Director: Andre De Toth
Starring: Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy, Phyllis Kirk, Carolyn Jones, Paul Picemi
Unlike anything you’ve seen before!
Henry Jarod is a devoted wax sculptor with a small little museum in New York. Even though the wax figures are lifelike and impressive, but the museum is still not doing very well economically and his financial partner Matthew Burke, who is only in it for the money, is getting frustrated and quickly wants out of the business without losing any of his investments. After an argument about the future of the museum, Burke sets the place on fire to get insurance money from it. Jarod tries to fight him, but gets caught inside of the museum while it burns to the ground.
Jarod does survive the fire and builds a new and bigger museum with sculptures based on real life crimes, including recent murder victims. The new museum is a huge success, attracting plenty of guests each day. One night, Sue Allan visits the museum and gets shocked when she notice that one of the sculptures look identical as her recently deceased friend Cathy Gray. She sneaks around and finds out the big secret behind the sculptures, but now she also has to get out of the House of Wax… alive.
House of Wax, a remake of Mystery of the Museum from 1933, is the first 3-D movie released by a major American studio and as such also gathered a lot of interest and ended up being a great success for Warner Brothers. Andre De Toth (Pitfall, Play Dirty), ironically enough, was blind on one of his eyes and could not experience the 3-D effects while shooting the film. The 3-D isn’t a big part of the film anyways, so except for a few scenes that are there to feed the gimmick which seems to resurrect every twenty years it doesn’t take away from the film at all. De Toth does have an eye for cinema and does create a good looking movie with a creepy atmosphere mixed with some dark humour.
The opening sequence where the first museum gets burned down is really great. It’s eerie and creepy seeing the wax sculptures melt down with their eyes falling off. The effects applied on Price is also superb. Price has later said that the one responsible didn’t get the credits and that’s a shame and a bad example on how the credits weren’t given to the right people in that era. It is missing suspense and isn’t a very scary movie, even for its time but the level of fun and entertainment does make up for the lack of mystery and horror.
The biggest star here is Vincent Price (The Masque of the Red Death, The Abominable Dr. Phibes) in his breakthrough role that would shot him into stardom. He is fantastic as the tortured and passionate artist Henry Jarod. He just has that unique charisma and distinctive voice that enables him to steal every scene he is in. While he is great, the movie does suffer by focusing too much on unimportant supporting characters. Sue, played by Phyllis Kirk (The Thin Man, The Sad Sack), doesn’t get developed a lot or even get a lot of screen time and that’s a problem when she is the main hero character in the movie. Look out for Charles Bronson (The Dirty Dozen, Death Wish), credited as Charles Buchinsky, in a small part as Jarod’s henchman Igor.
House of Wax is a classic horror movie that does deserve its “classic” tag. Vincent Price gives one of his best performances and it’s just a very fun and entertaining movie. Enjoy!