When one sees the names Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento joining to together to work possibly on new horror projects, many across the horror genre have great aspirations for the future project. However, death played the spoils, as intended director Fulci passed on, March 13, 1996 (at the age of 68) and it crippled the project, until Dario tagged special effects guru Sergio Stivaletti, for the position to helm the film. A note, Argento paused, the production and paid for the funeral arrangements. Sounds great, except is goes a tad deeper, Lucio’s health deteriorated much worst in the 1990s, due complications with his diabetes, and Dario’s project seen more as inspiration than sympathy to rekindle his the spirits, similar to those gestures made by friends Chaney and Lugosi, the community horror a close knit family. Therefore, in honor of their friend, the screenplay finished by Daniele Stroppa, using elements from Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera and from director Andre De Toth’s House of Wax (1953) which starred the legendary Vincent Price. Stivaletti step successfully into the director chair, and though he wanted the title, this became hurried pre-production needing casting, locations and more factors all on his shoulders. Many horror fans agree that The Wax Mask fits snuggly into the love it or hate it Italian Horror landscape, likely reserved for those only keenly aware of these cinema gems.
The tale starts similar to the that of House of Wax, wherein a scientist and museum curator Boris Volkoff (Robert Hossein) becomes dreadfully burned in an accident many years ago, catching his wife with another man, since he resurrected not just himself but a new ghastly and horrid wax museum. The storyline jumps a bit, with an opening scene flashback of a violent crime in Paris, where a child’s name Sonia Lafont hid and survived the vicious attack, she later comes to work for Boris as a costumer. In addition, 12-years later at a brothel regular guest, Andrea (Riccardo Serventi Longhi), decides to wager one of his friends to spend a night in the wax museum, of course, one agrees, Luca (Daniele Auber) accepts a bet, which leads to some interesting issues. One learns of Boris’ problems from his accident affecting his mental state quite not as solid, he’s more of a monster inside in multiple ways as everyone learns about eventually. The puzzle of the plot slowly comes together and builds, while giving a nod to sleaze fetishism, and some gory factors. Boris’ sinister assistant, Alex (Umberto Balli), finds the right models for their work at the museum, all with the intention to have life reflected in the wax. The effects scatter throughout the film sometimes starts to upstage the cast’s performance, and begins to run into the risk of hurting the production, but the modern effects of gore brings about much satisfaction.
While the film doesn’t break any new ground, it keeps the basis confined and borrows from other horror movies such as touching on Terminator and struggles to develop a proper plot without sacrificing style points and sexuality, a common issue and to some a critical tipping point in the Italian Horror cinema. However, many compare the presentation to gothic horror, rather than modern, namely movie focuses on a period piece with the excellent uses of bold colors and offsetting with lighting cast shadows for tension filled moments. The practical effects hold well, and no one would question, since Stivaletti at the helm, and oversaw the aspects of the usage, much like a Tom Savini. The pains of the movie the most aside from some granite firm acting comes from the dubbing showing great dissatisfaction in the process.
This boils down to average and typical Italian Horror, while not for everyone, it does work, a moment in the film, almost unravels everything earned by this ambitious movie, but the vibrant nature to bring a bit of sexual violence, and fetishism, makes sure to engage the audience properly. In addition, some cheesy lines and scenes highlight in the film, it all recalls the vintage stylizations of the horror cinema from this culture, something one cannot surpass nor glance over, rather accept and enjoy. I will enjoy watching this film again, especially since re-release on Blu-Ray from One 7 Studios on January 31, 2017.