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Wax Mask reviewed/unmasked

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Wax Mask reviewed/unmasked

Old 09-08-00, 05:27 PM
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Image Entertainment (the wonderful bipolar company that has Dersu Uzala next to Frankenstien's Castle of Freaks on its release schedule as well as any number of Penthouse titles on top of Masterpieces of Opera)
Presents...
A Dario Argento produced feature,
Based on the Gaston Leroux tale,
Written by Lucio Fulci,
Directed by Sergio Stivaletti,
WAX MASK

Wax Mask has a lot to live up to. Not only is it a retelling of an already classic horror story and film (House of Wax 1953), but it has the cold, mechanical, blood drenched hands of two masters of Italian horror dipped into it, Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci, who was to direct the film but then he became worm food. So, the film was handed to Sergio Stivaletti, Argento's frequent special effects man on such films as Phenonena, Opera, Demons (by Lamberto Bava), Dellamorte/Dellamore (by Michele Soavi), and Stendhal Syndrome. It is Stivaletti's film-directing debut, and, it is a pretty fair debut. He handles himself well and shows a good eye for composition, though he doesnt scream "new great talent". He is just capable, and I cant help but think, based on Fulci's career downslide, Stivaletti probably handled the film better than the aged Fulci would have.

Briefly the story goes- Paris early 1900's. Young girl witnesses a cloaked in black, metal-handed killer tear her fathers heart out. Girl grows up, goes to work at a wax museum that features gruesome murder recreations and is run by a creepy sculptor/curator and his creepier henchmen. Wouldnt you know it, but a guy cloaked in black turns up and prostitutes and little children start to disappear. Boy, dont those statues look just like real people? A photographer/reporter that thinks he's a real lothario puts the movies on our heroine and begins to investigate all disappearances, witch of course lead straight to the wax museum.

What surprised me was the traditional setting, I just assumed it was an update like Waxwork or something, but the classic setting really helps the film, a rare thing to see in Italian horror witch usually stays in modern times. I guess Dario was on this classic kick since he was directing his horrible Phantom of the Opera version roughly the same time he was producing Wax Mask. Stivaletti throws all the classic horror elements at us, a laboratory complete with glowing, bubbling, multi-colored liquids, levers that send huge lightning bolt sparks, classical score, and so on. Likewise, film is by no means a bloodbath, but the gore it does have is good; the typical Italian horror going over the top just wouldnt suit the style. It is dubbed, as expected, and fairly well. The mad curator has a good voice with an Italian accent, a practice I think should be stuck to- when dubbing a film, get actors who are from the country the film was made, the accent always helps. And, of course, they make the classic dubbing blunder by having an adult woman do a childs voice, luckily its a very minor character.

The lead actors- The girl is good, most of all, damn gorgeous, a mix of 20% Beatrice Dalle and 80% Duff from the early 90ís MTV days, or sort of a long lost, sultry daughter of Anna Karina. Yes, she does get topless a few times, a selling point to Italian horror almost as great as the gore. The actor playing the photographer/reporter is supposed to be the hunk, but the guy is just a real dweeb, a rather bad bit of casting. 25 years ago John Philip Law, David Hemmings, or Helmut Berger would have been perfect. The curator is menacing, but not overtly maniacal. I guess the material is so well known we all know heís the villain, so there is no point in hiding that fact or playing it too much. Competent performances all around.

Aside from the typical, stale scene here and there, and a thankfully brief finale in witch the movie falls flat on its face, it is paced very well, and rounds itself out to be a good B level Italian horror movie. Itís not a masterpiece like Suspiria or Dellamorte/Dellamore, but its also not quite a dud like Demons 2 or Phantom of the Opera. If you can sit through Trauma without clawing your eyes out, then you should surely enjoy this. As I said, Italian horror fans should appreciate it. Other horror fans may enjoy it for its revisiting classic horror elements while injecting modern style, but may be turned off by the flat acting and thin plot Italian horror fans are used to. Its good, stylish, cheesy, fun.

