Director: Andre de Toth
Writer: Crane Wilbur
Cast: Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy, Phyllis Kirk, Carolyn Jones, Paul Picerni, Roy Roberts, Angela Clarke, Paul Cavanaugh, Dabbs Greer, Charles Buchinsky, and Reggie Rymal
Composer: David Buttolph
Release Date: 4/25/1953
MPAA Rating: GP
After surviving a fire set by his associate, Professor Henry Jarrod (Vincent Price)—formerly a sculptor of beautiful and exquisitely detailed wax figures—reopens his museum with the assistance of protégés Igor (Charles Buchinsky), Scott Andrews (Paul Picerni), and Leon Averill. Despite shifting focus to material of a dark and gruesome nature, Professor Jarrod decides to model a new Marie Antoinette sculpture after the likeness of Sue Allen (Phyllis Kirk)—a young woman who suspects that Cathy Gray (Carolyn Jones), a recently murdered acquaintance of hers, bears more than a passing resemblance to Professor Jarrod’s Joan of Arc piece.
House of Wax is a disturbing and visually exciting remake of Mystery of the Wax Museum. Especially terrific is the gravitas of Vincent Price, whose tragic performance elevates the main antagonist—ostensibly nothing more than a homicidal maniac—above the status of a generic slasher movie culprit.
By substituting mystery elements with horror-themed subject matter, House of Wax offers a fresh and compelling update on the premise for Michael Curtiz’ aforementioned Mystery of the Wax Museum. One significant change, for example, involves the character of Professor Henry Jarrod (known as Ivan Igor in the original story), the disfigured countenance of whom is revealed quite frequently in this production, adding an obscene quality to many otherwise unremarkable murder sequences. Also worth noting is that Jarrod stalks, preys upon, and disposes of his victims while cloaked in ominously black attire—an aspect that, when accentuated by the eerie musical arrangement of composer David Buttolph, further contributes to the haunting atmosphere embodied within this film.
Though likely captivating to a typical 1950s audience, the 3-D gimmicks featured in House of Wax occasionally detract from the flow of Crane Wilbur’s narrative. Particularly distracting are the antics of a barker played by Reggie Rymal, whose implicit violation of the fourth wall (i.e. shooting a paddleball in the viewer’s direction) is overemphasized to the point of absurdity.
Initially a kind, gentle man with an appreciation for beauty seldom recognized in the modern art world, Professor Jarrod—upon transforming into a hideous creature, both physically and internally—develops an unhealthy obsession with the macabre, even going so far as to employ actual corpses while molding sculptures for his second wax museum. Possibly a commentary on how the greed, callousness, and lack of compassion exhibited by others can corrupt even the most inspired of men, the plight of Professor Jarrod manages to evoke sympathy and generate understanding from those of a sensitive disposition—a trademark of every well-written monster movie narrative.
The quintessential Price offering, House of Wax deserves the utmost praise for its ghoulish make-up effects, atmospheric tension, and strong performances from a talented cast (including a young Charles Bronson in the role of Igor, mute assistant to Professor Jarrod). For the above reasons, fans of classic horror and suspense movies in particular should enjoy this film—mild camp factor notwithstanding.
Overall Quality: 9/10
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