Nightmare in Wax (1969)
NIGHTMARE IN WAX
WRITER: Rex Carlton
DIRECTOR: Bud Townsend
STARRING: Cameron Mitchell as Vincent Renard
Anne Helm as Marie Morgan
Scott Brady as Detective Haskell
Berry Kroeger as Max Black
Victoria Carroll as Theresa
Phillip Baird as Tony Deen
Johnny Cardos as Sergeant Carver
Hollis Morrison as Nick
James Forrest as Alfred Herman
QUICK CUT: An up and coming special effects man tries to recover from a horrible accident, but along the way he alienates all his friends.
Vince Renard - Our...hero? Villain? Antagonist? He's kinda all things to all people. He's the character whose story we follow, and he's certainly sympathetic for what happens to him, but at the same time, he's the guy going on the Hollywood Murder Revenge Tour 1969. Anyways, there was once a good guy there, a lover, a makeup effects artist who was demoted to running a wax museum after a tragic accident.
Marie Morgan - Vince's love interest, and ready to marry him, until his face gets Doctor Doomed. And it's not long before she's moved on to other men. I want to like her, she seems otherwise a good soul, but the plot does rather make her unlikable by bouncing around so many guys so quickly.
Max Black - The head guy of Paragon Pictures, that employed Max and Marie. He's the one who burned Vince, and has a secret love for Marie. He's possessive, he's a loudmouth, and almost your typical Hollywood executive.
Detective Haskell - A cop who's actually not an idiot. He does his job, and actually is close to solving the case, if he would just look a little harder.
Nick - The main caretaker of Vince's wax museum. The guy loves his job, he's charming and friendly, and the tour groups love him. His only problem is a drinking problem, which makes him easily suggestible.
THE GUTS: Welcome back, Triskelions! It looks like the Nightmares continue. We've run down Elm Street, we spent a Weekend with George, and now we have Nightmares in Wax! A semi accidental loose theme month here at Trisk, yes. I'd scheduled the first two for February, the first one being obvious, and then I noticed the titles. So I figured, let me dig around and find a third "Nightmare" movie, and here we are! It's also time to dig through the 50 packs, and I came across this little known flick.
Nightmare in Wax is your typical 60s style thriller hastily tossed together to fill screens, about a former special effects artist who goes into the wax museum business after a terrible accident, and seeks revenge on those responsible for his disfigurement, and every other bad thing that's ever happened to him. So let's dive right in!
Before we can get to the good stuff though, we have to meet our canon fodder for the next 90 minutes, and that happens at an engagement annoucement for starlet Marie Morgan, during another party for Paragon Pictures latest film, and helmed by the head of the stuido, Max Black. Oh, and there's also Marie's fiance, Tony Dean.
With the intros out of the way, we follow Tony as he heads home for the evening...and is immediately assaulted by an unseen figure injecting him in the neck while he waits for the elevator. Such a thoughtful engagement gift!!
From there it's on to the wax museum where Nick the caretaker is showing people around while Vincent Renard watches people enjoy his work. The star attraction of the museum is a triptych of figures of Paragon Pictures stars that have coincidentally gone missing. And hey! They're about to add a fourth figure to the display - Tony Dean!
This is not suspicious at all! Time to move along!
As the tour group is lead off to the next exhibit by Nick, Vincent heads back to his lab, and there is a GIANT vat of wax beneath a platform and rickety wooden railing. Railing kill! Railing kill! Cross your fingers everyone!!
Fortunately, the cops are already on to how sketchy this whole display sounds, and Detective Haskell shows up to knock on Vince's door. There really is very little mystery at all to this movie. We know the who and the why pretty quickly, the cops seem to be on the same page, it's just a question of how and why everything is gonna collide.
The cops have heard that Vince is working on a Tony Dean model, and want to take a look at his head. Vince is more than willing to show it off, and it's clearly not really Tony, since it's just a head, right?
Vincent tries to move suspicion off himself by saying Paragon had a two million dollar insurance policy out on Tony, and that's motive to have him killed off. What could Vince possibly have against the guy to kill him?
While they chat motives, the cops also reveal that there is something in common between Vince and Max, they were both in love with Marie, as were two other guys, who just so happen to be two of the three other missing people, and two of the three wax figures in the other room. HMM.