The DVD looks fantastic. The picture is very sharp and the colors are quite vivid. stiviletti uses many heavy blue and red lit scenes, as well as a POV in amber hues and a flashback in green (?, a strange choice). Having watched Demons just a week before, I can say that the image quality of Wax Mask was surprisingly better. The only extra feature is a behind the scenes photo slide show that you cannot pause and contains about twenty pictures. It comes in a cardboard case, but the disc is cheaply priced, so these things are to be expected.

A big glad hand goes to Stivaletti, for the night scene where, while her parents are arguing outside her room, a young girl lays in her bed watching the creepy shadows of the tree on her wall, and then the cloaked, metal-handed killers shadow emerges from the trees shadow, he enters her room, and then we follow the shadow of his syringe wielding hand as it ominously flows over her bed. Very classy.

Wax Mask (1997)
DVD release, Sept. 5, 2000
98 mins
Not Rated
LBX
MSRP: $24.99

buy.com: $14.99
800.com: $17.45
amazon: $17.49
Express.com: $17.49


[This message has been edited by coffin_booth (edited September 09, 2000).]
Old 09-09-00, 07:44 PM
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I was disappointed with this disc. I think the '53 House of Wax is much much better. The most disappointing thing is the dubbing, in one word, multiple times, atrocious, atrocious, atrocious. It was so amateurish, the dialogue & the syncing, it totally took me out of the film. It was bad as the 60s godzilla films i watched on TV as a kid.

I dont' know why they couldn't have done a version in Italian with subtitles too.

Image has nicely priced discs, you can't beat Black Sunday for $25.00, but I'd rather spend an extra five bucks for a more polished presentation.

Finally, & unfortunately, I'd have to say that this is the worst film in their EUROSHOCK collection so far.

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Tony Block
Old 09-10-00, 04:06 PM
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quote:<HR>Originally posted by Tony Block:
I was disappointed with this disc. I think the '53 House of Wax is much much better. The most disappointing thing is the dubbing,...

I dont' know why they couldn't have done a version in Italian with subtitles too...
<HR>


Well, i never expected it to be in the same league as House of Wax, so as hard as it may be to do, you have to not think about House of Wax. As far as the dubbing goes, it is the standard practice in Italy to film without sound and dub into the respective languages of where the film will be released. That is the method and that is what you must expect.

i always approach Italian Horror as a completely different animal. You cant judge it next to Classic horror or American horror. If i were to judge every Italian horror film i've seen versus other horror, i would almost always say the acting was poor or the story weak. You have to accept that it is dubbed and that the general feel, whether in the scripting or acting, it will be style over substance, more expressionistic than logical. Its somehting that must be judged against other Italian horror, and, by that system, i thought it was pretty fair.

Its too bad you dont like dubbing. Being an anime, Toho, Italian horror, kung fu fan, it is something i've always dealt with/learned to enjoy. Hell, one of the charms of 70's kung fu and Godzilla movies is the outrageous, campy dubbing. In most cases, i always prefer subtiles, but a Godzilla/Toho studios film just would not be the same without the dubbing.

Old 09-10-00, 10:40 PM
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Don't Torture a Duckling is dubbed but it doesen't bother me, Same with most of Argento's films or Bava's.

The problem with the dubbing in Wax Mask is that it sounds, it's hard to describe this, like the dubbing was recorded in a vacuum and sounds artificial.

Black Sabbath by Bava was recorded in Italian, and in English for the AIP, albeit altered, version. Moreover, Image released the Italian version & the new upcoming Bava film from Image is also going to be in Italian w/subtitles according to Tim Lucas, who does the liner notes & did the audio commentary on Black Sunday.

I'm sure there is an Italian language version of Wax Mask & they could have at least provided an Italian track along with the English track. Image provided two language tracks for "The Awful Dr. Orlof."
& the trilogy "Spirits of the Dead."

Given my druthers, I'd rather have the film presented in it's original language. When you look at the bad dubbing job in Wax Mask & see lips moving when there is silence on the screen, it's obvious they're not speaking English. My guess is it's Italian.

I'm sure there's a copy of it somewhere w/an Italian language track that Image could have obtained and added as a "supplement" to the English language track.

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Tony Block

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