Lions Gate Just Got Serious About Waxwork 1 and 2! (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

So, I've had some stuff up on Anthony Hickox's Waxwork for a while, as part of my coverage of Lions Gate's Horror Collection 8 Movie Pack DVDs, but I've been meaning to expand it. I wanted to bring in the common US disc from Artisan, look more closely at the differences between the import and the domestic releases, and I wanted to cover the sequel, Waxwork 2: Lost In Time, as well. That one's an even wilder ride.

Update 10/13/16: And speaking of expanding on the Waxwork movies, Lionsgate has done just that with their new 2-disc blu-ray set of both films in their new Vestron line! That's right, special editions, in HD and, finally, in widescreen!
Professional villain David Warner owns a waxwork museum, where each of its tableaus are taken from classic monster movies: a vampires' castle, graveyard full of zombies or a mummy's tomb. But when a bunch of high school students, including Gremlins star Zach Galligan and Twin Peaks' Dana Ashbrook, pay a nighttime visit, they discover its darkly magical secret. When you cross the velvet ropes, you're teleported into the world depicted in the exhibit. Look too closely at the wax werewolf and you find yourself in its cabin with a real life werewolf and no way to escape.

A great cast of supporting character actors bring these scenes to life, including Patrick Macnee, Miles O'Keeffe and John Rhys Davies as the aforementioned werewolf. It's a fun romp, with the film changing its style to match the world they're in (the zombie scene is in black and white a la George Romero's classic Night Of the Living Dead), but without ever getting too serious. At one point, Galligan breaks into an impromptu Maurice Chevalier impression, a la the Marx Bros. But it doesn't play it too safe either, with some gruesome deaths (the film opens with an impressive murder by fireplace) and an appearance by the Marquis de Sade himself. I can't say I'm a fan of all of Hickox's output, but his early work is always a good time. And for his first attempt at directing, the production values, effects and execution are all impressive.
Of course, Waxwork was included in the aforementioned 2012 8 Movie Pack from Lions Gate, but it was also previously released as a double-bill with Waxwork 2 from Artisan in 2003. That same year, though, I was buying the German import from Dragon Film Entertainment, because it was the only version with extras. I say "was" because of course that's no longer the case, thanks to the new Vestron blu-rays, which are fully loaded. So let's stack all four editions up against each other and find out exactly how much better this new one is.
2003 Artisan DVD 1st; 2003 Dragon DVD 2nd; 2012 Lions Gate DVD 3rd; 2016 Vestron blu 4th.
Whoa! The Dragon and Artisan DVDs are pretty close. I mean, the color timing's a bit different (Dragon's a bit lighter; Artisan's a bit redder), but they're both so soft and video tape-ish, it's hard to pick out a clear winner. It's easy to pick out a clear loser, though! Lionsgate's Horror Collection disc is way too dark, black crushing a lot of information away, including the mummy's face. And the kids sitting on the couch look like a couple of heads and limbs sticking out of a giant blob of oil.

And it only gets worse for owners of the Lions Gate set - their disc is cut! Yes, ever since the VHS days, Waxwork has existed in two different cuts, the R and Unrated versions. Well, Artisan and Dragon have both wisely selected the unrated version of the film to release, but Lions Gate, probably out of sheer lazy ignorance, have included the softer R-rated cut in their disc, losing several shots of blood during the vampire sequence.
A shot only seen in the Unrated versions.
But thankfully, they were paying full attention for the blu-ray, which is the proper uncut Unrated version. And visually, of course, it leaves every past edition behind by a mile. It's no small thing that Waxwork is finally being presented here in widescreen. And in actual 1.85, not 1.78 with "1.85:1" on its packaging like some other recent releases, including a previous Vestron blu. Admittedly, the previous fullscreen DVDs were at least open matte, but it's still important to preserve a film's proper framing.  Plus, we are actually gaining a little information on both sides.  And just look how much cleaner and clearer the image is: fine grain, nothing's too black or murky. This is really the first respectable transfer we've had of Waxwork.

