I own a lot of movies. I mean a lot. That isn't unusual though - people have been collecting films for years. I only mention it because it occurred to me recently I have not been writing about some of the more obscure films I have, with possibly one or two exceptions. So, I'm going to try and ferret out some films which, while not unknown, may be less known to you than some of the previous films I have written tonight.
The subject of today's film is also a collector. He is Vincent Renard - played with perfection by one of the few actors whose films I always seek out...and they never fail to please, Cameron Mitchell. My obsession with Mitchell began in May 1982 when I had the distinct honor of seeing the film Raw Force, aka Kung Fu Cannibals, at a drive-in. Of all the films my Dad took me to see at the drive-in (and he took me to see all the classics - Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Last House on the Left, Flesh Gordon, Phantasm, The Manitou...the list goes on) - seeing Raw Force was for me the zenith of drive-in experiences. He and I both knew the drive-ins were dying and we had to enjoy it. In that wonderful film was Cameron Mitchell delivering the goods like the pro he was. When he appeared on screen I distinctly recall grunts of acknowledgement from both my Dad and I. I had seen Cameron Mitchell in any number of films and TV shows, and enjoyed his work. But, his performance in Raw Force cemented in my mind his magic. Later that same year I was pleased to see him in a much different film, with a much bigger budget - My Favorite Year, which had the irony of being released in my favorite year. There was Mitchell in a big budget film playing gangster Karl Rojeck.
Thankfully, Mitchell worked for a number of years afterward and made appearances in a number of great films including the amazing film Killpoint (another film my Dad and I saw...he and I went to the movies a lot obviously). But, back to the film and character in question...Nightmare in Wax starring Mitchell as Vincent Renard.
From the title, it would be easy to assume this film is merely a rip off of House of Wax, and a wax museum is, in fact, involved. However, Nightmare in Wax speaks to a great more many subject than the classic House of Wax. The primary difference between the two is...why collect the dead...when you can collect the living.
That alone should make this film worth watching. But wait - there's more. What if I told you one of the greatest writer / directors of exploitation film has a role in this film as Sergeant Carver? It's true, no other than John "Bud" Cardos himslef, who went on to be a second unit director for Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, and then moved on to such classics as The Kingdom of the Spiders, The Day Time Ended and of course, Gor II. Now... imagine it also has Berry Kroeger and Virgil Frye. You read that right!!! Of course, at this point I really should not even have to give you the plot...you should be tracking this film down. Nevertheless, for the sake of completeness I will give a quick synopsis:
Mitchell's make up artist Renard has his face burned badly in an argument with Max Black (Berry Kroeger) over the affections of Marie Morgan (portrayed by Anne Helm). Vince leaves the industry and takes his skills elsewhere and opens a was museum while he plots his revenge against Max.
The film is a glorious moment in time - and a reminder there was a time people could smoke literally anywhere and they just dropped their butts where they pleased. This film has a wholly inaccurate 3.4 out of 10 on IMDB and a 6% on Rotten Tomatoes (although those who are familiar with me know I am no fan of Rotten Tomatoes). Nevertheless, don't let those ratings deter you...find this film...and every Cameron Mitchell film, crack open a beer and have a great time.
Miss you Pops.