Saturday, December 24

Some quick thoughts on The Wax Mask (M.D.C. - Maschera di cera) (1997)

Originally conceived as a comeback for a long ailing Lucio Fulci who passed shortly before production began, The Wax Mask is a twist on the tradition of House of Wax set at the dawn of the 20th century in Paris. A master wax sculptor (Robert Hossein) harboring a "mechanical" secret and his apprentice are adding to their public collection by way of kidnapping and brutal chemical treatments. A young, beautiful assistant (Romina Mondello) with troubling childhood experiences joins the duo and unwittingly becomes their prey. Her only hope rests in the hands of a reporter (Riccardo Longhi) both snooping around as death haunts the waxworks and courting the fare maiden.

At the risk of pissing off The Wax Mask's fans who deem it as proof gothic horror was still kicking in '97, the impression left from SFX artist Sergio Stivaletti's directorial debut was more period soap opera than Mario Bava. Before you heave your tomatoes and breadsticks understand that this prim and proper quality actually leads to an bittersweet observation in regards to the state of Italian horror.

By the time this dedication to Fulci debuted, the country's cinematic sea change from capitalistic to artistic had already taken hold and there's hints of this riddled throughout. There's almost no veteran genre holdovers inhabiting minor roles in a cast of near total Italian descent. International distribution probably wasn't a priority as the shooting language was obviously Italian with the English dub making little effort to match lips (think Godzilla). And in spite of being directed by a man capable of ample amounts of screen mayhem, the gore is sparse and placed aside in favor of a "purposeful" atmosphere and costumes reminiscent of Mel Brooks' Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995). Just without the comedy, that is. The rich orchestral score by Maurizio Abeni also shuns any electronic doodling with a sound echoing Danny Elfman's work on Burton's two Batmans. Serious business, folks.

So while competently made, the mood begins to wane as the story lumbers along to its inevitable climax between the girl (strapped nude to a tortuous chair for "waxing"), her lover, and madman. It's a shame that this exercise in "restructuring" what it meant to be a horror film produced in Italy lost that vital something in translation (there's even a couple CG effects). Ultimately, The Wax Mask is an interesting curiosity but there's a reason Michele Soavi's 1994 Dellamorte Dellamore has become the official page break of the industry. Pony Canyon's Japanese LaserDisc looks and sounds very solid framed at 1.66:1 widescreen. The picture quality is actually nicer than Image's long out-of-print DVD which manages to have crispy edge enhancement and clumpy textures. I often forgot I was watching an LD...


DrunkethWizerd said...

Echoing Batman huh? It's a shame that I've not seen this yet. I've been meaning to for years.

Kaijinu said...

I still don't get the ending of this flick! The killer/s are robots?! you dare tread upon the staircase?

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