So we flash back to happier times for Vincent, before his face was Doctor Doomed, and he had two eyes. Vince and Marie were a secret item, while the world and Max still believe she's with him, and Vince urges his girl to tell the studio head they're through.
As Vincent has a smoke, Max gets all yelly and possessive. He sees Vince light up, takes one look at the glass of bourbon in his hand, and tosses it right in Vince's face. The secret origin of Waxman!
Y'know, you would think Max throwing alcohol into a smoking man's face, in a room FILLED with people, might've been a huge case that ruined Paragon Pictures, if not Max Black. However, it was ruled an accident, and no one lived happily ever after!
The cops can't really see any motive in the disappearances that really connect Vincent, since he would have surely killed Max and/or Marie! Give him time, he's working up to them, trust me.
So they head over to Marie's place to tell her all about the heaping plate of nothing they've found. But so we flashback to Vince in his recovery period, all bandaged up, and Marie not dealing well with it.
And you gotta love the 60s. The guy gets his face melted by alcohol being thrown in it while smoking...and he keeps right on smoking for the rest of the movie!
This visit stirs up old memories for Marie, and I don't just mean the wavy flashback. She calls up Vince to ask him to dinner, and to see his work. Yes, Vince! Go to dinner! Reconnect! There is still a flame there to spark! ...Heck, throw some alcohol on the spark, you know that works. What? Too soon?
But once he's off the phone, someone starts chanting "Hello, Marie" and it's revealed that gasp surprise, Tony is still alive, and getting injected regularly by Vincent to keep him docile.
Since we're on a reconnection tour, Max shows up at Marie's next, to try and talk her back into acting, as she's taken some time off. As one does when everyone you love disappears. But she won't budge, and neither will Max, and then Vincent shows up. Aaaaawkward.
Max runs off after his victim arrives, and the two former lovers have their chat. Marie wants Tony's wax head, and uh, more awkward. That might be more difficult than she thinks.
Eventually, Vincent agrees however, so long as Marie will pose for him to become a...er, model for a wax figure.
Meanwhile, Nick is closing up the museum for the night and chatting up all the figures. I'm just waiting for him to be sucked into a werewolf movie at this point.
As he's hanging out with the dummies from Paragon, one of them blinks at Nick, and he freaks out, rushing to Vincent for help. Vince tells him it's all his drinking, and he just needs to have a little bit more booze. And I swear, this EXACT SCENE is played for laughs in the giallo parody, "The Editor".
Once he's taken care of Nick, Vincent heads out to his zombie dummies, and gives Stella another injection to stop the blinking problem. Aaand because this is a horror movie from the sixties, it's time for a lengthy musical dance number at a club.
But it does also serve to introduce the girl Vince has been creating a head for in his evil lab, finally. She's a total airhead, and completely the stereotypical dumb blonde dancer who wants to be in pictures.
And surprise! She's dating Max! Man, Vincent just has the worst luck picking women, doesn't he?? Theresa is almost painfully bimbonic. She has that *voice* that was so typical of the ditzy girls of the time in films, and she doesn't know what *I* think are common words. I want all of her scenes to be over so, so soon.
Oh right, back to the story, her dating Max is all part of Vincent's plan, as he sets up a session for the girl to come by and pose for him, and show off the place, and hey! Why not bring Max? It'll be a murdery good time!
The plot thinnens as Max visits Alfred, the director on what should be Marie's next picture, and they all conspire to have as part of the film, using the wax museum and Tony's head as a tribute to the disappeared actor. So everyone's spiraling around coming to the wax museum over the weekend, slowwwly pulling threads together.
Alfred visits Vince to set things up, and sees the Paragon trio, and Vince *outright says* that maybe they're not gone, maybe they're just hypnotised into standing right there like wax dummies! Damnit Vince, YOU are the dummy now... You could seriously learn some subtlety from William Paisley.
Oh, but there's a wrinkle, Alfred reveals that in his research into just that sort of thing for his movie, he discovered that electricity disturbs the waxification injection and hypnotic effects. ...Because of course it does. Not only is this common enough that people can do research into it for movies, but it's randomly vulnerable to a static charge. Seriously. Alfred says touching the hypnotised can break the spell.
So the night comes, and Theresa and Max arrive to check out the Theresa head. Now, I'm sure they used the actress's REAL head to save time and money, but since the actress is RIGHT THERE, let's just go with the movie saying this is actually Vince's handiwork. This means Vince is actually REALLY GOOD at his work. Incredibly good. The best, no question.
