girl the star of their story. I think if it took off, every “Filmonsters!” would have had young teenagers who realize something about themselves or their families while fighting monsters. I wonder if there would have been a “Gillman Reborn!” with a young girl realizing she’s from a family of ancient lizard people or something.

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Frankenstein The Real Story/The Real Wolfman (DVD)

Halloween has come early this year! Lionsgate has graced horror fans with a ton of really interesting documentaries from the History Channel and A&E Network in America. For folks that always wanted to know the “Real” story behind “Frankenstein” and “The Wolfman,” well this is where you can turn. Truth be told, the entire double disc DVD set garners an array of forty five minute documentaries, with the Frankenstein topic taking center stage. With all three documentaries clocking in at 178 minutes in length, it’s a treasure trove for individuals that love Frankenstein and Mary Shelly. Featured in the first disc is “In Search of the Real Frankenstein,” “Frankenstein,” and “It’s Alive! The True Story of Frankenstein.” Oddly enough while all three documentaries can sometimes become repetitive, they offer up a unique look at Frankenstein with different angles and approaches.

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The Short Films of Ithaca Fantastik 2016 [Ithaca Fantastik 2016]

curveAs only a few short films were seen, here are mini-reviews for each of these titles.

Curve (Australia) (2016)
A young woman wakes up sitting on a curved surface, clinging to it for dear life.  This short is very simple in concept, yet possibly one of the most grim and dark short seen this year.  There is not clear, or unclear, way of the situation this young lady is in and signs are accumulating that others did not have any luck in her position.  Written and directed by Tim Egan, the film has no dialogue and only one character, making the most of its location and the situation the character is in.  The star, Laura Jane Turner, gives a very good performance and keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat as she tries to get in a better situation.  The film is grim and her performance suits it well, showing desperation and a need to survive.

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Bad Moon (1996) [Blu-Ray]

BadMoon-Blu-rayEric Red’s “Bad Moon” is a brutally underrated werewolf movie that, much like “Fright Night,” takes a classic Hitchcock movie and twists it to his own conventions. “Bad Moon” is a take off of “Shadow of a Doubt” where a sister is forced to confront her beloved brother’s evil side and realize that their once picturesque relationship was a complete lie the whole time. “Bad Moon” comes in at a little under eighty minutes, but is a tight and brisk horror thriller that is very well written and directed. Granted it has some of the special effects trappings of the nineties with a somewhat weird werewolf transformation, but at least director Red tries his damndest to show pure evil lurking within the heart of a once good man.

“Bad Moon” stars Mariel Hemingway as a tough as nails lawyer and single mother Janet. She lives alone with her son Brett and his over protective German Shepherd Thor. Thor is an especially close guardian of his two owners who is smarter than an average watch dog and seems to know much more than any dog on planet Earth. After Janet re-connects with her long lost brother Ted, she and her son Brett, along with Thor visit him to learn he’s kind of falling apart and isolated after his travels. Before they reunited, Ted was attacked in Nepal by a vicious monster that wounded him before he murdered it in self defense. After local hikers begin turning up dead, Ted moves in with his sister Janet and soon he begins forming an adversarial relationship with their guard dog Thor.

Despite Ted’s best efforts to remain secretive and cryptic with his sister and nephew, Thor is very suspicious of Ted and begins lurking in his trailer and following him around. This prompts Ted to try and devise a new way to be rid of Thor, before he helps Janet and Brett find out his ultimate secret as a werewolf. Michael Pare is a wonderful villain, who begins the narrative as charming and very well meaning, but begins to sour gradually as he realizes Thor isn’t just a passive family pet. The performances all around are fantastic, especially by dog performer Primo, who plays the protective guardian Thor. Thor is a remarkable guard for his family who looks for ways to warn them, as Ted becomes increasingly dangerous and comes to the realization that the only way he can protect himself is by eliminating Janet and Brett from his life.

Michael Pare does a damn good job as villainous Ted, working hard to convey a sense of rotted humanity within him, doing the work until Red reveals the werewolf in the light, and then the bang up special effects complete the transformation. Considering the budget and period, the special effects and monster of “Bad Moon” still looks incredible in motion and Red’s strong direction matched with the excellent editing offer up a wonderful climax you’ll have a difficult time being sucked in to. It’s a shame “Bad Moon” gets looked over in the annals of great werewolf movies as Eric Red provides a thrilling, exciting, and creepy horror movie soaked in a simple family drama.

