Interview with Anthony Hickox: Director of Waxwork

Anthony Hickox's Inspiration

An interview with Anthony Hickox, director of the cult horror film and one of our all-time favorites, Waxwork.

Anthony Hickox

HL: The Waxwork series, it’s a tour de force of monster mayhem. The original movie feels like a dozen horror flicks compressed into one. So, I have to ask, what was the genesis for the story? Did it start from a place of wanting to make a ton of different monster movies, and you were trying to bring them all together in one story, or was it something totally different?

AH: It was (laughs), I’ll tell you the truth, the reason I had to do it and I had to do it fast, was I needed the cash. Otherwise, I would have to get out of LA. I met this guy that said he would give me three grand for a script, and he would pay me on delivery. So, I was like fuck, I gotta write something right now.

I always loved the Chamber of Horrors and there was always that urban legend that if you could spend the night there, they’d give you a million pounds, which was never true. So, I thought, well wouldn’t it be great if we just stuck ’em in there with all these monsters, and in Chamber of Horrors, you know, it was serial killers, but I thought, well wouldn’t it be great if it were all the Hammer monsters I loved. And then it just kind of went from there.

HL: You come from a pretty impressive family of filmmakers. How did that shape your career? I read that you started out as a club promoter. How did you go from promoter to director? Follow up question, are there any attributes of being a club promoter that helped you as a film director?

AH: (laughs) I’m not quite sure about that one, but yeah, of course I wanted to be a film director since I was a kid, and like my dad said “If I were a butcher, you’d be cutting meat.” And that’s what I grew up with, with my mum, cause they were always doing movies on location, so I’d spend my time over in the cutting rooms or with my dad, bringing coffee to everybody. It’s always what I wanted to do.

But, the reality of doing it in London, in the early ’80s, was very different. So, that’s why I started promoting clubs, just to, ya know, earn money. And meanwhile, I was always writing. There was never a point I wasn’t doing that to raise money for a short I wanted to do. Because, in those days, you had to film shorts on actual film, and they cost money, like twenty-five grand, and it was a million of ’em to do a twenty-minute film. So, I raised that actually out of clubs, and that’s what sent me to LA. It did all connect, but I don’t know that it connected in many other ways.

HL: The short films you were making, were a lot of them horror, or what other genres were you dabbling in?

AH: Like I said, in those days, it’s not like today where you can make a short on your phone. You had to make it with a film crew, it had to be union, and 16mm. It was like a real production. My short was called “Rock-A-Bye Baby”, and I eventually need to get it, I should’ve had them put it on the Waxwork extras. It had Vincent Price, cause he was my dad’s friend, and Jean Marsh playing a nanny that’s a ghost that came back to haunt the kids that gave her a hard time when she was their nanny. They actually invite her up to the house to murder her, but she’s already dead.

HL: Was that nerve-racking dealing with established talent or did you come in there ready to seize the day?

AH: That is where the advantage is of growing up on a film set, cause I didn’t go to film school. And when I did Waxwork, people thought I must have been terrified. But, not really because I grew up on film sets and kind of knew how they worked. I remember asking a DP, what do I say? But, that was it (laughs). And he’s like, “Just say Action.” I kind of just understood film subconsciously from just being around it so much, especially the editing side of it.

HL: As far as horror comedies go, I think it’s very rare to strike that delicate balance between screams and laughs, and I think the Waxwork movies pull off horror/comedy very masterfully. Did you incorporate a certain method to do this? Were there any scenes you had to change tonally while you were onset because they weren’t working as straight horror or straight comedy?

AH: It’s funny because I’ve thought about that since people have asked if it was my intent to make a comedy. When I look back at the storyboards, we did them like Tales from the Crypt comics, where every storyboard had a front cover with the “Crypt Keeper,” so I must have been always wanting to have that camp, and I’m a Mel Brooks fan. Young Frankenstein is one of my favorite movies. I love that kind of comedy, so I think it was always meant to have comedy, as in Waxwork II, which became sort of a full-out comedy.

HL: I’ve always been curious about, there’s this really hilarious ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) when Patrick Macnee is getting his head taken off by the werewolf. Was that in the script or was that something you guys were just like, let’s throw that in there? How did that get in the final film?

AH: We were in the studio and I was like, fuck, how fast can you say “Oh my god!” before the head comes off, and then he did it, and we had to leave it in even though he’s kind of talking with his head in the air. The other one I love is the chicken, he shoots in the air in the stupid bar fight at the end, a chicken falls from the sky. I do have that crazy sense of humor.

HL: Going back to what you were talking about with the storyboards, you mentioned Tales from the Crypt, and I recently discovered and ordered the comic version of Waxwork you guys put out, I assume in promotion of the movie?

