Friday, August 17, 2012

Automaton Transfusion: The Wax Mask (1997)

The Wax Mask (M.D.C. - Maschera di cera) (Italy, 1997)
Rating: **
starring:  Robert Hossein, Romina Mondello and Riccardo Serventi Longhi

What supposed to be a merging of two Italian horror flick legends (the Gialli maestro Dario Argento and the Italian Godfather of Gore Lucio Fulci) instead, with Fulci's passing a few weeks before production began, the directing job was handed over to special effects expert Sergio Stivaletti.

Now, I can't be sure myself what the whole flick would have been at the hands of Fulci but eitherways, the film had me speechless. Both in a good and bad way.

Paris, December 31st 1900: An iron-clawed killer horrifically mutilates a couple while unexpectedly leaving a single survivor that night, their young daughter. Twelve years later, in Rome, a young man apparently dies of fright when sneaking into a Wax museum by nighttime for a bet. As morning came, the incident was investigated and brushed off as an unexpected accident, all the while the museum's owner and artistic genius, Boris Volkoff (Robert Hossein), took in young Sonia (Romina Mondello), the girl who had witnessed her parents' murder twelve years earlier, as one of his workers in his prized museum of ghastly murders.

Though, it isn't long before people a black cloaked figure began abducting prostitutes and children off the streets, and the museum's supplies of wax figures is suspiciously growing...

Okay, so it's supposed to be based on the classic House of Wax (1953) story with folks being turned into wax, but this is where the problem starts. But before I go ranting about the drags this film have, let me first point out what's good: The Wax Mask has a good eye on historic settings and even pays tribute to classic horror settings of gothic buildings and even a secret dungeon that rings a bit like Frankenstein (1910). Pacing is steady and builds some suspense when it calls for, like the two child attacks that happens right after the other. Then there's one murder a man getting his entire hand ripped off by a cool looking metal claw before getting his throat cut and his heart ripped out, which is a ghastly overkill that got my attention and made me believe this is going to be a gory flick for me to love.

The Wax Mask certainly has a giallo feel to it, with the killer donning black gloves and cloak, and too the greater emphasis on the actual mystery itself rather than the murders. There's some sleaze thrown in, notably the fact that female victims of the "waxing" are stripped topless before the operation, though I'm quite unsure how to feel seeing preteen boobs on the screen (well, she IS dead).

Despite some few underdeveloped scenes, the story managed to keep a straight face for a while until, that is, the "waxing" process was shown. The scene finally showed how obscure the rest of the movie is going to be; without spoiling much, The Wax Mask dabbled in some sci-fi takes, a last minute merging that resulted to one of the worst endings and twist reveals I've seen. Sad to say, the silly and overly confusing conclusion that the whole movie working up to was damaging enough that the story went down like a house of cards, creating even more plot holes than I imagined. Italian horror was always about substance rather than plot and though there are some exceptions to this, one cannot deny that some of the greatest Italian horror flicks often didn't make a lot of sense. The Wax Mask should have been that, but it was only a matter of direction that seems befitting and frankly, the direction at the end didn't fit quite well at all.

Least we all could get some laughs at the end, but I'm still uneven with the whole movie. The murder mystery angle was quite nice though the identity of the killer was awfully obvious. Wish they could had conjured up a more "believable" ending at the end to make up for that, as it's really out of place for a period horror film.

Good for its own fans but easily forgettable, The Wax Mask is a must-have for Lucio fans alike and those who like weird endings...

1 male had his throat cut with kitchen knife, heart ripped out
1 female glimpsed stabbed on the back
1 male suffers a heart attack
1 boy embalmed into wax figure
1 female embalmed into wax figure
1 male stabbed on the chest with needle
1 female clawed
1 male face crushed
total: 8

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