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Q&A: Zach Galligan talks “WAXWORK”

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Primarily known for his role as Billy Peltzer in Joe Dante’s classic fright film GREMLINS, actor Zach Galligan has gone on to several other great genre roles, from TALES FROM THE CRYPT to HATCHET III to the subject of this interview, WAXWORK. In that film, Writer/Director Anthony Hickox crafted a tale of teens trapped inside of a wax museum which would come to life with each teen stumbling into a different famous monster and legend. Galligan led a cast also featuring David Warner, Deborah Foreman, and Dana Ashbrook, and gave fans a bloody good time. Returning in 1992’s more fantasy-based sequel WAXWORK II: TRAPPED IN TIME, Galligan traded the horror for lore, brandishing swords and exorcising ghouls. Thanks to the recent excellent double feature release of both WAXWORK films courtesy of the newly reinstated Vestron Video, we spoke to Galligan about his time, well…travelling.

FANGORIA:  How did you jump into the craziness of WAXWORK?

ZACH GALLIGAN:   Well, you know that’s kind of interesting, because basically what happened was around July or August of 1987, I was still sort of coasting along with the one-two punch of GREMLINS and then being on the cover of People Magazine.  So I still had a little bit of viability going for me at that time in terms of being a name and being able to get, if not a movie funded but at least a movie headed in the right direction, if you got me and maybe somebody else. I do believe once they got me and David Warner, they got their funding.

The director, Tony Hickox, I guess was a big GREMLINS fan and he wanted to get me in the movie because a) He liked GREMLINS, b) he thought I was a decent actor, and c) he knew it would finance his movie.  He set up a meeting with me at a restaurant in Los Angeles and the funny thing is this, and I say this in the commentary so I don’t want to give too much of it away, I really didn’t like the script at the time because the way the dialogue was written, it sounded very English, you know?  It was like my character would say things like “We’re going to need more petrol for the lorry.” I was like, “What?,” and that would get in the way; I was like, “LA people don’t talk like this.”

So I went to the meeting ostensibly to pass on the project, be polite and say, “Listen, you’re a lovely guy and your script is actually quite demanding in places, but the dialogue is just not convincing and I can’t do a movie where I can’t say the dialogue convincingly.” So I got there, and I actually did exactly that. What I didn’t count on was the fact that Tony Hickox was one of the world’s greatest salesmen, or at least he was then. What he did that was so clever was that when I would say, “You know, I have two or three major problems,” and he would, instead of being defensive, just say, “What are they?” “Well, the dialogue sounds English.” “Well then, you can change it to anything that you want.” And I went, “Uh, okay.” And he goes “What’s the second [problem]?” and I said, “Well, the schedule is a little difficult,” and he says, “We’ll push it forward a week.” By the time I was done with my problems, he had solved every single one of them. 

FANGO:  I’m curious about working with the whole cast, I mean you know, you had Dana Ashbrook, Deborah Foreman, and so on.  It was kind of an ensemble. How was that whole experience for you? 

GALLIGAN:  Dana Ashbrook is one of the sweetest guys ever.  He was largely unknown; he didn’t really break through until he did TWIN PEAKS, and that was a good two or three years later. So he was kind of jovial, like, “Hey, I’m a friendly guy and I’m up for anything.”  You know? He was like that guy.  He was kind of like the big, big puppy dog.  

Deborah and Michelle [Johnson] were established.  Michelle Johnson did BLAME IT ON RIO and a bunch of other things, and Deborah Foreman, of course did VALLEY GIRL.  So the girls really had a kind of sense of themselves.  But then like, Clare Carey, who went on to do COACH with Craig T. Nelson, she seemed fairly new to the business. 

The nice thing was that everybody got along, and Tony encouraged it by having one or two rehearsals, not too many though.  But then he’d also do things like, “Let’s all go out to dinner together.” He would just kind of foster friendship among people who were basically strangers, and I think the chemistry worked because everybody liked each other in real life and clearly likes each other, I think, convincingly in the movie.

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FANGO: It comes across that way. How was the actual filming of the movie?  I mean, was it a hard shoot or was it just a fun thing to do?

