Directed by Sergio Stivaletti [Other horror films: I tre volti del terrore (2004), Rabbia furiosa (2018), The Profane Exhibit (2018, segment ‘Tophet Quorom’)]
This late 1990’s Italian movie, commonly known as Wax Mask, was a movie I’ve been looking forward to watching ever since I first heard about it. Part of it was because a giallo from that time period would be interesting to begin with, but a bigger draw was simply the fact that I’ve seen very few Italian horror movies from the 1990’s, and virtually none from the late 1990’s (though let’s be honest, aside from Argeto’s 1998 Phantom of the Opera, are there any Italian horror films from the late 1990’s?), and so I was intrigued.
After seeing it, though, more than anything, I thought it was failed potential and a little bit of a mess.
Certainly there were some behind-the-scenes factors that led to such a product. Lucio Fulci was intended to direct this, but he died shortly before filming, so it was given over to Sergio Stivaletti (who had done a lot of special effects works for Italian horror, but hadn’t directed up to that point). Even before then, I’ve heard it said that Argento (who pitched the idea to Fulci to begin with) and Fulci had different visions of the movie, so even if Fulci had directed it, it may not have been much better (especially given that great plots aren’t really Fulci’s strong point).
No matter what happened leading up to the movie, though, the final product is what we have to judge, and though it’s gotten decent reception, and I personally wanted to enjoy it far more than I did, I found it quite underwhelming.
Without a doubt, there were some really strong points here – heck, even re-imaging Mystery of the Wax Museum/House of Wax in an Italian giallo setting was laudable. The gore and special effects throughout are fantastic (and the idea that the figures are still alive behind the wax somewhat terrifying). Well, mostly fantastic – when the museum is on fire at the end, it looks pretty damn amateur. The opening was pretty strong. There were even some fine character-driven moments, and elements of the ending were welcome, at least in the context of the story.
Even at an hour and 40 minutes, though, I felt Wax Mask was missing something, that spark that makes it a fully enjoyable watch. Not that it wasn’t competent enough to get something out of, but the ending, for instance, left something to be desired, along with the whole backstory behind the killer. Also, and it may not come as a big surprise that I took issue with this, the whole metal skeleton thing just felt too fantastic and almost gaudy, especially from a movie I was thinking would be in the purely realistic realm.
Performances here are a mixed bag. I do sort of like both Robert Hossein and Umberto Balli. Aldo Massasso I definitely enjoyed, as his character was one of the few characters that actually seemed like an all-around solid guy. Romina Mondello I’m more torn on – at times, she felt like a throwback to the period of horror where women were portrayed more weakly, and I don’t know if I really felt satisfied with her. Riccardo Serventi Longhi was never great either, though I wonder if the horrible dubbing job has more to do with my perception of his performance than his actual performance. Either way, that was hideous dubbing.
Wax Mask was an okay movie, but something just didn’t fully jibe with me, and while I never had a horrible time with it, it never got to the point where I was really engaged and into the film. Having seen it only once, it’s possible that I’ll grow to appreciate this more with future viewings, but for the time, I found it below average, though clearly possessing the potential to do more.