Which means there's really NO need for the hypnotised wax not-dummies in the main room. Sure, he wants to be rid of his rivals, but the complications of keeping them under, the risk of people finding out...WHY? Just make your damned wax dummies the old fashioned way, Vince. YOU ROCK at it. Grab a trophy, maybe some hair, or a necklace, slip them onto your actual dummies...boom!
Not to mention the outright absurdity of the whole injection and hypnotisation thing is uh, really unbelievable, from needing to eat, to needing to crap. Just dispose of the bodies, Vincent.
While they're celebrating, oops! Vince drugged the wine, and Max falls back into a chair, and Vincent reveals his dastardly deeds of kidnapping his rivals and putting them on display for people to stare and laugh at. Okay, that *almost* mitigates my questions of why, but only barely. It's still an amazingly complex plan that seems way more trouble than it's worth.
As Max slumps into his chair for a nap, Vincent confronts Theresa, begging her to scream as he starts chasing her around the closed museum. She's more than willing to scream her head off as she runs for her life.
I appreciate the chase, and it uses the creepy nature of a wax musem adequately enough, but it's one of those dastardly scenes that goes on for too long. On the one hand, you want them to get on with things. On the other hand, it is nice to actually use the place you're in.
Eventually Vincent grabs her with a noose and hoists her up for a few brief moments, and she STILL lets out amazingly loud, piercing screams. Dubbed I'm sure, but it still makes you question.
Vince finally corners her back towards his wax vat, and she backs over a platform over it. Rai! Ling! Kill! Rai! Ling! Kill!!
Sadly, no railing deaths yet, she just...walks away from her potential doom, and Vince catches her and stabs her. And he starts asking with much anger, why didn't she scream? WHY DIDN'T SHE SCREAM?? like if she had, he would have spared her.
Dude. DUDE. She screamed. Lots. And loudly. SHE SCREAMED WHILE HANGING FROM A NOOSE. I think that flaming head thing you had going ruined your hearing more than your face, Vincent.
With the girl taken care of, Vince turns his attention to Max, who reveals the cops have been following him around since Tony disappeared, and are gonna come storming into the place if he doesn't leave. Lousy cops, actually doing their jobs in this film.
Vince does the smart thing and carries Terry off to the car and drives off, so the cops think everything is hunky dory, and they follow whom they think is Max around some more.
You can tell while he drives and rants, that Vince has totally lost it. He could've found some sort of redemption up to this point. He could've stopped. People were still alive. He was just angry and upset. But he's started calling the dead girl Marie, ranting randomly, and muttering. He is *gone*.
If I thought the waxwork chase was long, trying to lose the cops is even longer. It goes on so long, Vince lights up no less than three cigarettes during the entire thing.
But he finally loses them, and they find the car with Theresa's dead body inside, so now all the blame falls on Max's shoulders. Which works out nicely. Vince may not be all there, but he's good with the cunning plan.
Naturally, Haskell swings by the waxwork again, since the case seems to be wrapped up, and he's actually smart enough to suggest how funny it is that every time Vince sculpts a new likeness, someone goes missing or ends up dead! Have you seen Max lately, Vince?
It's Marie's turn to come around the wax museum to check out Tony's head, and while there, Haskell decides to hide out inside and look around after closing because he's still suspicious.
And wouldn't you know it? There's a thunderstorm outside, so the not-dummies are all on the blink again. I still can't get over electricity revives them. Even just a lightning bolt zipping from cloud to cloud. I could walk by with one of those plasma lightning ball toys, and wake them up.
Behind the scenes, Vince leads Marie to one of his platforms which are actually boxes for his victims to sit in, and make it look like he's just molding a head if anyone doesn't look too closely. Well, as long as they look at it with their eyes squinted. Well, maybe if they were blind.
Once she's settled in, Vince reveals Tony is alive and his hypnotised mind slave who no longer needs to breathe or move or eat because the puppetmaster says so. Riiight. You sir, are no Andre Toulon. You're not even Rick from Puppet Master 4 and 5. I wish there was another Puppet Master movie to review... Heck, this isn't even as good a serum as the one from Horrors of the Black Museum.
