Another Nine Nights of Argento #5 – “The Wax Mask” (1997)

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Here we go again! For my third annual Halloween trek through horror master Dario Argento‘s frightful filmography, I’m glopping through a gory grab bag of the Giallo madman’s screenplays, TV work, and other obscure treats.

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Originally planned as a team-up between Giallo masters (and rivals) Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci before the latter’s untimely death, Sergio Stivaletti‘s The Wax Mask was intended to be an Italian take on the classic terror tale House of Wax. The end result has little to do with either man, as Argento had his hands full with The Stendhal Syndrome, and Fulci’s original story was rewritten by Daniele Stroppa. With so many cooks in the kitchen, the Gothic horror film is kind of a beautiful mess, offering up exquisite production design, gloppy gore effects, odd bits of dated CGI, and a healthy serving of Giallo nonsense.

Over a decade after young Sonia (Romina Mondello) witnessed a horrific murder in Paris by a man with a Terminator-style metallic hand, a wax museum run by an eccentric artist named Boris Volkoff (the great Robert Hossein) becomes the talk of the town in 1912 Rome. Unfortunately, the museum has built a creepy reputation for people sneaking in after hours and never coming out. When Sonia discovers an exact wax exhibit of the murder she witnessed as a child, she knows there’s some spooky shit afoot.

Special effects artist Stivaletti’s strong work ethic lends the film with a level of all-around competence rarely seen in a 90’s Argento production. Compared to 1998’s The Phantom of the Opera, Argento’s unwatchable stab at Gothic horror, it’s hard to walk out of the film and not be a little impressed. The film conjures up some of the most effective setpieces this side of Suspiria, with robotic skeletons bursting out of wax figures, nude women strapped to steam punk lightning machines, and an ambitious effects-laden finale.

Next Up: DOOR INTO DARKNESS: THE TRAM (1973)

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Categories: Dario Argento, Director Spotlight, Features

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