If there’s one lesson to be learned from horror movies, it’s to stay the hell away from people who work in certain professions. Biogeneticists, morgue attendants, night watchmen, camp counselors, and above all else wax museum proprietors are people whose dire karma draws death and dismemberment like cheap motels draw unsightly stains. Nightmare in Wax, starring Cameron Mitchell in a sustainable performance that depletes few acting resources, is a 1969 testament to the dangers of socializing with persons who fall into that last category.
The Nightmare Begins
Movie producer Max Black, who might be Truman Capote’s taller brother, announces the engagement of Marie Morgan and Tony Deen, the two stars of his next low-budget fiasco, at a party he’s throwing.
Later that night, Tony is about to step into a lift when mad wax museum owner Vincent Renard sneaks up behind him and knocks him out with a tranquilizer injection.
Renard is a man of distinctive appearance. He sports an eye patch, wears a Dr. Robert Schuller knock-off robe, and has a burn scar on his face that looks like mauve cake icing.
Three months after Deen goes missing, Renard is promising the world to a lovely female head sticking through a table top in his waxworks studio when two cops, Haskell and Carver, pay him a visit. They ask him whether he knows anything about Deen’s disappearance. He says that he doesn’t. Then he shows them Deen’s supposedly wax but disquietingly lifelike head, which is also sticking through a table top.
Renard flashbacks to happier, pre-cake-icing days when he was in charge of the make-up department at Black’s movie studio and he and Marie were an item. He tells Marie that she has to quit working for Black. He can’t stand how the old lech ogles and paws her.
“Nobody does this to Max Black!” the producer bellows when Marie informs him that she’s leaving his employ. Renard, who’s looking on, laughs at Black’s melodramatics. As Renard goes to light a cigarette, Black throws a glass of wine in his face, which erupts in flames. But they’re not ordinary flames. They’re magic flames suspended in the air several feet from Renard’s face. Not one to let a bad special effect get in the way of a good flashback, Renard stumbles screaming into Black’s swimming pool to douse the non-existent facial conflagration.
Next Haskell and Carver speak with Marie, who has a flashback of her own. She visits Renard in hospital. Head wrapped in bandages, cigarette dangling from his mouth, Renard sculpts a grotesque clay head as if it were his life’s purpose. He tells Marie to go away. When she refuses he rips off some of the bandages and forces her to gaze upon his empty eye socket, “Look at it! Look at it!” he snarls. “I want you to look at it!” She flees the room in horror. Renard throws the head on the floor, smashing it to pieces, then holds what’s left of it to his bosom and sobs. Yes it was a grotesque head, but it was his head.
Back in the present day, well, 1969, Marie calls Renard on the phone and invites him over to her place. He accepts the invitation. When Renard hangs up, Deen, aroused by the mention of his fiancée’s name, says “Hello, Marie” over and over again until Renard ends the mindless mantra with a tranquilizer injection.
Hey, good looking. What are you doing after the guided tour?
Renard bumps into Black at Marie’s place. Their chance meeting is surprisingly amicable in view of the fact that Black scarred him for life. After Black departs, Marie asks Renard if he would give her Deen’s wax figure. He agrees. But first she must pose for a wax figure he’d like to make of her.
Sometime later, Nick, the museum’s gormless caretaker, who spends the entire movie in a Keystone Cop uniform, notices that the wax figure of a young woman is blinking. He tells Renard, who convinces him it was just his alcohol-inspired imagination. Renard tranquilizes the blinking young woman and gives her strict instructions not to blink, twitch, or shudder without his express permission.
Enjoying a drink at his favorite, discotheque, Renard is joined by Theresa, a ravishing go-go dancer with an IQ of minus 12, who is positively infatuated with the guy. It was Theresa’s wax head he was chatting with earlier. Theresa says that she can’t wait to see her wax figure when he finishes it.
Black sends Alfred Herman, the director of his next flick, to the wax museum to arrange for a scene to be shot there. As Herman is speaking with Renard, he recognizes the formerly blinking young woman, who was an actress he directed in a vampire movie.
“She’s so lifelike. Hard to believe she’s gone,” he remarks.
“Maybe she isn’t. Maybe she’s hypnotized—by a maniac,” Renard says. He tells Herman that using a combination of certain drugs it’s possible to put a person to sleep and then wake that person centuries later.
Theresa lures Black to the museum on the pretext that Renard is going to unveil her wax likeness. After drinking a glass of drugged champagne, Black collapses. Renard informs Black that he is about to become one of the museum’s exhibits.
Theresa asks Renard what he’s going to do to her, now that she’s a witness to his criminal activity. “Kill you,” Renard replies matter-of-factly. Shrieking like a parrot with a migraine, she runs for her life. He chases her around the museum, then kisses her passionately before knifing her in the gut.
Renard sees Haskell and Carver parked outside the museum. He speeds off in Black’s car with Theresa’s corpse in the front seat. The cops pursue him. As Black’s car swerves and screeches along the darkened city streets, Renard kisses Theresa and professes his undying love for her. He then abandons her and gives the cops the slip on foot.
I warned you. You mess with my Mr. Potato Head collection, you mess with me.
A newspaper headline the following morning reads MAX BLACK MURDERS SHOWGIRL despite the fact that Black has yet to be charged or questioned by the police. That night, Marie drops by the museum to see Deen’s “wax” doppelganger.
Meanwhile, Haskell, deeply suspicious of Renard, sneaks inside the museum. A jittery Nick is too preoccupied with a group of wax figures whose eyes are darting and limbs are jerking to notice him.
Renard prepares to make exhibits out of Marie and Black with the assistance of Deen, who’s in his thrall and evidently more than just a head. He commands some figures in the museum to lend him added support.
Haskell makes his move but is overpowered by Renard’s ad hoc zombies.
Black starts laughing hysterically as Renard prepares to lower him into a huge vat of molten wax. His levity infuriates Renard, who lunges at him but misses and falls into the bubbling brew.
Renard wakes to find he was only having a nightmare. Distraught at the all-too-real events he dreamed, he relives some of the movie’s many highlights.
Speaking of Highlights
You too can relive them, on DVD. Just be aware that the picture and audio quality of the transfer is about the same as that of a VHS tape fished out of an oil spill.
Read more of Nightmare in Wax or Goodbye Max Hello Marie at The Content Bloke.
Original article: Nightmare in Wax or Goodbye Max Hello Marie.