Oddly enough, I used to live right around the corner from a record store called Dead Wax records, here in Lenoir, North Carolina. It’s a small record store but not without its share of treasures. I bought many-a-record for my collection in that store but half of the time my main reason for going was to admire the owner’s Supervixens poster prominently displayed behind the counter.
I’ve since gotten out of the record collecting game.
Not because I don’t still love music and collecting, but contrarily, I love it too much. Record collecting can easily become an obsession for a guy like me. And it did. I was in the game just over three years and had already dedicated a small fortune to collecting vinyl treasures when I realized I was going too far down that rabbit hole and putting off bills in favor of rare wax. So I did what a lot of scared men do when responsibility becomes a priority, I sold all my records, save for a few selected special ones I couldn’t bear to part with.
And I made out okay.
When Shudder’s new original series Deadwax hit the streaming platform recently, I read the premise and figured this was going to be way up my alley. I was correct in my assumption.
Deadwax is an extremely short series. On the advice of Stephen King, I try not to be too loose with my adverbs, so I don’t use the word ‘extremely’ in vain. Deadwax is comprised of eight episodes averaging about thirteen minutes a piece. With a total running time of approximately two hours, you can watch the entire series in an afternoon, and you should, because it’s fantastic.
Written and directed by Graham Reznick
is about a woman named Etta (Hannah Gross) seeking out the holy grail of rare vinyl: The Lytton Lacquer.
The Lytton Lacquer is more than just a record, though, it’s a piece of audio that either kills its listener, or drives them batshit insane. I’ve heard comparisons to The Ring from other movie critics, but the Lytton Lacquer reminds me more of La Fin Absolute du Monde from the Masters of Horror episode “Cigarette Burns.” That said, John Carpenter’s “Cigarette Burns,” while far-and-away the best episode of the Masters of Horror entirety, may-well have been inspired by The Ring.
Horror is an incestuous genre.
It’s a challenge reviewing something brand new, because a filmmaker’s work should be allowed to stand on its own, and Deadwax can, but curious audiences also need a point of reference to help them decide whether or not it’s worth their time. In terms of plot, “Cigarette Burns” is the closest I can come to a comparison. In terms of style, it’s something all its own. There are moments that feel Lynchian in nature. Part one’s climactic ending, for example, when Len Perry (Evan Gamble) incidentally hears the Lytton Lacquer from a distance and first enters the realm of madness. This Lynchian motif recurs sporadically throughout the series, but generally speaking, the show has its own aesthetic.
In the same vein that Hitchcock, Kubrick, or Lynch have cinematic techniques all their own, I expect that when Graham Reznick’s film career takes off even further, we’ll be looking back at his style as the point of reference for other films.
Ted Raimi shows up in part two as Ian Ullman, Etta’s mentor of sorts. Raimi delivers a wonderful performance as always, but if I have one complaint about the series its that, to the seasoned horror fan, Ted Raimi’s eyes are too pronounced and recognizable to not notice him as the man behind the bandages referred to as “Null and Void.”
That sole complaint comes, however, from the highlight of the entire series: Part 4.
Part 4 of Deadwax is perfectly watchable as a standalone short-film in and of itself. One wouldn’t even need any context to enjoy it. I know, because after I finished the series, I showed Part 4 to my girlfriend without giving her any context whatsoever, and she absolutely loved it. Part 4 also gives us some great character development on Etta without allowing her face to appear in the episode once. A symptom of strong writing, to be sure. I simply cannot gush over part 4 enough, it’s masterfully crafted and the biggest reason I believe Reznick is a name to watch in horror.
We have a slick plot, fine acting, a unique style, solid writing, all integral pieces to any successful puzzle, but then comes the question of deeper, philosophical meanings present within Deadwax. Are there any? Are they worth pondering? Do they tread any new ground? These are all questions every viewer will have to answer for themselves, but for my money, the answer to all three is yes.
I’m still digesting the series as a whole, but I think the message is summed up nicely by Ian Ullman (Ted Raimi) in the final episode.
“You are out of tune with this world now.”
Anyone who collects records as an obsession, or even just as a hobby, likely relates to this line. Music is an intimate form of escapism that transcends even film or reading for many people. To those emotionally affected by music to the point of feeling the need to collect it on wax, music isn’t just something to put on in the background during your daily commute, it’s a coping mechanism for feeling like you’re on a different wavelength from the rest of the world. Virtually every character in this series, before the Lytton Lacquer even comes into their life, is already out of tune with those around them; damaged and woebegone for one reason or another.
The Lytton Lacquer serves as a literal manifestation of that disconnection and as a symbol of their deep-seated fear of falling even further away from the rest of the world.
At least, that’s my read on it as of now. Ask me in five years and I might have a completely different take on Deadwax.
One thing is certain, though, Deadwax installs some long-overdue bridges over a glaring gap in pop-culture. Horror and music nerds are two groups of people often maligned by those who have no understanding of the respective subcultures themselves. Deadwax is the mixer party both groups needed.
Will we get a Season 2? I expect yes, but even if we don’t I’d be okay with the ending we were left with. The mark of a strong series, I believe, is that each season could act as a close to the series if needs be. Deadwax ends on something of a cliffhanger, but it also ends on a somber, ambiguous note that would be just as beautiful reverberating across time as a standalone piece of art.