Italy has long been notorious for the production of sleazy Eurotrash and cheeky (albeit excellent, in many cases) horror films. I’m not sure if most folks would consider this a good thing or not, but I certainly do. If it weren’t for Italian cinema, we wouldn’t have classic films like ZOMBIE, SUSPIRIA, and PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES.
In 1997, horror masters Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci teamed up to make WAX MASK, a period horror piece that pays homage to earlier “waxworks” films like HOUSE OF WAX. Unfortunately, Fulci passed away before he could start. Argento replaced him with special effects wiz Sergio Stivaletti, and the resulting film is his first foray into directing. And while it’s not a perfect film, WAX MASK is still a hell of a debut, and it’s definitely worthy of a spot in any collector’s horror library.
If you are not familiar with WAX MASK, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of One 7 Movies & CAV Distributing:
There’s a new attraction in town that’s not for the fainthearted. A wax museum that recreates, for the thrills of a paying audience, some of the most gruesome murders ever committed by human hands.
A young man makes a bet with his friends that he can spend an entire night in the museum but he is found dead the morning after. Who is the savage slayer? The police are unable to come up with a reason or a clue to identify the murderer. Weirdly enough, the museum starts featuring new murder scenes as the killing spree increases. Is the metal-clawed killer that haunted Paris years ago, prowling the streets of Rome, looking for fresh flesh and blood?
I will start off by stating I really enjoyed this film. It has great atmosphere, top notch special effects, and an intriguing concept. Granted, it’s an idea we’ve seen before…but this is a sort of fresh take on what’s already been done.
WAX MASK is shot well and looks great onscreen, particularly due to an excellent HD transfer onto Blu-ray. The picture is crisp and sharp, which impresses me given the number of dimly lit scenes that occupy the film. Many times, lower-light shots stand out in a bad way in an HD upgrade…but not so here. The darker spots are just as clear as the brighter ones.
The acting is very typical of what I’ve come to expect in Italian horror films: very mediocre. No major names stand out in the cast list, and no major talent shines through in anybody’s performances. This isn’t a big detraction from the film, but you need to know what you’re in for if you watch it.
The special effects look fantastic overall, although I will confess a couple of them do look a bit cheesy. I say this because a couple of dismembered body parts look a bit too “rubbery” to pass off as real. Again, this doesn’t take away from the movie, and the rest of the gore is great. There’s plenty of it, too, thankfully.
The story in WAX MASK is familiar, as mentioned, but it has enough originality to stand out from previous versions. The intensity is high, and there’s even a couple of nice twists that you (hopefully) won’t see coming. I didn’t catch on to them until they happened, which in turn made the surprise a nice addition to the plot.
Regardless of its minor flaws, WAX MASK is still a lot of fun, and I recommend it. If you are any kind of fan of Fulci’s or Argento’s, or even an Italian horror buff at all, this one is for you. And even if you’re not familiar with Italian horror, this still warrants a look. It is available now.