House of Wax (1953)

“Each subject must be taken from life… How can I convince my audience they’re alive if I don’t believe it myself?”

House of Wax 1953 Poster

Synopsis:
When his unscrupulous business partner (Roy Roberts) burns down his beloved wax statues, the badly disfigured Professor Jarrod (Vincent Price) enlists the help of a deaf-mute (Charles Bronson) and an alcoholic ex-con (Nedrick Young) in killing Roberts and creating new masterpieces — this time using corpses as models. Soon, however, a young woman (Phyllis Kirk) notices that a statue of Joan of Arc looks just like her murdered roommate (Carolyn Jones), and begins to suspect foul deeds.

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Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary votes this enormously popular Warnercolor extravaganza the “best 3-D movie” ever made, noting that — despite its flaws — it possesses a “nice mix of humor and chills”. He applauds director Andre de Toth’s gimmicky use of 3-D — a barker throws paddle balls right at the audience; can-can girls kick their legs out — and it’s certainly easy to imagine audiences at the time being thrilled by these scenes; nowadays, however — watching it on DVD rather than in the theater — the 3-D effects aren’t all that impressive. Instead, it’s Vincent Price (in his first horror role) who is the true draw of the movie — he’s so earnestly campy that we can’t help feeling awful for him when his beloved statues (his friends) are cruelly “killed”; and we certainly understand his desire for bitter revenge. Unfortunately, Phyllis Kirk as the female lead is bland, and can’t hold a candle to spunky Glenda Farrell in the original version of the film — which (unlike Peary) I find the superior of the two. With that said, this remake remains a “must see” film in its own right.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Vincent Price as Professor Jarrod (chatting here with “John Wilkes Boothe”)
    Price
  • The wax museum burning down (though the same scene in the original film is even creepier)
    Burning
  • Kirk’s late-night walk through the new museum
    Night Walk

Must See?
Yes, for its historical relevance as an enormously popular 3-D film, and as the movie that began Vincent Price’s career as a campy horror icon. Discussed at length in Peary’s Cult Movies (1981).

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One Response to “House of Wax (1953)”

  1. Not a must.

    Time has not been kind to this remake – and since one is most likely to see it on DVD, its worth as a 3-D feature (the fact that we can’t appreciate it as such) is less than slight.

    Frankly, I find this movie dull, esp. the first half. (Oddly, there’s an intermission 1/2-way through this 90-minute feature!) In the second part, since he has turned from a champion of beauty to a presenter of horror, Price becomes the more sinister Vincent we know and ‘love’. However, the film itself never really recovers from the stodginess of the first part. (Even in part two, the can-can girls seem to be thinking of shopping lists during their long, listless number. Though I will say that the last ten minutes or so of the film have a bit of a bounce.)

    Kirk’s performance doesn’t really bother me that much; I’ve seen worse and she’s serviceable (as is her cute bf, Paul Picerni). Jones gives one of the better performances – with her somewhat manipulative, giggly-girly way (though we learn she’s a caring person deeper down); unfortunately, we see too little of her. Frank Lovejoy is dependable (again) as the police lieutenant.

    I don’t see much camp value here. But I agree that this is where the real fun with Vincent began – with much more to come!

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