AH: You mean the 3D comic? It’s terrible; I had nothing to do with it. Yeah, which is why when they did the Hellraiser III comic, I wanted to be involved, but I didn’t even know they were doing it. I saw it in comic stores. In those days, that part of the movie business (marketing), I didn’t know anything about, you know, once the movie was done.

In fact, I wasn’t even there for the premiere, because I was prepping Sundown. Thinking back, I could have gone as I was only in Utah. But, I just wanted to make movies. Now, it’s all changed. It’s all about promotion and this and that and Facebook.

HL: Going into Waxwork II, what you do with the character of Mark, it feels like a franchise, like it could become a TV show or a comic. Did you ever consider continuing the story in another form more on your own terms?

AH: Well, no, because they wanted to do III and it was going to be a kind of an ongoing, straight-to-video type story. But, if it wasn’t going to continue as a film, I suppose yeah, it was going to be a comic book, where we were going to do one ever six months, make ’em cheap and fun, and have these reoccurring characters. But then, ya know, something changed and it didn’t happen, life. But yeah, we were always going to continue and that was kind of the idea.

HL: The music in the original is perfection to me. It’s a mix of classical compositions, but it has those modern moments as well, and I feel like for a lot of composers, it’s hard to bridge that gap of the more orchestral score versus a more modern flavor. How much say did you have in the music department and for example, the segment with “Swan Lake,” was that an intentional nod?

AH: Yes, because the original Universal Mummy used “Swan Lake.” As a director, you’re involved with everything. I’m very close with music and right now, I work with a composer because I love scoring on movies. It was very interesting because the composer from the first film did a great job and I thought Steve Schiff did a really good job on II.

We went more for what was happening in music at the time and he did a very clever mix of classical and kept it alive and very different. I was happy with both movie scores. I don’t remember why Roger didn’t do the second one, I think he was doing something else. I remember we asked him.

HL: What was the most stressful part of the original Waxwork, production wise? How tight was time and budget?

AH: Well, now (laughs), when you’re making a movie for five hundred grand, but I mean that was three million dollars in 1984 and that was a decent budget and I still went way over. In fact, the whole reason for the barroom brawl at the end is because the producers shut the whole movie down. I still had a fight through time I wanted to do, which I managed to do a little version of in Waxwork II, but that was meant to be Waxwork I.

I literally came on the set, we were filming, we were four days over already, but we had four days to do the end they were like, we’re shutting you down tomorrow. So, I said, okay everybody, start fighting. I think we had two cameras (laughs), there was no rehearsal, and there were extras. We said, just start swinging. We had four stuntman, and we’d just dress them as different people and throw them through sets. So, that was pretty stressful and disappointing cause I really had that fight through time planned, which I loved in Waxwork II, when they’re going through the silent movie and Dawn of the Dead.

HL: What was the most difficult effects set piece on Waxwork?

AH: In those days, they were all difficult because, you know, the werewolf had like eight people crawling around on the floor, doing all these wires, one on the ears, one on the lips, you know, they’re all following him around underneath (laughs). So, that’s a nightmare, but kind of fun.

I hate now, where you could just do it with CGI, it was kind of great that you have to keep them out of the camera, cause they were like puppets, giant puppets. And then, you know, the optical stuff, which I think looks great and people copied it, the blue light where they step through, that effect was tough to come up with. We tried and tried, and then, one day, it just worked.

HL: The whole idea of Waxwork, the idea of the eighteen most evil beings, some of those are pretty obvious. You have Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and The Mummy. But, some of them are a bit more abstract. Those minor characters, did they all have a backstory in your mind?

AH: They were all the Hammer style monsters aside from Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Golem, which I loved as a kid. It’s the thing on the stairs that no one recognizes as The Golem, but that’s what it was. Mostly, they were all inspired my horror movies I loved.

I loved the make-up of The Reptile Man, but we couldn’t copy it. It was brilliant. But, Bob Keen did such a great job because he didn’t have a lot of money to work with. And you know, you of course can’t copy anything exactly because you’d get sued. You can do it like something, but not too like it. Universal was the big one we were worried about. You had to stay well away from anything Universal.

HL: Going into Waxwork II: Lost in Time, how much control did you have of the overall vision?

AH: On both movies, I had total control. The producer was a friend of mine. He knew nothing about movies, he just loved being on set. Making those two movies, in that way, was just fantastic. Nobody interfered. Nobody came to watch dailies. We just made our movie. On my last movie, Exodus to Shanghai, I had the same experience, and I had forgotten that’s the only way to make ’em.

HL: Was there any pressure in Waxwork II, to do something different with the story and characters, not from yourself, but from outside forces?

