Four from the end of the 90s

This proved to be an entertaining selection of four films from between 1997 and 1999 that are a bit of a departure from the sleek, post-Scream craze going on at the time.

THE WAX MASK (1997)

Fulci and Argento worked together writing this story, which in a long-winded way I don’t feel like explaining is incorrectly credited as being based on a story by Gaston Leroux, when it is in actuality just their Euro version of the House of Wax plot. However…it does have moments reminiscent of Phantom of the Opera!

A young woman comes to work at a wickedly macabre wax museum as a costume designer after a young man is found murdered there. The plan is to create scenes exploiting real life murders.

Suddenly, a whole bunch of new murders begin racking up like a supply and demand situation. They also cause the main girl to have flashbacks of hiding while witnessing a murder by metal-fingered hands when she was younger.

As is to be expected when these two masters of horror are involved, loads of weird situations keep us entertained and dumbfounded. Wait until you see the major contraption used to turn living people into wax…and just exactly what the killer is hiding behind that mask.

The film has its charms, but not as many charms as the films of Fulci’s and Argento’s heydays. Maybe because neither of them directed?

THE RELIC (1997)

Penelope Ann Miller is a scientist at a museum and Tom Sizemore is a detective on the case when a security guard is torn to pieces in a bathroom stall. Would you believe they made it a black security guard smoking a joint while he’s supposed to be working? Have to wonder if they would make that same “creative” decision over twenty years later.

This is a typical creature feature of the 90s that uses the improving CGI effects of the time. However, it is a loooooong stretch of movie before we get to see the creature in this 110-minute feature. Much of the focus is on the museum preparing for a big gala and Sizemore’s team exploring underground tunnels looking for what they assume is a human killer.

This one finally picks up when a body drops into the middle of the gala and a chaotic mass exodus leaves a handful of people trapped inside with the pretty awesome CGI monster.

Their only way out…go through the underground sewers. Eek! Plenty of frustratingly dark scenes of the monster emerging from under the water ensue, but we finally get to see it full force when Penelope comes up with a one-woman plan to defeat it…and gets a nasty tongue bath in the process.

JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES (1998)

Vampires is like John Carpenter making up for not thinking of Near Dark, Subspecies, and From Dusk Till Dawn first, and therefore combining them into one feature of his own.

James Woods and Daniel Baldwin are an unlikely pair of vampire hunters in the desert. At least it’s better than Woods and Stephen Baldwin, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to stomach all the right wing illness on screen at once. On the bright side, Carpenter and his writers actually make Woods seem cool in this movie.

The most original idea presented is that the gang of hunters goes into vampire nests and harpoons vampires to drag them out into the sun. Since Carpenter knows that’s the most he’s got going on here, he milks it for all it’s worth right from the start in a long opening scene. As a result, by the time it happens again during the final battle, it not as impressive.

The film is still quite enthralling immediately after that opener. While the hunters party in a motel room, the place is invaded by the suave vampire master, who sure knows how to make an entrance.

Lone survivors Baldwin and Woods drag a vamp infected woman (reminiscent of Glory from Byffy) along with them because she has a psychic connection to the master, and they team up with a priest to hunt down the master.

There’s a lot of religious background and flashbacks to ancient times, and I grew bored until the final act, when the action kicks back in. Not even “cool” James Woods could help the pacing problems of this lesser-loved Carpenter flick. And a constant twanging country music score didn’t help. Ugh.

KNOCKING ON DEATH’S DOOR (1999)

The opener of this film feels like 80s Euro horror—cops enter a house, find a dead woman in bed, and then get attacked by a flying axe.

The tone changes drastically after that. Twenty years later a couple that is also a parapsychology team gets married, moves into a new home, and immediately begins fighting while doing ghost hunting.

The husband is convinced the wife is contacting a male ghost that is jealous of their relationship. He also holds some resentment for past indiscretions.

For me, the film never lives up to the opener. It is intriguingly stylized and flashy to the point of weird, which makes it effectively eerie and disorienting as much as it makes it annoying. That’s what kept me watching for a while, but my attention began to flounder.

The film slows down drastically as the couple works to unravel the mystery of what happened to the ghost in the house. It gets less and less compelling as it progresses, with the most interesting angle being that the ghost always strikes during the couple’s sexy times.

Despite some creepy moments, the ghost is quite tame, so I have no idea what supernatural force was throwing an axe at cops at the beginning or why.

About Daniel

I am the author of the horror anthologies CLOSET MONSTERS: ZOMBIED OUT AND TALES OF GOTHROTICA and HORNY DEVILS, and the horror novels COMBUSTION and NO PLACE FOR LITTLE ONES. I am also the founder of BOYS, BEARS & SCARES, a facebook page for gay male horror fans! Check it out and like it at www.facebook.com/BoysBearsandScares.
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