He also has Max get up and walk over the vat of wax and RAILING KILL RAILLING KILLLL...nope, not yet, he just walks out on the plank, ties a rope around himself, and Vince dangles the Hollywood mogul over the vat threatening to give us a Wax Black..
Since Vince wants an audience, he goes and summons the two guys starting to blink, and the cop follows. Oh, then the last female victim follows *him* with her knife. Y'know, unless I missed it, they never explained why she was there.
The woman follows the cop and slices the gun out of his hand into the wax, and proceeds to swipe at him, eventually stabbing some random electrical equipment. I...don't understand? She wasn't commanded to do it, she just went after Haskell.
While dangling over the vat, Max suddenly starts laughing madly, infuriating Vince. I know they say laughter is the best medicine, but that's supposed to be your OWN laughter, not someone else's directed at you!
In anger, Vince pounces on the dangling producer, and before we can get a Wax Black or a proper railing kill, Vince slips and falls to his own waxecutional.
Or something. We get a few minutes of him under'water' as wavery images of all the people in the movie he's captured stand and cackle.
After what SHOULD be the end of the movie, there's a ringing phone, and we hear Marie tell Vince she's decided to tell Max at the party tonight that they're going to get married.
While I'm sitting here pondering just what the heck is going on, the movie flashes back through itself, through the accident, the burning, the hospital and damnit, reused footage.
The movie stutters to an ending as Vince pulls his hands away from his face, and reveals he has...TWO EYEBALLS. WHAT A TWIST!
Yes, for the entire movie...IT WAS ALL A DREAM. Or...A NIGHTMARE. Yeesh. A nightmare is right.
Fortunately, the nightmares are over now, at least for movies. I still have my own nightmares of all the leprechaun movies last year. Those will forever haunt me. But thankfully I finished all those last year, and have no more Leprechaun movies to dread coming after me in March.
Video: Ahh, the curse of 50 packs. Honestly, this doesn't look THAT bad. The quality for The Revenge of Dr. X on the same disc, which I reviewed a few years ago, looks way way worse. There IS a lot of artifacting though, and the colours are on the duller side. It looks way better than I've come to expect from four movies crammed onto one disc though.
Audio: A mono track that doesn't sound terrible. Maybe flat, maybe a bit muffled, but it's all right enough under the constraints.
Sound Bite: "WHY WOULDN'T SHE SCREAM??"
Body Count: Given the IT WAS ALL A DREAM nature, no one died. Vince didn't even get burned. But here's the people that passed on during the course of Vince's nightmare.
1 - The first actual death happens a whopping 65 minutes in when Vince stabs Theresa.
2 - The female wax notdummy electrocutionals herself accidentally.
3 - Vincent accidentally dives in and waxecutionals himself.
Best Corpse: Bleh. Very little to choose from, we never see the dronwed wax Vincent. The rest are meh. No best this time out!
Blood Type - F: It's the old tale of an old movie with different standards being pretty clean on the blood subject. I can't even give points for good makeup effects, which is the height of irony since the lead is supposed to excel at precisely that! Did you see his scars? Laughable.
Sex Appeal: Even less of this than blood.
Drink Up! Whenever someone smokes. Let me know if you survive.
Video Nasties: A rather lengthy clip this time, but I wanted to preserve the whole chase through the museum, and the setup to the screaming pay off.
Movie Review: Bloody hell is this movie campy and absurd. I give it a lot of slack, because absurd to the point of almost magical abilities in 60s era horror movies are pretty much standard. The bad guys all of these serums that do things that just don't work. I almost wonder if there's some connection with this serum and the more classic voodoo style of zombies, and they were trying to play off that. But anyways, this movie is cheap, it looks cheap, the acting is nothing to write home about, and there's no real mystery or surprise. It's just going along for the ride to see how things turn up. And right up until the final moments, it's not a terrible ride, even with all that. It's got a few long scenes, but it's otherwise paced nicely, with some decent interaction. Three out of five wax heads.
Entertainment Value: My reaction of flipping over a table at the final reveal might be the most entertaining thing about this movie, but it's still kinda fun. Cameron Mitchell is a decent actor, and I like what he brought to the role. You can see the two sides of Max battling it out for his sanity, and he only chews the scenery when it's appropriate, and he does it pretty well. It's clearly a hastily crafted movie made to fill screens, like a lot of horror, and thus it's not great, but it has some fun buried in there. Three out of five eyepatches.