AH: No, not really (laughs). It’s just like, you know, there’s money to consider and much tougher shoots days wise. And in those days, they knew sequels would only make 50% of the first one, it was this whole mathematical thing, so it was half the budget and a lot tighter on time. But, more ambitious actually than the first one. It was tough to make, but they left me alone to make whatever I wanted as long as I stayed on budget and time.

HL: Between Waxwork I and II, you probably have like forty different potential monster movies, you know, based on all these little vignettes or scenarios. Was there one segment from either film that you wish you could expand into its own feature?

AH: Well, yeah, only cause I’m a pervert and I love the Marquis de Sade, and in those days, nobody had really done that. I mean, I was hated. I got so much hate mail, because nobody had really seen in a movie people talking about orgasms and Fifty Shades of Grey shit.

It was actually pretty shocking. People were really shocked by the Marquis de Sade, especially the fact that she didn’t want to leave. They didn’t get it, Middle-America. But, I also got a lot of really hot fan mail from young girls. And then so, I expanded that kind of thing in the Edgar Allan Poe segment in the second one cause I just love that time period, the costumes, and the hamminess of it all.

HL: If you were to make Waxwork III, where would you take the story? Are there any tropes that you didn’t get to tackle in parts I or II that you’d want to explore?

AH: Well, actually, there was a script for III and I lost it. And with computers, if you’ve lost it, you’ve lost it. I kept looking for it everywhere and I just can’t find it. But, we kind of did Victorian London, where it was mostly set, because that’s another favorite of mine. It was all set around “The Beating Heart,” the Edgar Allan Poe story. So yeah, I’m sad we didn’t do it.

HL: You mentioned the goal was to make the sequels a direct-to-video series. Did the sequel not make very much money? What stopped you guys from doing that?

AH: No, they both made a fortune. Like, literally, the first shipped a hundred thousand video units at ninety dollars a unit. The second one shipped sixty thousand at ninety-nine, so, they were making money. It was a great way to make money in those days and then everything changed, the price of videos went down, and DVD was coming out, so I think it would’ve worked for a few years, and we were going to make the third one for a few years, but it just kept falling apart and it sort of missed its moment. It was money. I actually wasn’t going to direct the third one, my brother was. I think I did Hellraiser right after Waxwork II.

HL: After Waxwork, you got to direct two great sequels of two established franchises, with Hellraiser III and Warlock 2. Considering how well you adapted to directing those projects, were you ever offered other franchise opportunities?

AH: Yeah, a lot of them. There was Friday the 13th, Nightmare, but I thought, I’ve got to stop making sequels or I’m just going to become the sequel guy. It probably wouldn’t have been a bad thing, but in those days, all the agents are telling you, you can’t just keep making sequels. I loved all these characters, but they were like we need to get you on a different track. So, whatever, shit happens.

The one I really kind of wanted, they didn’t like my pitch. They offered it to four directors to come in and pitch. I did one and I came up with an insane idea, but I can’t remember, it was a Texas Chainsaw sequel. But, they wanted to take it in a much more serious direction. I loved Texas Chainsaw 2, the one with Dennis Hopper, so I wanted to take that to a whole new level. I’ve got a thing about circuses too.

HL: I feel like there’s this big pivot in your career where you started moving toward action content and I think the most notable moment of that is when you made Full Eclipse, which I think is the perfect amalgam of horror and action. Why the change? Because the Hickox brand of late ’80s/early ’90s is these fun action/horror/comedy movies, but now it’s more of a straight action model.

AH: You know what, I love horror more than anything, but after making five of them, it was like, I wanna blow some shit up. Full Eclipse came along, which was a Richard Matheson script, who’s a horror writer generally and it was just such a great, for me, it had everything I wanted to do.

And HBO put six million dollars on that budget, which is why I could do all that shit. I love Full Eclipse because I got to do horror and these great action scenes, John Woo action scenes. Also, I was watching all these action movies thinking it must be so much fun to get to do that.

HL: Money is indeed a crucial part of the filmmaking process. If money were no issue, what would your dream project be?

AH: I would have said, years ago, Indiana Jones, or something like that, which I got a Chinese script for this movie, which is an underwater Indiana Jones right now actually. I love high adventure, I mean I love that kind of big story, but not necessarily all this CGI shit, like superhero movies.

I mean, I like Iron Man, but they just bore me. I was inspired my Spielberg and that kind of big-budget movie making. But, if I was eighteen now, I don’t know what would inspire me. I’d probably go the opposite into independent and dark movies.

HL: Do you have any interest in storytelling in other mediums, like writing a novel, or video games for example?

AH: I’d love to do a video game. I’ve been involved, like some of my movies now have video games attached to them. I’m a big gamer. So, yeah, I’d love to get a video game.

HL: Are there any projects you’re working on now that you’d like to plug?

