House of Wax (1953)
Professor Henry Jarrod is a true artist whose wax sculptures are lifelike. He specializes in historical tableau's such a Marie Antoinette or Joan of Arc. His business partner, Matthew Burke, needs some of his investment returned to him and pushes Jarrod to have more lurid exposes like a chamber of horrors. When Jarrod refuses, Burke set the place alight destroying all of his beautiful work in the hope of claiming the insurance. Jarrod is believed to have died in the fire but he unexpectedly reappears some 18 months later when he opens a new exhibit. This time, his displays focus on the macabre but he has yet to reproduce his most cherished work, Marie Antoinette. When he meets his new assistant's beautiful friend, Sue Allen, he knows he's found the perfect model - only unbeknown to anyone, he has a very particular way of making his wax creations.
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's friend as a model for a waxed figure of Marie Antoinette.
An associate burns down a wax museum with the owner inside, but he survives only to become vengeful and murderous.
- The movie opens with title and credits over the streets of turn of the century New York City at night in the pouring rain. A solitary figure walks down the street holding an umbrella. We enter the Wax Museum with various tableaux of crimes of the past, and then enter the workshop where Prof. Henry Jarrod (Vincent Price) is working on a sculpture. His business partner, Matthew Burke (Roy Roberts) enters and walks partially upstairs when he is hailed by Jarrod. He tells Jarrod he's there to study the account books. They have a philosophical difference between their approaches to business. Jarrod proposes a buyout arrangement, and Burke either eager or desperate for the money agrees in principle. A potential investor is scheduled to see Jarrod that very evening.
Bruce Allison (Phillip Tonge) and Sidney Wallace (Paul Cavanagh) arrive and are given a brief tour of the wax museum. Wallace is impressed, but Jarrod explains that he's never satisfied with certain aspects of the finished products. Wallace explains he's going to Egypt for three months, so no decision on investment can take place prior to his return. Allison and Wallace depart. Burke was eavesdropping from the upstairs room and heard everything. He is impatient for a financial settlement and proposes an insurance fire. The place is insured for $25,000--$12,500 each. Jarrod is horrified by the proposal, and opposes it categorically. Burke lights the Marie Antoinette wax figure's dress with a match. It starts a fire that Jarrod quickly extinguishes. Burke starts a few more fires, with Jarrod quickly working to save his wax figures. Burke and Jarrod fight, and at one point Jarrod is knocked out. Burke douses the workroom and display area with a flammable liquid and turns on the gas light spigots. He goes upstairs as the place begins to catch fire. He returns to the workroom and continues his fight with the now revived Jarrod. Jarrod works desperately with buckets of water to douse the fire, but it is a losing battle. He is knocked out again by Burke and left in the burning building. The gas ignites blowing out the front of the building. The police and fire departments respond.
At a dance Burke is entertaining a young lady, Cathy Gray (Carolyn Jones). He tells Cathy he and Jarrod were friends and no trace of him was found after the fire. He confides to Cathy the insurance settled with a check this morning and he's already cashed it. Burke returns to his office, opens his safe and pulls out the money. Jarrod is there, horribly scarred from the fire wearing all black. He turns off the lights then attacks Burke with a rope. He takes the money, but before he can exit he hears the cleaning lady on the stairs. She continues down the stairs. Jarrod has something dramatic planned. He rigs a rope in the elevator, carries Burke to the elevator door, ties the loose end around Burke's neck and throws the body down the elevator shaft. The cleaning lady (Ruth Warren) screams when she discovers the dead body. It is meant to look like a suicide.
At their boarding house Sue Allen (Phyllis Kirk) is helping Cathy get dressed for her evening out. Cathy expresses no sorrow for Burke, as she has found a new sugar daddy. Mrs. Flannigan (Riza Royce) confronts Sue upon her return from a job interview to get her back rent. Sue goes up to her room to get some money from Cathy. Cathy is dead and Jarrod is there in the room. She screams which brings the household upstairs. Sue leaves through an open window out onto the roof. Jarrod chases her down the street. She manages to slip him and calls for help at a house of an old friend. Mrs. Andrews (Angela Clarke) and her son Scott Andrews (Paul Picerni) bring her inside and she tells them Cathy was murdered and she saw the horrible visage of the murderer.
The police investigate the murder at the rooming house. Lt. Tom Brennan (Frank Lovejoy) is lead and he is assisted by Sgt. Jim Shane (Dabbs Greer). The coroner (Frank Ferguson) determines Cathy's cause of death was strangulation. The surgeon (Grandon Rhodes) adds that she was drugged. Her body is taken to the morgue storage room where Jarrod is waiting under a sheet pretending to be a corpse. He's there to steal Cathy's body. With two accomplices below, he lowers her body out of a window with rope into a waiting hearse.
