A mysterious wax museum shows up in a suburban neighborhood one night. Mark and his friends are naturally curious about it, but they soon find out the owner's true intentions. It turns out anyone who enters the museum dies after being sucked into one of the displays. When the right amount of people die in the museum, all of the waxworks will come to life and help the owner take over the world.
Thankfully, Mark's grandfather and his friends have been on the owner's tail for decades and are ready to help Mark and his girlfriend, Sarah, fight against the waxworks.
A sequel, Waxwork II: Lost in Time, was released in 1992. It takes place immediately after the first film, with Sarah's father being murdered by a wax hand that escaped destruction hours before. Sarah's case for her innocence looks bad, thanks to no one believing her and Mark's claims about the wax museum or disembodied hands. When they go to Sir Wilfred's mansion, they find a magic compass that allows them to travel through time. Believing it can be used to get evidence for the trial, the two of them start going through time and space while ending up in sci-fi and horror film parodies along the way.
Despite its name and setting, the video game Wax Works has nothing to do with the films.
This contains examples of:
- Abusive Parents: Sarah's dad despises her because she reminds him of her mother, so he's constantly screaming at and hitting her.
- Actor Allusion: "What the hell am I gonna feed him at this hour?"
- Ancient Tomb: The cop investigating the wax museum ends up in the Mummy's tomb exhibit.
- And the Adventure Continues: The second movie ends this way, with Sarah using the compass to return to Mark in the past after being exonerated.
- Art Shift: The first film's zombie sequence is in black and white, in homage to Night of the Living Dead (1968).
- In the sequel, the Haunting of Hill House sequence is in black and white, the Nosferatu sequence is black-and-white and silent (complete with written dialogue-cards), and characters who are passing through the Kaiju setting speak in Japanese, but have bad overdubbing in English.
- Asshole Victim: Jack the Ripper is killed offscreen by Orlok.
- Big Bad: David Lincoln in the first film, Scarabis in the sequel.
- Bondage Is Bad: Sarah is forced into a bondage act in the first film, but she actually enjoys it.
- Casting Gag: The speaker for the jury in Waxwork II is played by Stanley Sheff, who directed this film's director Anthony Hickox in Lobster Man from Mars a few years earlier. A clip can be seen playing on the TV in the Brightman household when Sarah returns home at the start of the film.
- Clever Crows: In the sequel, Sir Wilfred appears as a raven to Mark when he needs a helping hand (or beak).
- Deal with the Devil
- Depraved Dwarf: The miniature butler who works for the Big Bad.
- Distressed Damsel: Sarah is one at first, but gradually becomes an Action Girl.
- Everything's Deader with Zombies: Zombies are included in the exhibits of the first movie. Zombies appear again in the second movie in one of the alternate timelines reminiscient of Dawn of the Dead (1978).
- FaceHeel Turn / Transhuman Treachery: All of the victims that are killed in the exhibit and brought back to life once the number reaches high enough. Most notable being China, one of Mark and Sarah's friends, who died in the Dracula exhibit, and now an evil vampire herself, nearly sinks her fangs into Mark.
- Face-Revealing Turn: In the Dracula exhibit when China finishes staking the last of Dracula's brides to save her character's lover. However, she knocks one of the girls onto him. When China pulls her off, the bride has finished draining the lover's blood and the previously-helpful lover bears his fangs and hisses at her.
- Flynning: Most of Mark's duel with de Sade is like this, at least so long as de Sade is toying with him.
- Gorn: In both movies.
- Helping Hands: The wax hand that kills Sarah's dad, of course!
- Historical Villain Upgrade: Done to Marquis De Sade, who is now one of the most evil men ever existed.
- Could be Fridge Brilliance, as the waxworks represent fictional villains, possibly including a fictionalized version of de Sade.
- Incongruously Dressed Zombie: The disco undead from one of the second film's alternate worlds.
- Knight of Cerebus: The Marquis de Sade. His abuse of Sarah is most certainly not Played for Laughs, nor are his promises to turn her over to the Prince of England so that she can be used "like the whore she [is]".
- Monster Mash
- Must Have Caffeine: Mark's need for caffeine is introduced early in the first film, then it's promptly dropped.
- No More for Me: When Mark and Scarabis pass through his dimension, Mr. Hyde looks suspiciously at the bottle of elixir that had just transformed him from Dr. Jekyll.
- Pet the Dog: Lincoln flips out at his bodyguard for killing the cop, and promptly apologizes and comforts him when he sees that he's visibly upset.
- Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure: "They made a movie about the Phantom of the Opera?"
- Sequel Hook: The wax hand that survived the destruction of the museum in the first film.
- Super Wheelchair: Sir Wilfred has an armored one with a bulldozer-like front in the first movie's big battle scene. (It's an obvious very cheap cardboard shell around a normal motorized wheelchair, but that actually makes it funnier.)
- Sword Fight: Mark duels Scarabis through alternative time periods in the climactic fight of the second film.
- Whole Costume Reference: Although not necessarily matching any specific film, Mark's and Scarabis's outfits during their duel-across-dimensions always shift to suit their surroundings, and exactly conform to what a hero and a villain, respectively, would wear in the film genre that particular reality represents (e.g. white Travolta disco suit vs denim-clad biker in the '70s zombie mall, proper tuxedo vs seedy longcoat and eyepatch in Jack the Ripper London, etc).
- Your Mind Makes It Real: How the wax exhibit traps work. The exhibit makes the victim believe the whole thing is real to trap them there until the monsters within can kill them. However if the victim can convince themselves it's not real, the monsters can't touch them and they can escape.
- Wrong Genre Savvy: Mark thinks this rule is in effect in the sequel and gets clobbered in the face. Turns out he's not in the Kansas wax museum anymore.