Monday, October 1, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 1 -- Double Feature Review

Welcome to the first of my Countdown to Halloween themed reviews. To kick us off, you're getting two review in one.

Recently, while indulging one of my semi-regular horror movie binges via Netflix Watch Instantly, I stumbled across an 80s horror movie that I had rather fond memories of from my youth, but which I hadn't seen in ages. Feeling a mixture of nostalgia and curiosity, I decided to re-watch the film to see if it (and later, its sequel) lived up to my happy recollections.

The plot of Waxwork centers around a mysterious wax museum which has opened up in the middle of a residential neighborhood.  When a group of high school friends receive an invitation to a special midnight sneak peek, they find themselves the victims of sinister magic which entraps them within the wax tableaux starring famous figures of evil; everything from wolfmen and zombies to Jack the Ripper and the Marquis de Sade.  Each tableau serves as a mystic portal to the world of the featured villain, which means that the film gets to serve up a variety of settings and creatures to keep the plot moving and hold the audience's interest. 

With Waxwork, you have one of those quintessential 80s horror/comedy mixes, a la Fright Night, Night of the Creeps, House, etc.  And although few would argue that Waxwork truly ranks up with the aforementioned films in terms of quality, I found that it managed to maintain the balance between the horror and comedy more often than not.  The cast of protagonists, lead by Zach Galligan of Gremlins fame, manages to be fun and relatable, and while the final battle between the forces of good and evil threatened to swerve into slapstick, it managed to stay just grounded enough to keep me from losing my patience.

Unfortunately, its sequel, Waxwork II: Lost in Time did not.

Picking up directly where the previous film ended, the surviving heroine is followed home by the sole surviving creature from the destroyed wax museum.  When the creature kills her alcoholic father, the heroine is arrested for the murder.  Since nobody will believe her story, she and her fellow survivor from the first movie go on a quest for proof.  Sadly, the quest is powered more by impulsiveness than logic, and the two find themselves bouncing through time portal after time portal, which leads to horror movie parody after horror movie parody. 

It's here that the sequel lost me.  While the first film did play around slightly with the styles of the different worlds visited through the wax tableaux, each world was still grounded enough to create a sense of danger.  But with Lost in Time, the worlds visited are often played more as an excuse for over-the-top gags.  Instead of letting the humor service the story, the humor overpowered the story; the climax of the Haunting of Hill House parody sequence was especially egregious in that respect.  The balance that existed in the first film was sadly missing in the follow-up, and the change in tone poisoned the film for me. 

This isn't to say that Lost in Time was a bad film, per se; even with the tone skewing more towards slapstick than in the first movie, there are still some nice and entertaining set pieces sprinkled throughout. But by the time the movie was through, its open ending made it feel more like a backdoor pilot for a fantasy-adventure series than a horror flick. 

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