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NIGHTMARE IN WAX (1969) movie review

By 1969, Cameron Mitchell's career was in the toilet—which I'm guessing is where the script to this film originated. The plot: At one time, Vincent Renard (Mitchell) was the head make-up man at Paragon Pictures. He became engaged to its top star, Marie Morgan (Anne Helm). This infuriated studio head Max Black (Berry Kroeger), who wanted Marie for himself. At a party, Black threw his snifter of brandy in Renard's face just as the man was lighting a cigarette. Renard's face caught on fire, resulting in severe burns. For some odd reason, Renard never pressed charges against Black. Instead, he let bygones be bygones. Or did he? It turns out, Renard is violently insane and hellbent on revenge. His face now sports what are supposed to be burn scars but look more like library paste dyed gray. He also wears an eyepatch and a strange black outfit with a shoulder-length cape. Renard has a new position as a sculptor at the Movieland Wax Museum. He takes advantage of his situation to abduct Paragon's top stars, inject them with a serum that puts them into a zombie-like trance, coat them with wax, and put them on display for the public to view. The film never explains how Renard handles their basic needs, like eating and going to the bathroom. There's not a good performance in this film, but Mitchell's scenery-munching is especially worth noting. If's he's not yammering at his waxy slaves, he's lighting enough cigarettes to keep North Carolina's tobacco farmers in business for a year. Mitchell is particularly bizarre during a scene in which Renard drives a car with the body of a woman he just killed. He places an arm around the corpse while lavishing her with kisses and telling the dead woman how much he loves her. At the same time, he's trying to lose a police tail. There's also poor support from Scott Brady as a useless police lieutenant, Victoria Carroll as an air-headed aspiring actress, and the aforementioned Berry Kroeger, who recites his line like a misbehaved six-year-old being refused dessert as punishment. As for the female lead, Mary Helm, her performance qualifies as acting—but just barely. That the film is badly written should by now be obvious. I'd also call it badly directed, but that would imply a director. Though one is credited (Bud Townsend), I have to wonder just deeply involved he was. I picture Townsend pulling an Andy Warhol, i.e. turning on the camera and just walking off the set, leaving his cast to do whatever the hell they want. As if that weren't enough, at times the dialogue sounds like it was recorded from across the street. And the ending is just stupid. (I'll spare you the details in case you want to torture yourself with this 95-minute monstrosity.) The Movieland Wax Museum scenes made for a compelling background, but Renard's basement studio looks more like the laboratory of a mad scientist than the lair of a talented, creative sculptor. The film also never explains how a Hollywood make-up man perfected an elixir that had baffled career scientists for decades. At one point, Marie postulates, “It seems strange that someone can just disappear off the face of the Earth without a trace.” As opposed to disappearing off the face of the Earth with a trace?

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