In the latest edition of The Dusty VHS Corner, Tom Jolliffe looks at the films of Anthony Hickox…
Director Anthony Hickox comes from a strong cinematic lineage. His father, Douglas Hickox was also a director (Zulu Dawn, Theatre of Blood) whilst his mother is critically lauded editor Anne V. Coates (Lawrence of Arabia). A career in the film industry seemed destined, even if his start would require a lot of persistence and a lot of luck.
His debut film Waxwork almost didn’t see the light of day. Hickox met the producer, Staffan Ahrenherg when he crashed his car into the back of Ahrenberg’s. With barely a penny to his name, Hickox managed to persuade Ahrenberg to let him pay for the damage by letting him write a script for him on the cheap. Ahrenberg agreed, and Waxwork was written by Hickox in three days. The script was rejected from almost every studio, until independent studio Vestron finally looked at it. Initially they also rejected it until another producer read it and couldn’t quite believe studio head, Dan Ireland didn’t like it. As it transpired the script never made it past the readers, however it was then taken directly to Ireland and the film was then green-lit.
Waxwork proved a success and spawned a sequel, also directed by Hickox. Hickox would also take the helm for a couple of other sequels in established franchises, with Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth and Warlock: The Armageddon. Hickox’s early career, and his most iconic works were in the horror genre. In the mid-90’s Hickox spread his wings and tested the waters in other genres but found himself largely consigned to straight to video/cable productions. That said his decent visual eye would often add a level of competence not always present in some of these types of production, whilst he found himself often at odds with producers who cared little for the outcome of the productions themselves. For any aspiring film-makers, a dual purchase of the Region 1 versions of Storm Catcher and Jill the Ripper (a pair of not very good Dolph Lundgren films) is most recommended as Hickox provides an informative and insightful commentary track on both films which reveal some of the trials and tribulations of making genre films on low budgets, and being an expendable member of the crew. It also reveals a man with a great deal of passion and knowledge about film, something that isn’t always considered by an audience member when watching a crap film.
Fans of Hickox’s earlier work await his triumphant return to his creature/horror routes. Aside from psychological horror Knife Edge in 2009, he’s not really been close to returning to the sort of gore laden flicks he started in. That day may yet come. Until then I will look back at Hickox’s early days as a director of horror.
As far as debuts go, Waxwork would prove a pretty solid start for Anthony Hickox. It still remains one of his most popular pictures and proved particularly successful on video, coming at the peak of VHS horror popularity around the turn of the 90’s.
Taking the old waxwork coming to life concept, and melding it together with a number of classic horror staple stories like Dracula and The Mummy, Waxwork is an enjoyable horror romp which doesn’t take itself too seriously. A group of teens looking for kicks, come across a temporary wax museum and decide to snoop around. They become creeped out by the realism of the exhibits but things take a strange turn when one by one they find themselves drawn into stepping over the the rope into the varied exhibits, and then become transported into that situation, be it Dracula, werewolves or whatever. When they die in that world, they then become a waxwork in that exhibit.
Waxwork is a pretty solid horror pic and one of the better from the tail end of the 80’s. It might not be as iconic as a Nightmare on Elm Street or a Halloween, but it’s certainly got its moments and a solid cast too. Zach Galligan (Gremlins) takes on the leading role, whilst David Warner is typically reliable in his villainous role as the owner of the museum. John Rhys-Davies also appears as the Werewolf, as well as one time Tarzan, Miles O’Keeffe, as Count Dracula.
Some typically quality old school special FX are provided by Bob Keen whilst the film looks very good thanks to Hickox’s direction and some nice cinematography from Gerry Lively. The subsequent sequel though not quite as good, with a change of concept that doesn’t work as well, is none-the-less still enjoyable.
Beer rating: ★ ★
Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat (1989)
If you thought Blade was the first film to feature vampires wearing sunblock, you’d be wrong. Sundown did it before them, and I’ll assume, as it’s a somewhat questionable idea, that it was the first. Still, don’t let that put you off. Firstly…Bruce Campbell. Good, got your attention. I don’t really need to say any more than that really, but I will. You also have David Carradine thrown in for good measure.
This blend of horror, comedy and western sees Bruce starring as Van Helsing (a descendant of THE Van Helsing) arriving in a town called Purgatory that is inhabited by warring vampires. It’s barking mad but its great fun. Campbell has a great deal of fun here too. The mixture of genres here is probably slightly ahead of its time and it’s a funny film.