AH: Yes. There is this one I’m doing, that I just finished writing today, I think it’s going to happen, called Bad Company, which was going to sort of be guised as a remake of Cat People. It’s a very dark look at pornography and a very horrific look at it in this day and age. I think it’s very timely with Trump and all this shit going on. It’s a horror movie. I’m going back to doing horror. I just made a Kung Fu Nazi movie, which is winning festivals surprisingly.

HL: Is there anything that your fans may not know about your films that you think they’d be interested in learning about?

AH: The big career changer for me was Prince Valiant. That was the first time I had a big budget, pretty big actors, and people started to control what I did. It was the first movie where I ever experienced people complaining about the dailies the next day, and I’m going “What the fuck? I’m directing this.” And it was a disaster because of it. They re-cut it and fired me from the cutting room.

That was a big life-changer, and it was like, hold up, what am I doing? I need to be in control when I’m making a movie, which is why I stepped back from directing for awhile and switched over to writing to do what I want. And then slowly, because of my scripts, because I’ve written them, I’m getting a little power back to make movies I want to make. But, it’s tough.

HL: It is tough. I’m curious, you started making features during the VHS boom, and you’ve continued filmmaking into the digital age, which is a tough transition over the past fifteen years of how the industry has changed. Where do you see the future going, especially for lower budget movies, it’s harder to make a return on your investment than ever.

AH: It’s fucking impossible unless you’re doing a mega movie. Because that’s the whole thing, the medium budget that I was doing was making money, you know those action movies I was making for eight to ten million dollars, which is a decent budget, and they were making forty million dollars on DVD at Blockbuster. So, it was a good business for years. I mean, I can’t complain. I was doing a movie a year for twenty years.

But, that’s all gone. Now, you’re making a movie for five hundred thousand or five hundred million, but the whole in-between has just vanished. What’s happened is, TV, HBO, and cable have taken over that niche. An HBO show I just watched was beautifully made, but, you know, that’s got a deep budget, and I think that’s taken over for that mid-range movie. And that’s probably how it’s going to be.

HL: To you have interest in pursuing a TV show yourself?

AH: I wouldn’t mind, it’s just I’m not a trendy director anymore. You know, I did some major TV pilots, where they had three million dollar budgets for an hour of TV, which in those days, was unheard of. So, you know, I did my time and thought they’d probably come and ask me to do something again, but the thing is, really big directors are doing these shows. It used to be TV directors doing TV and movie directors doing movies, and they didn’t crossover, but now, movie directors can work in TV for a month and make a fortune. A lot has changed.

HL: Can we talk for a second about your impact as a director, because I feel like you have this incredibly impressive portfolio of cult titles and I feel like people have to hit you up for interviews all the time. Looking back at your career, what’s the weirdest or funniest thing a fan has said to you?

AH: Like I said, I got some really weird fan mail after Waxwork and the Marquis de Sade scene, like girls asking to come over and be whipped and tied up and some other really great stuff. I think the biggest fan reaction I ever had on a movie was Sundown. For years, people would contact me about that movie because it never got released and became like this hidden movie. It’s one of my favorite movies I’ve made.

And then, of course, Hellraiser III, that’s a different kind of thing, cause I went to all the conventions for the first time, because when Waxwork happened, there were no conventions. But, by Hellraiser III, there were major conventions and people would come and ask me to sign their body in blood and, oh god, it was insane.

HL: How did the Vestron Blu-ray of Waxwork that was just released come about?

AH: I really don’t know. I’m happy they’re doing it cause they got some great ones like Lair of the White Worm and other great titles, but I think Lionsgate just had this library of these cult horror movies and thought, let’s do something with them.

I haven’t seen the new Blu-ray yet, so I can’t say what I’m most proud of about it, but I had a great fucking time with Zach, who I hadn’t seen in years, in Atlanta, and also my best friend Mike who does Walking Dead there, so it was great. That was a great experience, going to Atlanta.

HL: Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. The Waxwork films hit me pretty hard when I first saw them as a kid and I do believe these are truly well-renowned amongt the horror community, so thank you so much.

AH: Yeah, I mean just the fact that thirty years later anybody is still talking about it, makes you proud. You can’t not be. And also, I made Waxwork, like I try and do most of my movies, like a movie I want to see. Like, if I were sitting in a cinema, I’d really enjoy seeing a guy get ripped in half (laughs).

How to reach out to Anthony:


Other links of interest about Anthony:

IMDb / Wikipedia

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Chris LaMartina

Chris LaMartina

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I'm a horror filmmaker from Baltimore, MD. To date, I've directed seven horror features including "WNUF Halloween Special" and "Call Girl of Cthulhu". I'm currently in production for my eighth, a clickbait social satire entitled, "What Happens Next Will Scare You".

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