Release Date(s)1997 (September 24, 2019)
Studio(s)Mediaset/France Film International/Cine 2000 (Severin Films)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B+
In the 1990s, Dario Argento met Lucio Fulci and two decided to collaborate on a project together. Sadly, Fulci passed away before they could get it in front of the cameras. Instead, Argento put special effects artist Sergio Stivaletti in the director’s chair and the resulting film, The Wax Mask (aka M.D.C. – Maschera di cera), mostly came and went. What’s seemingly an inharmonious marriage of House of Wax, I, Madman, and Opera turns out to be a beautiful, if unoriginal, take on the Phantom of the Opera milieu.
In the film, the young and beautiful Sonia (Romina Mondello) takes a job at a wax museum run by the enigmatic Volkoff (Robert Hossein). After witnessing the murder of her parents years before, she continues her life under the guardianship of her aunt (Gabriella Giorgelli) and finds love in photographer and reporter Andrea (Riccardo Serventi Longhi). The disappearances of many people in town soon lead them to believe that there may be something sinister going on at the museum, which is filled with lifelike wax models, and that Volkoff may have a hand in it.
The story, which is a straightforward take on the classic tale of horror at a wax museum (of which several films were made out of throughout the 1960s and 1970s), mixes an unusual use of steampunk into its story. As the film takes places in the early twentieth century, the villain, who has a mechanical hand reminiscent of Freddy Krueger’s in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, makes use of technology beyond the period’s norm to create the wax figures. Using large hypodermics to paralyze victims, they are then posed with a mechanical chair, drained of their blood, and injected with a blue fluid which somehow keeps them alive but incapacitated. All of it is highly unnecessary as they could have simply been dipped in wax as per usual, but it makes the film stand out a little bit more and seems less perfunctory within a traditional framework.
There’s plenty to appreciate about the film, but there’s also copious amount of criticism to lob at it as well. Besides being an impeccably well-shot film with terrific staging and a number of eye-opening shots, it also contains a lush orchestral score by Maurizio Abeni. On the flipside, it features incredibly awful CGI that takes one straight out of the film. Granted it’s infrequent, and in one instance mildly effective, but it doesn’t hold up at all. The carnage is surprisingly minimal, which is odd coming from a film produced by Dario Argento, though there are a few moments of practical gore, most of them early on, that are thankfully carried out on set and not in a computer.
All in all, The Wax Mask is an interesting late 90s horror entry that offers a mix of intriguing elements, but not all of them good—never mind the occasional sex and nudity, which is ultimately pointless in the narrative and gives the film a sleazier quality when it seems to be trying to go for something a little more classy overall.
Severin Films brings The Wax Mask to Blu-ray sporting a transfer taken from a 4K scan from the original 35mm camera negative, supervised by director Sergio Stivaletti, which was also used for a Region Free Blu-ray release by One 7 Movies. At first glance, this transfer is certainly an improvement over previous home video releases due to its clarity, but it carries some unfortunate issues. It’s too bright due to the contrast, which has been lowered, making blacks appear gray and blown out. Textures also appear unnatural as a heavy amount of noise removal appears to be have been applied, as well as artificial sharpening, the latter of which isn’t always put to use, but is obvious. However, the color palette is rich and vibrant with a variety of hues and natural flesh tones, not to mention that the presentation is stable, clean, and free of any leftover debris. A mixed bag, but certainly watchable once the brightness on one’s monitor is adjusted.
The audio is presented in both English and Italian with 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD tracks respectively, as well as separate subtitle options in English for both languages. As the English dubbing for the film is incredibly poor performance-wise, it may be advisable to stick with the Italian audio option. The 5.1 merely spaces out what its stereo counterpart offers, but lacks the punch of a true surround experience. Dialogue is clear and discernable in both languages, while sound effects and score have a surprising amount of heft. All of the tracks are clean and free of any leftover damage as well.
The following extras are also included:
- Audio Commentary with Director and Special Effects Artist Sergio Stivaletti and Michelangelo Stivaletti, Moderated by David Gregory
- Beyond Fulci (HD – 20:38)
- The Chamber of Horrors (HD – 20:53)
- Living Dolls (HD – 18:54)
- The Mysteries of the Wax Museum (HD – 15:31)
- The Waxworks Symphony (HD – 17:28)
- The Grand Opening (HD – 10:16)
- Wax Unmasked (HD – 11:55)
- Behind the Scenes (SD – 21:51)
- Special Effects (SD – 12:31)
- On Set with Dario Argento (SD – 4:17)
The audio commentary is very informative and lighthearted. Sergio doesn’t speak perfect English, but occasionally Michelangelo and David help him along. The featurettes include new interviews with Dario Argento, Sergio Stivaletti, producer Giuseppe Columbo, production designer Massimo Geleng, actress Gabriella Giorgelli, filmmaker Claudio Fragasso, composer Maurizio Abeni, and film writer Alan Jones. They too go into detail about the production and its many facets, while Alan Jones gives his own personal take on the making of the film and the final result. The vintage standard definition extras are all various pieces of behind-the-scenes footage. A Limited Edition release featuring a slipcover and CD soundtrack is also available.
Although it would have been nice to have had the original raw master of the film before it was tinkered with so heavily in the computer, this is still a nice release of The Wax Mask. With a healthy amount of bonus material to dig through and multiple audio options, it offers much more than its predecessor in terms of overall value.
– Tim Salmons