Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"M.D.C. Maschera di cera"(1997)d/Sergio Stivaletti

What might have been...I could spend multiple paragraphs exploring conjecture concerning what tonight's review might have been like had  genre maestro Lucio Fulci, for whom the legendary House of Wax remake was originally intended, not expired mere weeks before principal shooting had finally commenced.Fulci only provided the screenplay adaptation of  Gaston LaRoux short story "The Waxwork Museum", after meeting in 1995 with(or burying the hatchet with, depending on who you talk to, I'm sure) colleague and producer Dario Argento who had heard of Fulci's recent hardships, offering the big-budgeted re-imagining as a comeback opportunity for the legendary director.Delays to Argento's own Stendahl Syndrome(1996) at the time translated into several frustrating delays for the project, which would end up being inherited by long-time Italian FX wizard, Sergio Stivaletti, who had also done extensive work as a second unit director under Argento, Lamberto Bava, and even Michele Soavi, prior to this, his directorial debut.Screenwriter Daniele Stroppa, who had co-written some of Fulci's recent work, allegedly reworked the screenplay until any resemblance to Fulci's original script could only be considered a coincidence, sadly enough.Had the entire problematic production simply just crashed and burned in a forgettable blaze, Italophiles everywhere might have nodded approvingly, but, to Stivaletti's credit, he crafts a worthy update of the 3D Vincent Price classic, full of gothic Hammer-esque moodiness, an effective blend of classic scares, sexuality, and luridly realistic violence worthy of multiple viewings.Forwards.
"I fuckin' told you you couldn't handle one o' my 'Indian Burns', but your teeth kept a-joggin' in place..."
On a mortiferous evening in Paris in 1900, a terrified little girl hides under a bed as a mysterious black-cloaked fiend doles horrible finality to both her parents' lives with the aid of a skeletal metal claw, which effortlessly snaps off body parts and bursts through ribcages to pull out still-beating hearts.Twelve years later, we meet young cocksmith, Luca(Daniele Auber), as he bets some twenty lira against a fellow brothel client that he can spend the night at the wax museum without dying of fright.It's a bet he doesn't win, turning up scared to death on the museum floor the next morning, with the curator, Boris Volkoff(Robert Hussein), expecting the controversy to fill his gallery of ghastly imagery with patrons for the upcoming grand opening.The striking, young Sonia(Romina Mondello) soon applies as a costume maker for the effigies and instantly mesmerizes Volkoff with her innocent charms until he hires her, to the dismay of  his creepy Italo-mulleted assistant, Alex(Umberto Balli). It's not long before people(children, mostly) are disappearing from the streets of Rome and reappearing in Boris' narrow velvet-roped aisle of re-enacted murder scenes-in-parafin.Meanwhile, a local photographer/reporter named Andrea(Riccardo Serventi Longhi), who's no stranger to the concept of 'attività di fronte, ma festa dietro' himself, with romantic designs on Sonia, begins doing his own investigation into the deaths, questioning Luca's favorite whore, Giorgina(Valery Valmond), who's not long for this earth herself.Meanwhile, Sonia is repeatedly haunted by that fateful night twelve years ago, and spied on during her mid-day make out sessions with Andrea by the secretive Boris, who also peep-toms Alex as he's dominated by strap-wielding brothel sluts, through a peephole in the wall.Niiiice.
"Dove hai nascosto la vaselina cura intensiva?Sono più secca di quella borsa £ 20 di cibo per cani!"
When a twelve year old female victim revives on the autopsy table(might wanna skip the shot of creepy undeveloped naked kid boobs next time, Serg, just sayin', buddy.), it's soon apparent that Volkoff might also be Sonia's mother's cuckolded first husband, who did a bellyflopper into a vat of hot wax upon catching his wife's steamy afternoon extracurriculars all those years ago, and was believed dead.In fact, when Boris reveals his latest museum set piece, it's a to-the-letter recreation of her parents murder scene, including some details that Inspector Palazzi(Gianni Franco) had never revealed to the public.Palazzi is later attacked by his own spitting image, who abruptly crushes his face with a familiar metal hand and jabs his heart with a lengthy sharpened pin, but not before the detective can remove his assassin's wax mask.Some photos that Sonia helped Andrea obtain illegally reveal veiny roadmaps under the parafin of the statues' familiar faces, and after rescuing Sonia from an ignominious end, hogtied with open wrists near a sty full of hungry pigs, he's forced to again infiltrate the wax museum with authorities where a heartbroken Boris has designs on transforming Sonia into one of his lifelike figurines through alchemy and science.The ensuing struggle ignites a fire which quickly consumes Volkoff's creations and melts off his false wax face, revealing a Terminator-esque metal exoskeleton that's beheaded by the jilted Alex in the nick of time.As Andrea and Sonia depart the cgi-flame engulfed structure, we see Alex retreat to a secret room where he removes his disguise and re-dons the persona of Volkoff, slipping haughtily past the occupied on-lookers outside, as the credits roll.
"...prima che io ti libererò, lasciatemi dire che hai grandi tette, sorella mia."
Stivaletti would again see the director's chair on 2004's I tre volti del terrore anthology, while providing effects work on everything from Demoni(1985), La Chiesa(1990), Dellamorte, Dellamore(1994), to most recently, Argento's own Dracula 3D(2012), along the way.Mondello, a Lazio native and the prototype for my future ex-wife, is beyond splendid to look at, granted, but doesn't offer us very much insight into her acting skills here.She's gone on to do a lot of Italian television work since.Hossein, who got his start acting in Paris' Theatre Grand Guignol in Montmartre, went on to work opposite some of the biggest cinematic sex symbols of the era, like Sophia Loren, Brigitte Bardot, and Marina Vlady, who would become one of his wives, as well as appearing in the films of  le due Sergio's, Leone and Gobbi, and directing 1969's Une corde, un Colt...(written by Dario Argento).Sure, a Fulci/Argento collaboration might have turned out to be one of the most amazing movies you'll never get a chance to see, but I think there's just as much chance that the two conflicting artists would have locked horns many more times before the film was finally in the can.At least it's fun to think so, no?Stivaletti's final product, on the other hand, is a lively, blood-drenched, good time that harkens back not only to the glorious Italian domination of the genre during the seventies and eighties, but also to the sophisticated Hammer look of the sixties, with beautiful women in various states of undress and under tremendous duress at the hands of a diabolical villain.I swear there were a few shots where I thought I was looking at Argento's or Fulci's handiwork on the screen afterall, and by the end credits, I stood well-satisfied.For that, Maschera earns three Big ones on the scale.Good stuff, indeed.
"Come-ah with me, if-ah you want cannoli."You know?Like the T-800, but Italian?Oh, forget it, dicks.

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