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January 24, 2017

Wax Mask

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Maschera di cera
Sergio Stivaletti - 1997
One 7 Movies BD Region 0

Having read about Wax Mask, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. What was planned to be a comeback film for Lucio Fulci turned out to be the directorial debut of special effects creator Sergio Stivaletti. The screenplay is credited to Fulci, sometime Fulci collaborator Daniele Stroppa, and producer Dario Argento. Unofficially inspired by a story from Phantom of the Opera author, Gaston Leroux, as well as Mystery of the Wax Museum (Michael Curtiz - 1933) and House of Wax (Andre De Toth - 1953), the film is a loving tribute to the classic horror films of the 1930s, juiced up with graphic gore and partial nudity.

There's this wonderful scene with an attractive female victim strapped to a table in a basement laboratory. The partially seen killer is ready to prepare the woman to become one of the wax figures, in a museum devoted to killers, victims, and mythical demons. On one of the walls are four large tubes of what I assume is colored water - blue, red, orange and green, bubbling away. There are also flashes of electric sparks, the kind first associated with James Whale's Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. The killer, disguised in a heavy black coat, fedora, and metal hand, is reminiscent of Peter Lorre in Mad Love. It's not just taking some of the iconic images from older horror films into a new package, but filming them with in deliriously lurid colors.

Veteran French actor, Robert Hossein, in his last major role, plays the proprietor of the wax museum, Boris Volkoff. Romina Modello is the young costume designer, Sonia, who is employed by Volkoff to dress the wax figures. As a young girl, on New Year's Eve, 1900, Sonia witnessed the gruesome murder of her parents. Twelve years later, Sonia attempts to face her fears. Coincidences, some plot holes and a couple of anachronisms follow, but the film is so visually sumptuous that it didn't really matter.

And directorial credit aside, Wax Mask primarily shows the hand of Dario Argento, much in the way that the first The Thing resembles the other films by Howard Hawks, rather than subsequent films by Christian Nyby. There are a couple of point of view traveling shots. A later shot with a face seen as a reflection of glass recalls Deep Red. The discovery by a photographer that the wax figures are actually human victims is similar to the quasi-scientific explanations found in some of Argento's gialli. Additionally, there is Argento's demonstrated love for classic films, mostly demonstrated in his previous casting of Alida Valli, Joan Bennett and Clara Calamai, among others. I would think that Argento had a hand in casting Hossein based on the actor's past history as frequently playing villains, as well as Hossein having a small, uncredited role in Once Upon a Time . . . in the West, which Argento helped write.

The French silent short, Figures in Wax, made by Maurice Tourneur in 1914, is mentioned by the photographer, while the camera pans by a poster in a later scene. Eleven minutes long, it is also a partial inspiration for the story, as well as some of the imagery. You can see it on YouTube, and very much worth checking out, especially in conjunction with this gorgeous blu-ray full of its own visual pleasures.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at January 24, 2017 08:31 AM