Definitely one of the world's more successful horror/comedy hybrids, Waxwork wins my heart from the start by casting names like Patrick (The Howling) McNee, Deborah (April Fool's Day) Foreman, and Zach (Gremlins) Galligan. Gremlins is probably the best reference point for the goals here: we get smarter-than-average comedy paired with horror scenes that often get laudably graphic.
A waxwork is opening and the guy dressed like Willy Wonka is its proprietor. He offers a sneak peak to two girls who obviously haven't seen Demons. They invite four of their friends, one of whom skips out on a massive paper assignment, risking the wrath of his Nazi-sympathizer history prof.
They misspelled "fascism", but these scenes are still a good prologue for what's to come. Waxwork constantly hustles between laughs and frights, but plays them all with a good dose of fun. Striking the balance well is pretty tough, but this movie does a great job at keeping things moving and keeping us from overdosing on cutesy dross.
The horror aspect of the film comes to the fore once we learn that people can magically fall into the waxworks, whereupon they must survive encounters with werewolves, vampers, and many other golden oldies.
The inventiveness and level of detail in these scenes should be commended. The makers obviously knew that the monster scenes were going to be highlights because they put a lot of thought into framing and rendering very striking sets. They got the pentagram right! Good job, movie!
The creatures and their deaths are pretty spectacular, too.
Although Waxwork does seem to have a weird impalement fetish.
It's great fun throughout and the one that irked me was the portrayal of the Marquis de Sade. Not that this actor does a bad job, it's really just that I'm tired of seeing Sade depicted as a romance novel coverboy instead of a puffy mutant, as he actually was.
But Waxwork should get credit here, too, because its portrayal of BDSM as an interest of relatively normal people was way ahead of its time. Plus this leads to some superb Deborah Foreman acting, when her eyes fill up with embarrassment about her behavior. If Deborah Foreman had done more ponderous & preachy films and fewer fun ones, she'd definitely have more actress acclaim. She definitely had the skills. But I'm grateful that she's one of ours.
We as viewers are lucky because the film ends with its strongest scenes. What had been basically an anthology film with a really thick wraparound story ends up as an amazing monster mash. The waxworks come to life just in time for an elongated battle royal with some senior citizens. If that doesn't sell you on Waxwork, nothing will.