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House of Wax was one of the few films made in 3D which was a huge
success. This may have more to do with the fact that it had a good,
strong story and great acting and did not rely solely upon it's 3D
The late great Vincent Price is Henry Jarrod, a sweet and dedicated artist who creates lifelike mannequins for a wax museum. His statues - depicting everyone from Marie Antoinette & Joan of Arc to John Wilkes Booth - are loved by Henry as much as if they were his own children. When he objects to creating more horrific sculptures to attract more paying customers, his partner sets the museum on fire, hoping to collect a tidy sum in insurance money. Henry supposedly perishes in the flames, trying in vain to rescue his beloved wax friends in a scene which is truly heartbreaking. Some time later, Henry reappears, wheelchair bound and just a tad bitter. He has opened a new wax museum which features realistic scenes of murder and horror, many of them taken from current headlines. Unfortunately, some of them are just a little TOO realistic: one looks like Henry's ex-partner, who was found hanging in an elevator shaft. Was it really a suicide, or something more sinister? Joan of Arc bears a striking resemblance to Cathy Gray, a young girl who has gone missing from her room. And Cathy's friend Sue looks exactly like the lost Marie Antoinette, the pride and joy of Henry's former exhibit. Soon, a horribly scarred monster is chasing Sue through the foggy night time streets. Can the police, and Sue's artistic young suitor, solve the mystery in time? Or will Sue wind up as yet another display in the House of Wax?
This is a wonderful, creepy scare-fest with great sets, beautiful colors and strong performances. Vincent Price as Henry Jarrod is both lovable and horrifying as the kind man driven mad. Charles Bronson, in a very early role, is super freaky as Henry's mute and morbid assistant. Carolyn Jones (in her pre-Morticia Addams days) is blond, pretty Cathy, the squeaky opportunist with the heart of gold. Phyllis Kirk is the sensible Sue, a slightly uptight but genuinely believable victim. The scene where she must run through the deserted, fog-soaked streets is very, convincingly creepy. When Sue actually stops long enough to remove her noisy and cumbersome high heeled shoes, which give away her every step on the cobblestone road, I very nearly applauded. The 3D effects are an added bonus to an already wonderfully fun movie - watch for the classic paddle ball scene!
This is one of Price's best starring role films. It is everything that a good horror film should be - funny without being ridiculous, scary without the gore and fantastical without being far fetched. 10 stars!!! Don't miss it!
"Professor" Henry Jarrod (Vincent Price) is a sculptor who works in
wax. He's living in New York City in the late 19th Century, and he's
displaying his handiwork in a wax museum. When his partner, Matthew
Burke (Roy Robert)--really his primary investor--balks at Jarrod's
receipts and tries to talk him into moving in a more commercial
direction, perhaps with a "Chamber of Horrors", Jarrod protests that
he's creating meticulous works of art, not cheap sensationalism. Jarrod
tries to interest a new investor, but when the prospect says he can't
make a decision for a few months, Burke says he can't wait. He suggests
torching the place and collecting the insurance money. When Jarrod
refuses, Burke torches the museum anyway, and the two fight. Jarrod
supposedly dies in the fire, leaving Burke to collect. However, when a
mysterious, disfigured stranger shows up, the resolution may not be so
The debate that Jarrod and Burke have in the opening scene of this remake of Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) is particularly ironic in light of the film's history. House of Wax was made as a 3D film--a fact made more than obvious from the film's opening credits, which are presented in a font made to look like it is bursting forth from the screen.
In the early 1950s, movie theater box office receipts were down because of television. Film studios and movie theaters were looking for gimmicks that would make films seem more special. They were looking to do things that television couldn't do. According to film editor Rudi Fehr, "The House of Wax was made because the theaters were empty, people were staying home to watch television. In order to lure the audiences back to the theaters, Warner's came out with 3D." While this wasn't the first commercial 3D film--1952's Bwana Devil holds that honor, this was certainly one of the more popular ones.
