Thursday, January 26, 2017

THE WAX MASK (1997) (Blu-ray Review)

THE WAX MASK (1997) 

Label: One 7 Movies

Release Date: January 31st 2017 
Region Code: A
Duration: 94 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0, Italian Dolby TrueHD 5.1. Dolby Digital 2.0 (No Subtitles) 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Director: Sergio Stivaletti
Cast: Robert Hossein, Romina Mondello, Riccardo Serventi Longhi

Synopsis: There is a new attraction in town, 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 bets with his friends that he will spend an entire night in the museum but is found dead the morning after. Who is the savage slayer? The police is unable to come up with a reason or a clue to identify the murder. Weirdly enough, the museum starts featuring new murder scenes as the killing spree increases. Maybe that metal-clawed killer that haunted Paris in past years is back, this time prowling on the streets of Rome looking for fresh blood and young flesh.

The Wax Mask (1997) was originally envisioned as a comeback vehicle for Italian gore-maestro Lucio Fulci (City of the Living Dead), working for the first time with longtime rival Dario Argento (Tenebre) as a producer, and co-written by Fulci regular Daniele Stroppa (The House of Clocks, Voices from Beyond). Sadly Fulci's health was already in decline and he died before principal photography began. Argento was already working on his awful adaptation of Phantom of the Opera at this point and handed over directing duties to longtime collaborator Sergio Stivaletti. While it would be the first time directing for the special effects artist he seems to have picked-up some directing skills from his collaborations with not just Argento, but Michele Soavi (The Church), and Lamberto Bava (Demons), and it shows in the visually rich composition of this Gothic horror. The movie is based on Gaston Leroux's short story "The Waxwork Museum", but Stivaletti amps up the Goth with some bloody gore, adding a weird science fiction angle, and in usual Italian exploitation style, also adds the surprise element of a steampunk Terminator-esque villain!

The film proper opens in Paris, the year is 1900, and as fireworks explode in the Parisian sky a young couple are brutally murdered in their apartment by an intruder with a strange metal claw/hand, slicing open the man's throat, ripping off his hand and tearing his heart out. Their young daughter Sonia witnesses the heinous crime and survives by hiding beneath the bed. Twelve years later we catch up with  Sonia (the gorgeous Romina Mondello) who is now living in Rome with her blind aunt. Sonia is hired on as a costume designer for a newly opened wax museum, which is curated  Boris Volkoff (Robert Hossien, Cemetery Without Crosses). The place is spooky, with the wax effigies portraying horrific true crime scenes in exciting and gruesome detail, including what turns out to be a too-keenly detailed portrayal of Sonia's own father's murder. 

Early on a pair of young men at a brothel make a wager with each other, one man dares the other to spend the night in the wax museum, for which he will receive a lucrative reward. The man accepts the challenge and makes his way inside, and we discover that something sinister is afoot, with the man dying of fright in the night. As a variation on The Waxwork Museum it should come as little surprise that the curator Volkoff is up to no good in his basement laboratory.  

The attractive Sonia catches the eye of a local reporter named Andrea (Riccardo Serventi Longhi), who is covering the opening of the macabre museum, sensing that something sinister is happening they team-up to solve the mystery of the murderous wax museum, culminating in an inferno of melted wax and Terminator-esque weirdness.  

The movie is certainly a grand-looking affair with wonderful Gothic atmosphere helped along by longtime Fulci cinematographer Sergio Salvati (The Beyond) with nicely lit sets using rich, saturated colored lighting with fluid camera movement. The period settings are finely detailed with nicely textured decoration, every nook and crannie of Volkoff's basement laboratory is brimming with cool steampunk gadgetry that the diabolical curator uses to create his macabre creations, I love the style of the whole production which does a fantastic job with the period setting and Gothic designs.  

As I recall the Italian horror scene was a bit anemic in the 90s with just a few notable entries that come to mind from Lamberto Bava (Body Puzzle) and Michele Soavi (Cemetery Man), so this is a notable release. I love the attractive Gothic atmosphere, and the sweeping score from Maurizio Abeni (Seed of Chucky) which also enhances the Gothic visuals. It has Hammer Gothic-ness to it but it steps up the horror with some well done practical gore effects, the rich visuals are only marred by some awfully dated 90s digital effects. Also nice to watch are the gorgeous women, the Italian movies never seemed to want for European beauties, and this one does not disappoint. 

Audio/Video:  The Wax Mask (1997) was previously issued oN DVD by Image Entertainment in 2000 as part of the EuroShock Collection, the long out-of-print disc was non-anamorphic and looked awful but it was the best we had at the time. That was then, now One 7 Movie bring it to Blu-ray for the first time! Pretty sure this is the first ever Blu-ray from One 7 Movies, as their debut HD offering this is very nice. The 1080p HD really brings out the color, warmth and  richness of the cinematography, good stuff. Audio options include both English and Italian with a choice of Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0, the surround has some fun use of surrounds with stuff like water dripping and the score bleeding into the rear channels. Sadly no English subtitles are available for the Italian audio options.  Worth noting, the audio on the English dub reverts to Italian for a few seconds, not ruinous, but noteworthy, especially since we have no subtitle options to assist. 

Onto the extras we get about a half hour of behind-the-scenes video footage of Stivaletti directing and more of the special effects team working on gore-gags, applying make-up effects on the actors and preparing special effects shots for filming. If I had to nitpick I would love to have had a commentary on this one from someone along the lines of a Kim Newman, Stephen Thrower, or Alan Jones. Another dig is that the artwork for this release is just awful, too dark and drab, the packaging looks like a cheap public domain release. These One 7 Movies releases are not cheap, I would expect some more work be put into the aesthetics of the packaging to reflect that. 

Special Features: 
- Backstage Scenes (23 min) HD 
- special Effects scenes (13 min) HD 

Glad to see The Wax Mask back in circulation, One 7 Movies have put together a pleasing Blu-ray that has been long-overdue. The movie, it's a fun and entertaining Gothic mystery with some decent gore, a bit over-long and the mystery is a bit on the convoluted side, but it has a lot more going for it than it had negatives. 3/5