Audio-wise, all the old DVDs just have your basic stereo 2.0 track, and no subtitles. Vestron has that same stereo mix but in DTS-HD, and is the first release to offer an English subtitle track as well.
Which brings us to Waxwork 2: Lost In Time. The sequel came out in 1992 and thankfully, it's still written and directed by Hickox, as it's all his crazy, undiluted vision. Zach Galligan returns as well, with Monika Schnarre replacing Deborah Foreman as his girlfriend Sarah. They thought they'd escaped the terrors of the waxwork, but something followed them out; and now they've got to get proactive and fight the evil directly. And they do this by hoping through worlds based on classic horror set-pieces - just like the first one, of course. It's got another wonderful cast of cult actors, including Bruce Campbell, David Carradine, Juliet Mills, George "Buck" Flowers, John Ireland as King Arthur and the return of Patrick Macnee. The tone has shifted a bit further from horror to fantastic adventure, and maybe it drags a little in the third act; but if you liked the first one, I can't imagine not enjoying Lost In Time.
So of course, Waxwork 2 is available as the second half of that Artisan double bill with the first one (they're both on one single-sided disc, but two relatively short films with no extras isn't such a strain). But again I've got an import version: this time a 2004 DVD from the Netherlands, courtesy of Dutch Film Works. This time, though, importing may not have been such an improvement (but dig that From Beyond-style DVD cover). Not that it matters anymore; they're all piddling compared to the brand new, 2016 Vestron blu. Let's have a look.
2003 Artisan DVD on top; 2004 DFW DVD middle; 2016 Vestron blu below.
Once again, the DVDs are just soft, crappy VHS-like fullscreen transfers. There's no important distinctions to be made in terms of detail, framing or colors. It's all a dead tie except for one thing, the DFW disc is horribly interlaced. Like, not even every sixth or so frame like a pull-down conversion problem like most interlaced disc. This one's interlaced all over.  So both discs are disappointing, but the win goes to Artisan this time around.

It's an entirely academic win though, naturally, as we now have the far superior blu-ray edition. Again, it's an actual 1.85:1 transfer, and while the DVDs were pretty much open matte, like the first one, we do get a little more along the sides. Not that the HD image wouldn't blow the old DVDs away in any aspect ratio. 

The Artisan DVD and Vestron blu both feature the original stereo mix as the sole audio option, though on the blu it's in DTS-HD. Again, the Vestron blu is the first release with English subtitles. The DFW disc did have optional Dutch subtitles if you need those, and a 5.1 mix, which is interesting; but I can't imagine anyone bothering to track that disc down now over the Vestron blu.
Special features are easy to talk about on the old DVDs, since there really isn't much. The Dragon Special Edition of the first film is really the only blip on the radar. It's got something, which is a lot more than I can say for Artisan, Lions Gate or Dutch Filmworks discs, which don't even offer a trailer. Dragon does offer the trailer, and far more importantly, it has a vintage 25-minute 'making of' featurette. It's rather heavy on clips from the film, but it's still more substantial than your average 7-9 minute promo. There's lots of behind-the-scenes footage, on and off set interviews, and an amusing wrap-around hosted by Macnee. There's also a silly but not terribly relevant featurette called The Real Waxwork, made up of footage of an actual waxwork someplace, presumably in Germany. It's not connected to the film, apart from being another waxwork, but it's amusing if you like that sort of thing. There's also a collection of six bonus trailers. It comes in a slipcover and includes a cool little 16-page booklet, though the text is all in German.
That was at least kind of a big deal until Vestron came along and crushed everything with a fully-loaded special edition.  First of all, that 25-minute featurette from the Dragon disc?  That's here, as well as the trailer.  Plus, part 2 also finally gets a trailer.  But that's nothin', because then there's also a full-length documentary by Red Shirt Pictures.  It's credited on the case as six featurettes; but also viewable as one 90-minute documentary feature, which covers all aspects of production.  And if you're looking at the case disappointed that Lost In Time didn't get any documentaries, don't worry, they spend more time on the first, but actually cover both films in the one on disc 1. Both films also have great audio commentaries with Hickox and Galligan.  And, a really nice surprise, each film also have second, hidden/ uncredited audio commentaries with the film's composers - Roger Bellon on the first one and Steve Schiff on the second - where they're interviewed for the first half, and then the second half is the full, unedited and score tracks.  The Lost In Time disc also includes the full LA Posse (an actual, credible rap group who produced some big hits including LL Cool J's "I Need Love") music video from the film's closing credits, in 1.78:1, with Zach and the rest of the cast dancing together with the posse on the film's sets, without the credits and junk running over it.  Both films also include stills galleries, and the set comes in another slick Vestron slipcover. For the first time (for Vestron), they've included reversible interior artwork, too, with part 1 on one side and part 2 on the other.
So there's really no question which version of both films come out ahead... by a country mile. Admittedly, there is actually an anamorphic widescreen DVD in the UK, put out by Lions Gate, that I don't have and so didn't include in my comparisons. But it's the censored version; so it's really not worth our time to consider. And there's no way it would look as good as the new, HD presentations, let alone their impressive stack of features.

It's funny.  I first posted about the Waxwork movies being very critical about how Lions Gate had been sitting on their catalog for so many years.  After all, these are such fun, well made and fairly popular horror films, it was hard to believe we were still looking at such grubby, decades-old DVDs.  But as we now see, Lions Gate have come around in a big way, and with this killer 2-disc set, Vestron just hit their biggest home run yet.  The most infamous studio is becoming the best.  It's like when Dr. Doom became the new Captain America... or something.  I don't read comic books anymore; that might never have happened, but you get the idea.  Villain to hero, super awesome.

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