Studio head Jack Warner told Fehr that he would have five weeks to edit the film after shooting was done. Fehr said they could get it done even quicker if director Andre De Toth would shoot the film in sequence. So Warner demanded just that, despite De Toth's protests. Shooting in sequence is unusual and can make the on-set crew's job much more difficult. But it certainly didn't negatively affect the performances or De Toth's direction, which are both outstanding despite a couple strangely truncated bits of exposition.
Like many 3D films, there are a few shots in House of Wax that might otherwise be inexplicable. The most prominent example here is a huckster who stands in front of the revamped House of Wax doing tricks with three paddleballs. We linger on him much longer than we normally would so that he can bounce the ball into our face. This shows part of the difficulty of 3D--it's difficult to reconcile the most impressive effects from the audience's perspective with narrative needs. Viewed now, in simple 2D on a television screen, the obligatory 3D shots of House of Wax play as quirky, campy curios. For me, that adds to the charm of the film.
Price has an unusual role here in that he plays a good portion of the film with disfigurement makeup, half-limping, hunched over, covered in bulky black cloaks in a manner that somewhat prefigures John Hurt's turn as John Merrick in The Elephant Man (1980). De Toth is excellent at building atmosphere, especially in the "external" shots, which frequently feel more like we're watching a version of the Jack the Ripper story set in London.
Most of the script by Crane Wilbur, based on a play by Charles Belden (which also served as the basis for 1933's Mystery of the Wax Museum, of course), is deliciously flagitious--degenerate in a more over the top manner than was usual for the period. The conflagration at the end of the opening is particularly unexpected and twisted, as is Jarrod's modus operandi throughout the film. It's only too bad that the self-enforced Hollywood "moral code" at the time could not have allowed for a more nihilistic ending. I for one was cheering on Jarrod and his assistant Igor, played by none other than Charles Bronson in one of his earlier roles, when he was still using "Charles Buchinsky".
Although it's difficult to say whether Belden, Wilbur or De Toth intended a message or subtext, it's easy to read a number of interesting angles into the film. To begin, the use of the name "Igor" for the assistant suggests a number of twisted turnabouts on Dr. Frankenstein. Jarrod is even more depraved than the good doctor as he "creates death" out of life, in the service of art. At least it seems depraved if you're not an artist. If you are, you might simply note that one must suffer to be beautiful. That's more than just a flippant remark, as Jarrod suffers financially for beauty early in the film, and Cathy Gray (Carolyn Jones) suffers physically for beauty as she nearly suffocates herself to make herself thin. And of course there's the literal, sinister sense in which the artist makes others suffer to create his beauty. There are also very interesting subtexts available related to goals of realism in art, and of course, the ironic messages noted earlier in the beginning of the film, where we are debating aesthetics versus financial, or more material considerations.
Although House of Wax was popular at the box office in 1953, there was no shortage of critical devaluations of the film as a cheap gimmick, and no shortage of complaints about image quality and eyestrain when trying to view the film in 3D. 3D was only prominent for another year or so (to make periodic returns later, often for "number 3" films in series), but House of Wax is a much better film than it was given credit for at the time. It's not Vincent Price's best, but it's well worth viewing.
The House of Wax is a true horror classic! I saw it for the first time in
1953 at a local theatre in 3-D.
I have seen it many times since on video. It never ceases to entertain.
While watching it today I noticed something for the very first time: a most interesting anachronism.
This film takes place in old New York circa 1900. Every indoor scene has a gaslight in it, and the fire department responds with a horse-drawn wagon. Well, in one of the early scenes in the film Prof. Jarrod(Vincent Price)is conducting a prospective investor, Sidney Wallace(Paul Cavanagh), on a tour of his wax museum. There are gas lights everywhere. They arrive at an exhibit and Prof. Jarrod flips a wall switch, and presto the exhibit is illuminated in light. Somebody goofed!
If you've never seen The House of Wax, watch it. You'll love it.
One more interesting note. Dabbs Greer who plays Sergeant Jim Shane in this film also plays old Paul Edgecomb in the 1999 thriller The Green Mile.
