The Wax Mask (1997)

After discovering just bad Lucio Fulci’s health was, Dario Argento decided to help him find a new project in the hopes that directing would lift his spirits and his well-being. Sadly, pre-production and Argento’s work on The Stendahl Syndrome went on a few months too long and Fulci died before production could begin.

The two directors rarely got along and disagreed throughout pre-production. Ironically, Fulci wanted a classical horror movie while Argento wanted to increase the gore. Go figure.

Argento turned the project over to special effects artist Sergio Stivaletti, who created the effects for DemonsHands of SteelOperaThe ChurchCemetery Man and many more Italian horror films. He adjusted the script to increase the special effects. It brought a tear to my eye to see the dedication to Fulci before the film began.

We open in Paris in 1900, as a moving camera gives way to black-gloved hands, revealing a couple who has been murdered by a masked killer with metal claws.

Fast-forward to 1912. There’s a new wax museum in Rome and much like House of Wax, it’s known for having lifelike murder scenes. Meanwhile, the daughter of the couple we saw murdered in the opening, Sonia Lafont, is now a costume designer who wants to work for the museum’s owner and main artist, Boris Volkoff. Yet all is not as it seems. As people disappear and others die inside the museum, new figures begin to appear in its exhibits.

What makes this movie isn’t the story or the acting, but the gorgeous production design and strange combination of Victorian machinery with Terminator-like machines. Sure, some of the animation and fire effects look rough today, but the creature and gore effects are incredibly strong even twenty-plus years after its release.

While this will be streaming on Shudder as of October 14, you should just order it from the awesome people at Severin. Their release is absolutely loaded with extras, including interviews with Argento, Fulci, Stivaletti and more. There’s also a limited edition with an exclusive slipcover and the soundtrack to the film.

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