It’s almost a pre-cursor to From Dusk Till Dawn in many ways, perhaps lacking the sharpness and honed irreverence one tends to get from a Tarantino script. Horror buffs may want a bit more genuine horror but we’ve probably seen more than enough straight up horror/vampire films, and while this doesn’t blend genres as successfully as From Dusk Till Dawn or The Lost Boys, it is none-the-less greatly enjoyable and perhaps Hickox’s finest work.
Hickox, as he did in Waxwork, injects a great sense of flair and fun into proceedings, and everyone approaches the film with gusto. It looks good too. This one sadly didn’t spawn any sequels and struggled for years with adequate releases after the collapse of Vestron.
Beer rating: ★ ★
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992)
As far as iconic horror images go, star of the Hellraiser franchise, Pinhead, is right up there. He is a frightening figure whose imagine adorned the video case of every film in that franchise. An image that even as a kid, traipsing through the local video shop, would catch my eye and sometimes stay with me through the night. A film ghoul that as soon as I could possibly get my hands on via borrowed video or late night TV viewing, that I had to introduce myself to. The first film was great, and it has spawned a lengthy franchise that has ranged in quality, though always remained watchable, much like Freddy Kruger’s back catalogue, thanks to the presence of the central figure.
As far as the sequels go, Hell on Earth is one of the better entries. It’s akin to Nightmare On Elm Street 3, in that it follows a second film that didn’t quite work but had it’s moments, and takes the franchise into a more elaborate, and sometimes darkly humorous avenue. This third instalment in Pinhead’s canon on occasion threatens to jump the shark/nuke the fridge. Some might argue that it well and truly did with an outlandish finale and a look into Pinhead’s origins. Does delving into his back story work? To an extent it can, but there’s a point at which you can know too much. A point often crossed with Fred Kruger too. Pinhead needs to maintain an air of mystery in all honesty. Giving him a human origin also takes away some semblance of his enigma.
Still, whilst some of the plot aspects don’t always work, the film is never-the-less good fun for those who can overlook that. A reporter (Terry Farrell) begins trying to uncover the cause of a horrific death linked to a club owned by JP Monroe, an ego-maniacal lothario fascinated with disturbing art who buys a sculpture, unbeknown to him, that is inhabited by Pinhead. The more she investigates the more she is plagued by dreams and visions of a mysterious person dressed in military uniform, at War, who turns out to be Captain Elliot Spencer, the man who became Pinhead and whose soul is trapped in purgatory. When Pinhead finds his way to the mortal realm, Joey (Farrell) must use “the box” to send him and his cenobites back to hell.
Hellraiser III looks great. There appears to be a fair budget to this, as far as horror pics go and it’s all up on screen. By this point, Hickox was well versed in shooting a horror film. Gerry Lively’s cinematography is excellent, and Hickox once again employs the masterful services of Bob Keen who provides some top notch make up effects which still hold up. There are some memorably gruesome deaths here as you’d expect from this series. It doesn’t disappoint.
Beer rating: ★ ★ ★
Full Eclipse (1993)
This made for TV movie sees Mario Van Peebles starring as a cop who finds himself involved with a group of vigilante cops who have injected themselves with a werewolf serum, giving themselves superhuman powers in order to clean up the streets of scum. Eventually they lose control and have to be stopped. It’s as silly as it sounds.
What Full Eclipse lacks in logic (and humour) it makes up for in John Woo-esque action sequences and a reasonable budget to unleash a decent amount of destruction. It looks decent and there’s a nice score from Gary Chang. Though this is a TV movie the violence isn’t too toned down, with plenty of blood squibs unleashed on many a stunt man. That said the levels of werewolf inflicted gore obviously can’t quite match that of a video nasty. A final full on werewolf transformation is unfortunately a little rushed and crude looking.
Van Peebles is decent in the lead. Bruce Payne takes on the role of bad guy as he normally does, and as per normal he ravenously chews scenery, but he’s entertaining here. Patsy Kensit also appears, in what she once called the worst thing she’s ever been involved in. That being said she’s as typically bad as she was in other films around that era. No better or worse than she was in Lethal Weapon 2 or Timebomb to name a couple. Dean Norris, who Breaking Bad fans will know as Hank, also appears.
Full Eclipse never quite manages to balance its influences too much, whilst the films boxed in, TV format, and slightly watered down delivery doesn’t show off the great lighting as much as it should. You almost feel yourself yearning for it to appear in wide-screen. Despite this, it has its moments and some nicely choreographed carnage and stunts. The horror elements play second fiddle to action and indeed this film marks Hickox’s shift from Horror director, to action director gun for hire.
Beer rating: ★ ★ ★
Next time: “Pop it Tommy!” Eric Roberts The Video Maestro.