The Blu-Ray release from Scream Factory comes with the theatrical edit and director’s cut of “Bad Moon.” The difference is a mere thirty seconds, where there’s slightly more gore and nudity in the prologue, while director Red trims down the digital transformation in the climax. The Director’s Cut comes with an audio commentary with director Eric Red alone, who provides an informative session here. He discusses everything from the screenplay, casting, and effects work, right down to cutting most of the digital transformation. The Theatrical Edit comes with an audio commentary with cast member Michael Pare, director Eric Red and John Fallon of Arrow in the Head.

It’s an okay commentary with Pare and Red being the highlight. Both cuts come with “Nature of the Beast: The Making of ‘Bad Moon’” a thirty five minute informative look at the making of the film, with interviews from the cast and crew, and how Eric Red became involved with the film itself. There’s the unrated opening sequence, clocking in at six minute, which establishes the location and gives Ted’s girlfriend a little more exposition before the sex scene. There’s the Transformation Sequence Storyboards, The Storyboards for the climactic fight between Thor and Werewolf Ted, Storyboards for Ted and Thor staring each other down, and finally the original trailer for “Bad Moon.”


Creature Feature (2015)

CreatureFeatureCreature Feature was written and directed by Chase Smith, based on a story by himself, Lance Paul, and Edward Boss.  Smith usually works in independent film where, as can be seen his this film and his other work, he makes the most of his low budget and crafts possibly his most fun title to date.  The way he builds this film is fun and entertaining.  He takes multiple classic horror and Halloween character, gives each a story to star in, then adds fodder for these to play with, and interconnects it all in a way that works really well, something that is not easy to do.

On Halloween night, friends go to a party and tell horror stories.  The stories here are imbued with the spirit of Samhain and interconnect through characters and timeline, making it hard to tell too much about them without giving too much away.  Part of the stories involves a clown, a zombie, a werewolf, witches, and a certain Jack. The characters are well written, the dialogue is decent, and none of the separate stories overstay their welcome. Being the writer and director of all the stories, it’s easier to keep them coherent in storytelling, visual style, and mood.

The cast for all those characters is good, none of them doing badly.  However, with such a big cast, it’s hard to stand out from the crowd.  That being said, this reviewer particularly liked the performance by Chase Smith regular Lance Paul as one of the partying storytellers, Jackson.  He has a twinkle in his eye as he tells his story that just makes his presence shine. The rest of cast does well, looks good, and goes for it with their all in a lot of scenes.  It must be noted that a few of the ladies have no issues being topless, showing what Mother Nature/God gave them (natural boobs alert here!), adding to the general fun and the Halloween film spirit.

As this is a monster film and a horror movie, there is gore and blood, quite the good amount of both.  Most of the effects look to be practical, something that is always appreciated, and were done by Alex-Michael Petty, Amber Actaboski, Benji Dove, and Andrea Joe.  These effects look good and not just “for the budget”; they look good and add a lot to the film. Practical effects always seem to be gooier and better to this reviewer.  There is plenty here and it’s much appreciated. Adding to all this is the music by Brian Popkin which adds to the mood and atmosphere of the scenes it highlights.

Creature Feature is a fun, entertaining romp of an anthology set at Halloween time making it perfect for a seasonal or party setting viewing. It has a couple of issues but is a nice popcorn horror film which makes it easy to overlook those issues.  If brings some scares but not enough to keep casual horror watchers away and the ambiance of it is not of dread, more like a spooky Halloween night.  The stories have connections to classic tales making it easily accessible and they are often more than what they seem at first.  The look and effects transcend its budget and the spirit of Samhain running through it will capture the attention of most viewers.

It’s yet another recent release From Spirit World Films to add to the Halloween playlist for this year and years to come.

Goosebumps (2015)


What “Goosebumps” accomplishes, is not just paying homage to the joy of “Goosebumps,” but to the joy of reading and writing as well. It’s not many movies that can convey the idea of writing as something purely magical, and “Goosebumps” pinpoints how books can be a portal in to something entirely otherworldly, especially if you’re a fan of the world RL Stine has built for his fans since the 1990’s. More of a meta-horror comedy than an actual series of tales, “Goosebumps” is set in Delaware where Zach and his newly widowed mother are preparing to start their lives over. With Zach trying to adapt to his new school, he meets the gorgeous Hannah (Odeya Rush), a neighbor who is home schooled by her reclusive and strict father.

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