Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Waxwork II: Lost in Time (Anthony Hickox, 1992)

 Of all the unholy crepuscular kinematic cuts that flashed and flickered upon my adolescent self's television screen, the original 1988 Waxwork was long considered to be (in the words of Chelsea Peretti) 'One Of The Greats' - at least in my bedroom it was - and i loved it so much and yearned for so much more whenever the end credits rolled to the toe-tapping yet heartwrenching strain's of Lesley Gore's "It's My Party" that i would gladly have offered up a sacrifice to the eldritch gods of Vestron Pictures to make a follow-up happen.  Had my nine to twelve year old self had a firstborn son (growing up in the North-East, this possibly wasn't as inconceivable as it might seem) it would have been passed gladly through the fires to Moloch to conjure a sequel to a low budget horror movie.  I mean, priorities, right?  Thankfully, this genre-addled youth didn't need to go that far, as little did i know that all i had to do was wait for but a few scant and fleeting years to pass and my wish would come true - by which time i'd probably forgotten all about it of course, affection being a fickle thing, and i think i was slightly baffled to lift the VHS box from the shelf in the local video store and realise that the artifact that i held in my hands was ACTUALLY WAXWORK II.  Oh, how could i have forgotten you?  Oh my Judas-like heart.

Oddly, sitting down to watch this recently was the first time that i'd seen the movie since that day back in the early '90s.  i think someone stole the sole copy from the video shop, or the tape was chewed up in some errant malfunctioning VCR or something, but it vanished anyway leaving my sole viewing experience of this film an ephemeral memory like breath fading from a window pane.  So, here i find myself with the R1 disc (this being one of those annoying cases where the original film has been widely available on R2 for ages, but the second one remains tantalisingly offshore and foreign on it's far-off format) in the Blu-Ray player, wondering what i'll make of this half-remembered follow-up to a film i've seen many, many times...

And so it begins exactly where the first film ends, with Mark (Zach Galligan from Gremlins [Joe Dante, 1984] and Gremlins II: The New Batch [Joe Dante, 1990] and other stuff too, probably) and Sarah (sadly not reprised by the lovely Deborah Foreman from the original, and now played by Monika Schnarre - Warlock: the Armageddon [Anthony Hickox, 1993] - who looks gorgeous but is very stiff and possesses none of the naive charm of Foreman) escaping from the fury of the inferno that is engulfing Mr Lincoln's wax museum and razing it and all its mysteries to the ground.  They return to their homes, pursued by the severed, disembodied hand of a zombie (trust me, it makes perfect sense if you watch the first film first) that kills Sarah's drunkard stepfather in a sequence obviously lifted from - sorry, 'inspired by' - Ash's handy antics in Evil Dead II (Sam Raimi, 1987), right down to the hand-on-person violence utilising kitchen implements.  Sarah finds herself up in court charged with caving in her stepdaddy's cranium,and for some reason the ladies and gentlemen of the jury aren't taking the defence 'a hand did it' all that seriously.  Worried about the prospect of facing the sit-down dance in Old Sparky, Sarah and Mark seek help at the home of the lat Sir Wilfred - a friend of Mark's grandfather who fell (from his wheelchair) in battle against the hordes of darkness in the first film's climax.

Proving that death is but a door, Mark triggers a recording that the late Sir Wilf (the sadly departed great Avenger himself, Patrick MacNee) had left for them in case of his departure from this realm, in which he informs our troubled twosome that just because the waxworks has been destroyed needn't mean that the portals through time and space are all closed, whereupon the mirror creaks open to reveal a temporal rift that takes our dynamic duo through the looking glass to find a couple of impossible things before breakfast.  First stop on this trip through the annals of the cinefantastique is Castle Frankenstein, home of the Baron played by Martin Kemp (The Krays [Peter Medak, 1990], Embrace of the Vampire [Anne Goursaud, 1995], Strippers vs Werewolves [Jonathan Glendening, 2012]), giving us the strange spectacle of an ex-Spandau Ballerina channeling Colin Clive and Peter Cushing on crack whilst employing an outrageous Mittel-European ex-hent.  Also in residence in this crumbling Gothic pile are a ludicrously mugging hunchbacked servant who makes Marty Feldman's performance as 'Eye-Gor' in Mel Brooks' 1974 Young Frankenstein seem positively Shakespearean, and of course dwelling in the dungeon is a cobbled-together golem, a man-mountain of stitched-together flesh created by this particular scion of the Frankenstein family.  When the mandatory horde of torch-bearing peasants are led up the hill to the castle by the Burgomaster dead set on destruction of the Monster, Mark and Sarah attempt to flee with Frankenstein's scientific journal, to take home as 'proof' of their story but find themselves separated from each other, lost in different time streams.