HOUSE OF WAX established Vincent Price as a horror film icon. He's never hammy here. He's best when describing gruesome details (like torture or murder) with a slight grin, as if he's building to a punchline. Crane Wilbur's screenplay has well researched details (regarding how wax sculpting works, the effects of chemical burns for example) improves on the 1933 original. Here Vincent Price plays Henry Jerrod, a wax sculptor whose first try at a wax museum meets the same infernal end as Atwill's museum in the first film. 12 years later, Jerrod opens a new museum. One of his intern sculptors dates a model, Sue (Phyllis Kirk) who is hounded by a mysterious man with a distorted face. In the original film version, made in 1933, Fay Wray plays a beautiful, but uninteresting damsel in distress. Phyllis Kirk fills Fay Wray's part here, and man, is she even more boring! But don't worry, you have plenty of Vincent to make this DVD worthwhile. It's easy to find in a bit part, young Charles Bronson (billed here as Charles Buchinsky) as one of Jerrod's s interns. HOUSE OF WAX's most famous element is that it was made in 3-D. This new gimmick, meant to lure television viewers back to the box office was novel, but it had it's kinks. (Warner Brothers improved the process a year later with the 3-D release of Hitchcock's DIAL M FOR MURDER, and yet another period horror film, PHANTOM OF THE RUE MORGUE.) The most amusing 3-D moment in HOUSE OF WAX has almost nothing to do with the story. A carnival barker, (played with crowd-pleasing energy by Reggie Rymal) constantly whacks a paddle-ball outside the wax museum, while heralding the museum's opening night thrills. He faces the camera (meaning us) and says `You! With the popcorn. Hold still.' and he proceeds to repeatingly whack the ball at the camera. HOUSE OF WAX is a lot of fun, and was a big hit at the time. The DVD does not come with a 3-D Process, but it does come with coverage of HOUSE OF WAX's Hollywood Premier. It's attended by Bela Lugosi and friend, Jack Warner, and Ronald Reagan (See, even Presidents watch horror movies!)
Perhaps I've been lucky. I've only seen this film twice in the past 15
years, but both times were in 3D, the second time last night. The crowd just
loved it, with a big round of applause at the end.
The paddle ball scene is a highlight, but the reprise of the paddle ball is even more hilarious. It's completely over the top, and helps to create the carnival atmosphere that makes the film so effective in a large group.
The really dramatic 3D effects in this film are played for laughs, and I think that's one of the keys to its overall success. Director André De Toth treats the gimmick as a gimmick, and doesn't try to get more out of it than that. Hitchcock, in "Dial M For Murder", tried to use the technology for dramatic effect, but that was a complete failure. The gimmick gets in the way of real drama. The attempted murder of Grace Kelly in "Dial M" is more shocking in 2D. In 3D, you're completely jolted out of your involvement in the scene when Grace's grasping hand comes lunging halfway out into the audience at you.
In "House of Wax", the effect found its real home, a melodramatic thriller, played by everyone with tongue firmly in cheek.
De Toth composes his shots really nicely, I think. There's some foregrounding of chandeliers and other props, but never too much. He mostly holds back on the effect until he can make the best use of it -- the paddle ball, the can-can dancer's round bottom, the bust of Charles Bronson at the end. There is one great 3D thrill, the shot where Bronson, playing Vincent Price's evil mute assistant, has to grapple with policeman Frank Lovejoy. Bronson appears to leap out of the audience and onto the screen; it's an unexpected moment, and a real treat.
I love Vincent Price, my all time favourite horror actor. 'House Of Wax' is an important movie in his career, because it was his first legitimate horror film, after thirty something pictures in a variety of genres. This really is where the Price persona fans know and love began. He made non-horror pictures after this, it was a few years later that he made 'The Fly' and the William Castle movies which made him a horror star, something cemented later in the 60s with Roger Corman's Poe movies. But you can see Vincent Price horror icon right here. He's terrific as Jarrod and he would draw upon this role for 'The Mad Magician', and later, the Phibes movies and 'Theatre Of Blood'. 'House Of Wax' is a remake of 'Mystery Of The Wax Museum' made twenty years earlier. In that one Lionel Atwill played the Price role (different name, but same character). Atwill was great but Price is even better, as is the movie overall. 'House Of Wax' sticks pretty much to the earlier movie, but with a few changes, most notably the absence of the girl reporter character that Fay Wray played in the original. In this, the policeman played by Frank Lovejoy ('In A Lonely Place') takes on a similar role. Phyllis Kirk is good as the female lead, better in my opinion than Glenda Farrell in the earlier picture. The supporting cast also includes Carolyn "Morticia Addams" Jones, and an early appearance by Charles Bronson, who plays a deaf mute named Igor. 'House Of Wax' was made specifically for 3D, so there's a few gimmicky shots, but that doesn't spoil the movie, which to me is a horror classic that every fan of the genre should see.