The next morning, Mrs. Andrews, Scott and Sue come to the police station to give her report. Lt. Brennan tells them Cathy's body was stolen from the morgue. Before that, Mathew Burke's body and a few others were stolen from the morgue. He tells Sue not to leave town, but she is free to leave.
Sidney Wallace is back in New York. He stops at a shop and is greeted by Igor (Charles Buchinsky/Bronson), a deaf-mute, and is escorted inside. Jarrod, looking as he did before the fire, greets Wallace sitting in a wheelchair. He tells Wallace he's rebuilding his exhibition from the ground up and will give the public what it wants, "sensation, horror, shock." He adds, "Crimes of violence will be reproduced in wax and exhibited while they are still fresh in the public mind." He is searching for a model for his new Marie Antoinette. He shows Wallace the basement with the wax body dip machinery. He asks Wallace to invest. He needs $30,000.
The House of Wax opens for its debut. A man exits the lobby to work the crowd. The Barker (Reggie Rymal) has two paddle ball games. (Note: This was originally released as a Color 3-D movie.) He works the crowd into a frenzy by knocking things with the balls on the elastic. Jarrod greets Wallace and escorts him into the museum. He gives him the tour, along with some paying customers.
Scott Andrews accompanies Sue on a tour of the Wax Museum. Wallace sees and recognizes Scott--he has been sponsoring him as a talented sculptor. Wallace wants to introduce Scott to Jarrod. While Sue wanders around she is surprised to see a Joan of Arc wax figure that looks exactly like her friend Cathy Gray. She climbs up on the tableaux to get a closer look. Jarrod sees this and approaches in his wheelchair. Sue asks, "But why should it be so like Cathy?" Jarrod responds, "I think I can explain that." He tells her that he copied her face from newspaper clippings. Jarrod offers Scott a job, then tells Wallace he sees Marie Antoinette as Sue.
Jarrod, without his makeup, goes to see Sue. He spies on her through her open window. She goes to bed. Jarrod steals into her room, but Sue wakes up and screams. Jarrod departs as Mrs. Andrews comes into her room to comfort her.
Sue and Scott are at a Can-Can show having lunch. She is convinced there is something wrong about the Joan of Arc figure. Cathy had one ear pierced as does the wax figure. Such detail seems inconceivable. Scott tells Sue they'll talk to Lt. Brennan. Brennan listens to the story. To humor her, he agrees that the Police will investigate. He does confirm that someone matching Jarrod's description (with makeup) did ask to look at the photographs of Cathy's body. Brennan tells Sgt. Shane to check on Jarrod and his employees. They visit the Museum and examine the Joan of Arc. Sue stops by and climbs up on the wax figure again to touch the face. Jarrod catches her again. Jarrod shows Sue a wax head of herself. He tells her he needs her to model for his Marie Antoinette. Before Brennan and Shane leave, they notice some of the wax figures resemble people who have recently died. Shane also thinks he recognizes one of Jarrod's sculptors, Leon Averill (Nedrick Young).
Wallace was waiting outside Brennan's office for Brennan and Shane to return. They arrive and ask him some questions about Jarrod. Before he leaves he vouches for Jarrod. Shane then remembers Leon as an artist imprisoned at Sing-Sing. He was then known as Hendricks and was an alcoholic. Brennan tells Shane to bring him in. They search his belongings at the station and find a watch that belonged to one of the bodies stolen from the morgue. Brennan tells Shane to book him on suspicion of murder.
Jarrod sends Scott on an errand after he tells Jarrod Sue will be stopping by later. Sue enters the darkened Museum. Igor locks her in then follows her as she wanders around looking for Scott. She is drawn to the Joan of Arc and climbs back on the tableaux. She pulls back the black wig and finds Cathy's blond hair beneath. Jarrod tells her, "You shouldn't have done that, my dear." Sue tells Jarrod, "It's Cathy's body under the wax. I knew it. I knew it all the time." Jarrod gets up out of the wheelchair and walks towards her. She runs straight into Igor. She hits Jarrod about the head and his wax face breaks off revealing the scarred face below. She is taken to the basement where Jarrod fires up his wax machine.
At police headquarters they are questioning Leon with alcohol as a bribe. He spills his guts and tells the police, "The whole place is a morgue." The police race over to the House of Wax. Sue is shackled in a box with the hot wax shower threatening. Scott returns to the museum looking for Sue. Igor blocks the door to the workshop and he and Igor fight. Scott is knocked out. Igor places his body on the guillotine, but before he can operate the machine the police stop him. The police break down the door to the cellar. They fight with Jarrod on the bridge above the boiling vat of wax. Jarrod is knocked into the liquid and dies. Brennan moves the box Sue is shackled into away from the hot wax as the machinery explodes.
The next morning Scott, Sue, Brennan and Shane meet in Brennan's office. We close with Brennan holding up the wax head of Igor.