Written by Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento, Wax Mask is a sexy, Italian, gothic horror piece set in a wax museum of murderous atrocities. Its dedicated to the Italian horror master Lucio Fulci, whose involvement on Wax Mask ended with his death in March of 1996. Replaced by director Sergio Stivaletti – this blend of influences formulates into an homage-like horror mystery, in which a detective and writer team up to try and solve a string of murders that have been going on for over 12 years.
Wax Mask doesn’t feel typically Argento or Fulci, but does on levels feel related to the two. Its got that wax museum, hammer horror feel, mixing modern filmmaking into a gothic reflection of the days of museums, dungeons, laboratories, and creepy curators. Dubbed and chock full of exceptionally beautiful and often nude actresses for every age (was that a topless 13 year old they just showed on the autopsy table!?) – it also wields a good share of gore for bloodthirsty DVD ghouls looking for some visual indulgence.
Wax Museum owner Boris Volkoff (Robert Hossein) is an artist extreme. In his mansion you can find countless recreations, so lifelike you’d swear they are real. Many of them are hideous, and depict gruesome murder scenes from real life cases. Enter Sonia (Romina Mondello), who comes to the museum seeking a job. When she was 12, her parents were murdered by a cloaked man with a metal hand. He chopped the parents to bits and never saw the 12 year old survivor. What eventually unfurls are the relations of all the characters, from yesterday to today – Boris, Sonia, her aunt, the detective and the writer, even the caretaker assistant. This horror mystery tangles itself and then unweaves into a good detailed plot that reminds you of the great films from the 50’s, like Vincent Price’s House of Wax.
What stands out from Wax Mask more than its fright factor is its cinematic beauty. Filmed in Italy, the costumes are lavish, from the brothel to the people in the streets – its almost as if the cast of Amadeus could trot through and you wouldn’t notice. Ancient landmarks, lavish environments, it is grand on the eye. There is even a particular death scene that plays out like classic stage theater – the Italian opera record playing in the background, the masked killer who strikes wearing the victim’s face, the piercing of his heart to the song’s crescendo, where he then falls to the floor dead, his face beside the identical mask. Brilliant!
Scare wise, there really aren’t any worth mentioning. Its more so a gothic mood piece with a strong mystery vein and enough blood it could fill your mouth, brim over and trickle out your nostrils. You’ll see hands twisted off from the wrist, hearts pulled from chests, naked women syringed and transformed to wax on a lab table, and as with almost every Fulci piece I’ve ever watched – the fascination with the eye. Wax Mask’s involvement is not as “violent” as Zombie or The Beyond in that sense, but several heads will melt – reflective of The Devil’s Rain finale – and the blood is a nice, arterial, bright red.
Final analysis: Its not a sure thing for everyone, and its not what you’d typically expect from Lucio Fulci or Dario Argento on their own, but Wax Mask is a cinematically rich horror mystery chock full of wax, corpses, and hammer red blood. Soaked in classic gothic imagery, mixed with modern Terminator style bionics, horror fans should be adequately satisfied with the exotically beautiful nudity, sex, and bloody carnage. More bizarre than it is frightening, it seems timeless, with age-old sceneries and costumes, injecting you with memories of Vincent Price in effigy, keeping part of that classic, European horror tradition alive.