GALLIGAN:  I remember it being very fun to do.  There were, of course, really only two things that were sort of mild complaints.  But you’ve got to remember that I was 23.  When you’re 23, you know, nothing really kind of bothers you all that much.  You’re so excited about doing movies, but you don’t really care. I can tell you that we shot it up in Santa Clarita, which is a solid 45 minutes to an hour depending on traffic, outside of Los Angeles up the 5 Freeway, as they call it, ‘The Grapevine.’  So, without question, it was a pain in the ass to get there, because at the end of the day you drove home for an hour, and then you didn’t get much sleep and then you woke up the next day and you got in your car and you drove up for an hour, through often times, morning rush hour traffic, and got there and shot all day in un-air conditioned studios.  So that was the two problems.  

It was quite the commute, and it was in August and September of ’87.  In fact, we finished in the early morning hours of October 1st.  And the reason why I remember that is the day it was over, or the night it was over, I got home at 5:00 in the morning and collapsed, just exhausted because it was right at the end of the six week shoot, and I slept through the earthquake.

FANGO:  Oh, wow!  That’s nuts.

GALLIGAN:  Which happened on October 1, 1987.  It shook me out of the bed.  It had basically stopped, and I was like ‘was that an earthquake?’  And I went and looked out the window, and I’ll never forget this because it was so crazy, the pool at the house I was staying in, water was sloshing back and forth from side to side like it was an ocean. The violence of the earthquake was so, it woke me up but I only caught the last five seconds of it and then 10 seconds later I managed to get to the window and just saw the sloshing waves kind of receding in the pool and in 20 seconds it was back to being fairly placid.  But yeah, the pool basically got shook back and forth like a coke can. 

FANGO:  In the horror genre, it can be kind of rare kind of rare to have the stars from an original film come back for a sequel.  Was there ever any reluctance to come back for WAXWORK II?

GALLIGAN:  You know, you’re talking about something that was literally 25 years ago.  My guess is, how old are you right now, you’re 35, right? Ok.  So how clear are events that happened when you were 10, know what I mean?  It’s a long time ago, so I don’t really remember there being any reluctance because by that point I had done GREMLINS II and it was such a weird thing to take for audiences.  Maybe if GREMLINS II had been a huge hit, maybe I would have had some reluctance.  But my guess is because like GREMLINS II kind of tanked, and I’m just being honest, it tanked.  People liked it, they think it’s a good movie, but financially it tanked and it kind of took the franchise down.  I think, my guess is by the summer of ’91, I was grateful that Tony was around and employing me.

FANGOL:  There’s such a shift in tone between the first and second films. If you watch them back to back, they’re very different. 

GALLIGAN:  Well, it’s interesting because I’m probably in the two most radical sequels ever done to horror movies. If only I had been in James Cameron’s ALIENS, I probably would have swept the board with, “Oh my god, what a radical redo genre type of sequel.”  You know, I think when you’re with really, truly creative people, and you notice that James Cameron is the same way.  He looked at ALIEN and probably thought that it was a perfect movie, it’s almost like a haunted house movie right?  You have this spooky alien creature on a haunted house, which is just a spaceship floating in space, picking people off one by one. it’s like HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL on a spaceship. There’s no ghost, there’s an alien.  

So James Cameron was like, and this is just a guess, “They already did that and Ridley Scott did it perfectly. We gotta do something different.” That’s what he did. With WAXWORK II, Tony was like, “I don’t want to do WAXWORK again, I just did it.” So he wanted to do a time travel movie.  Joe Dante was like, “I don’t want to do a scary GREMLINS movie because I did that, I want to do like a kind of spoof on the GREMLINS franchise.” So creative people don’t like to repeat themselves. 

 You know, I’ll give you another quick example. Neil Young doesn’t go out and play his greatest hits all the time; he goes out and he just plays what he wants to and the same thing with Bob Dylan and it’s like if you don’t want to hear it, you know that’s what he’s about when you buy a ticket, you’re not hearing greatest hits, you’re gonna hear whatever he wants to play.  With both WAXWORK and WAXWORK II, Tony really did that, he did his own creative thing.

WAXWORK and WAXWORK II: LOST IN TIME are now on Blu-ray from Vestron Video.

About the author
Jerry Smith

A lifelong genre fanatic, Smith loves all things Carpenter and
plays a mean game of hide and seek. Currently the Editor In Chief of
Icons of Fright, Jerry hails from the dead center of California and
changes diapers on his off time.

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