This takes us to a section of the movie with two parallel stories: a wonderfully shot monochrome sequence aping Robert Wise's classic 1963 chiller The Haunting (complete with stark chiaroscuro photography, Dutched camera angles and crash zooms on doors that bulge and warp as an eldritch force pushes behind them), which finds Mark cast in the Russ Tamblyn role from the movie - complete with blond wig - and joined by none other than b-movie megastar Bruce Campbell (of the aforementioned Evil Dead franchise, and many, many more), Star Trek's beautiful Betazoid Marina Sirtis, and Sophie Ward in the roles previously essayed by Richard Johnson, Claire Bloom and Julie Harris respectively; meanwhile, Sarah finds herself cast in the Ellen Ripley role upon a starship stranded in deep space and under siege from a rampaging xenomorph that is positively Giger-esque (and not entirely unlike the Dragon from the 1987 Doctor Who serial "Dragonfire").

The main section of the movie is a sort of Roger Corman Edgar Allan Poe pastiche (with flavours of Corman's House of Usher [1960], The Pit and the Pendulum [1961] and The Masque of the Red Death [1964]), complete with deliberately poor matte painting of the villain's castle, with Sarah taking the part of a mediaeval princess at the mercy of the villainous Scarabus (a.k.a.: 'The Master') played with melodramatic relish by Alexander Godunov (Die Hard [John McTiernan, 1988], The Runestone [Willard Carroll, 1991]), who is spookily reminiscent of Vigo the Carpathian from Ivan Reitman's 1989 Ghostbusters II.  Mark finds himself Quantum Leap-ed into the life of a Princess Bride-style hero, who is gifted with an enchanted sword by a passing myserious beggar (essayed by David Carradine with the same kind of 'i need the money and it's a laugh' twinkle he employed slumming it in Fred Olen Ray's 1991 'opus' Evil Toons - a style also perfected by Rutger Hauer) and crosses the enchanted forest to enter the evil castle on his quest to free the captive princess and vanquish the black hearted - and black magic-wielding - villain before he can complete his diabolical plan to murder the King (John Ireland, whose career had included A Walk in the Sun [Lewis Milestone, 1945], Joan of Arc [Victor Fleming, 1948] and Spartacus [Stanley Kubrick, 1960], in his final screen role) and usurp the throne of England.

The movie climaxes in great swashbuckling style as Mark takes on the evil and deadly knave Scarabus in a sword duel that passes in and out of a series of portals, meaning that they thrust and parry their way through a Tokyo under attack from Godzilla (with badly-overdubbed dialogue for maximum devastating Toho effect), a suspiciously familiar 1970s shopping mall wherein the duellists are caught in the crossfire between a SWAT team of survivors and a horde of shambling flare-wearing zombies, a Victorian encounter with both Jack the Ripper and Mr Hyde, and a black and white silent clash with Graf Orlok the Nosferatu (spot the cameo by Drew Barrymore as one of the hairless revenant's intended victims).

In the end of course the dastardly Scarabus is vanquished, the hearts of horror and fantasy movie fans go all a-flutter at spotting all of the in-jokes and references, and Mark 'n' Sarah return to their own time with a replacement twitching zombie hand to give as evidence in her trial.  Justice is of course done - this not being sad reality - and our hero and heroine ride off into time and space for an infinity of surprises and never to be seen new adventures (presumably too broad and too deep for the large or small screen).

All in all, a fun film that may not have all of the gory glee of its predecessor but is never less than enjoyable happy hokum, with plenty of gags for the seasoned genre viewer to enjoy and some great grand guignol grotesquery: i'd quite forgotten how much my 13 year old self laughed at seeing Martin Kemp's head being squeezed by the Frankenstein Monster until all of his teeth pop out and his eyes explode from their sockets and his brain is crushed from his cranium and flies across the room (sans teeth, sans eyes, sans everything!).

It's still pretty funny in this time zone, too.

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