Friday, June 14, 2013

WAXWORKS (1924)

This one just barely limped across the genre line to horror.  WAXWORKS is a very early example of the anthology film and the wraparound in this case demonstrates that wraparounds have always been extraordinarily weak and underconceived.  So don't feel bad, CREEPSHOW 2.  A writer sees an ad at the fair and lands a job writing backstories for the three or so wax figures in the world's most disappointing wax museum.  This ersatz plot leads to the real meat of WAXWORKS, two short historical/fantastic films about Ivan the Terrible and fat Arab polyamorist Haroun, plus a teeny baby tacked-on story about Spring-Heeled Jack and/or Jack the Ripper, who I'm pretty sure were two different people, but whatever. 


First, we have the film's lengthiest entry.  A baker in one of Islam's many golden eras is married to a beauty who he keeps behind doors, away from hungry eyes.  She's bored with her locked-in life, so he promises to steal the Caliph's magical wishing ring for her, right after he squeezes her boobs with his floury hands.


But, in the film's most imaginative sequence, portly Caliph Haroun enjoys walking around at night for exercise and he ends up at the baker's house with his wife.  WAXWORKS is pretty restrained here and doesn't even give us kissing on the lips, but doles out scads of Shakespeare-lite love-trio comedy.  There are some decent visuals to be had as well, but generally I was pretty unimpressed.


Section 2!  Ivan the Terrible can't really help his behavior because his name is Ivan the Terrible.  His main hobby is watching people die after they've been poisoned.  He employs a "poison mixer" to write victims' names on an hourglass.  Life sucked before Roku.


The visuals here, like in the Haroun entry, are intermittently enjoyable.  Picking Baghdad and Russia as settings was a fine call, as we get minarets and onion domes to enjoy even when the plots sputter and falter.  The story as such wasn't super-compelling, but this portion at least had fewer grating elements than the Haroun "whimsy".


Finally, horror!  Gets 6 whole minutes!  Back in the wax museum, the Jack figure comes to life and stalks our hero writer and the gal who also works at the wax museum (that has three figures total).  This is a trippy sequence, with tons of superimpositions of carnival rides and such laid atop images of cringing and glaring.  


Most anthologies are failures in a creative or artistic sense.  Approximately none of them excel at cohesion or gestalt, so the best that one can reasonably expect is a gem or two along the way.  Nothing in WAXWORKS was memorably offensive, but nothing was especially memorable either. Like the last few silents I've seen, mediocre, and I'm starting to think there's a reason I hadn't heard of a lot of this stuff before.

RATING: 5/10

TOP TEN OF THE 1920S (unchanged!):
1.  The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
2.  The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
3.  The Unknown (1927)
4.  Maciste in Hell/Maciste all'Inferno (1925)
5.  The Wind (1928)
6.  A Page of Madness (1926)
7.  The Cat and the Canary (1927)
8.  Genuine: the Tale of a Vampire (1920)
9.  Alraune (1928)
10. The Magician (1926)

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