House of Wax is a decent film without the three-dimensional effects, but it
is a complete riot when viewed in the original 3-D, especially when we get
to see the emcee in front of the theater. Vincent Price is at his creepy
best in this film about a man who opens up a wax museum that has a secret as
to why the figures look so life-like. This was the second time I had seen
it in its original format, and I enjoyed it just as much this time,
including its over the top melodrama and unbelievably dated dialogue. Do
not miss this film if you can find it showing at a classic movie house,
because it is extremely entertaining to experience.
Ostensibly a shocker and a spectacle, 'House of Wax' is one of the great
films about films. It works brilliantly as a horror, one of the few films
to reek of dread and death; some of the grisly images (Jarrod's partner
hanging down an elevator shaft, later exhibited in the museum) are inspired;
the suspense sequences combine eerie visual beauty with fundamental sexual
fears (the film's treatment of independent women in a patriarchal world is
very astute in the housewife 50s). Vincent Price's performance as a man who
can only feel alive with the dead is very moving.
But 'Wax''s self-reflexivity is unprecedented in Hollywood films since the silents. It is a film using a novel spectacle (3-D) to encourage greater realism, concentrating on gruesome sensation. The film is about a museum, also called House of Wax, also a novel spectacle, also more realistic, and also gruesomely sensationalist. The film's artifice is always prominent, most violently with the ping-pong man, bridging the gap between film and audience by assailing us. What we are doing - watching a House of Wax - is what the characters are doing. And we know what happens to THEM...
In 1900, in New York, Prof. Henry Jarrod (Vincent Price) is an artist,
sculpting masterpieces in wax and exposing them in a small and
non-profitable museum. When his partner Matthew Burke (Roy Roberts)
proposes a criminal fire to receive the insurance, Henry does not
accept and fights with him. Henry is knocked out, left in the burning
place and considered dead by the insurance company. When Matthew
receives the insurance money, a disfigured man kills him, and later
many corpses vanish from the city morgue. The crippled Prof. Henry
Jarrod reappears in a wheelchair and destroyed hands, preparing the
grand-opening of his wax museum. Meanwhile, Sue Allen (Phyllis Kirk) is
impressed with the resemblance of statue of Joan of Arc with her friend
Cathy Gray (Carolyn Jones), who was killed and her corpse was missing,
and she suspects that her body was covered by wax.
"House of Wax" is good, but also an absolutely unnecessary remake of Michael Curtiz's "Mystery of the Wax Museum", which is better resolved. There are many scenes and dialogs that are identical, and this remake does not add any value to the original movie. Vincent Price performs a creepy character and the movement of his body is one of the greatest differences in this remake. My vote is seven.
Title (Brazil): "Museu de Cera" ("Wax Museum")
A sculptor of wax figures for a museum is horrified when his partner proposes setting fire to the unpopular museum in order to collect the insurance money. As the wax figures melt amid the blaze, the two men have a fight. The sculptor is knocked out in the scuffle and left to "perish" among the flames. He resurfaces many years later for the launch of his own wax museum. The opening coincides with the sudden disappearance of some dead bodies from the city morgue. His assistant begins to suspect his boss of foul play, especially after the deranged wizard of wax begins eyeing his assistant's lovely girlfriend as a model for a waxed figure of His assistant begins to suspect his boss of foul play, especially after the deranged wizard of wax begins eyeing his assistant's lovely girlfriend's friend as a model for a waxed figure of Joan of Arc! Great movie! Excellent performance by Vincent Price, some effectively creepy scenes and a good plot make this a must-see! Also, see the updated remake; "Waxworks 1&2". Those are very similar to this film.
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