Sunday, October 6, 2013

#1,147. House of Wax (1953)

Directed By: Andre De Toth

Starring: Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy, Phyllis Kirk

Tag line: "Warner Bros. bring you the first feature produced by a major studio in 3D..."

Trivia: Phyllis Kirk said that she had "no fond memories" of working with Charles Bronson

Directed by Andre De Toth, 1953’s House of Wax was the first color 3-D film produced by a major Hollywood studio (in this case, Warner Bros.). More than that, though, it was the movie that launched Vincent Price’s career in horror, a genre he would dominate for years to come.

A remake of 1933’s Mystery of the Wax Museum, House of Wax stars Price as Henry Jarrod, a sculptor who, as the movie opens, is co-owner of a wax museum that, unfortunately, is losing money. While Jarrod himself isn't interested in making a profit, his business partner, Matthew Burke (Roy Roberts), is. Hoping to recoup some of his investment, Burke decides to burn the place down so he can collect the insurance money. Jarrod is horrified by the thought of destroying his "friends", and tries to prevent Burke from carrying out his plan. A fight ensues, during which Jarrod is knocked unconscious and left to die in the ensuing fire. He survives, though is badly injured, and, with the help of a new assistant, a mute named Igor (a very young Charles Bronson), Jarrod opens another museum. Only this time, the attractions are made of more than just wax!

House of Wax wasn’t Price’s first foray into horror; he appeared in 1939’s Tower of London alongside Boris Karloff, and was the voice of the title character in 1940’s The Invisible Man Returns (a role he’d repeat for the final scene of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein). But it was his performance in House of Wax that established Price as a star of the genre. At the outset, we feel genuinely bad for his Jarrod (who’s very likable) when his beloved wax creations are destroyed in the fire. Following this tragedy, Jarrod's attitude changes, and he becomes a much darker individual. Whereas he originally designed wax dummies to resemble famous figures in history, a la Joan of Arc and Marie Antoinette, his later work would focus more on the macabre: the death of Marat, the beheading of Anne Boleyn, and so on. What’s more, with his hands badly burned in the fire, Jarrod resorts to murder, killing off a number of people (including his former business partner) and dipping their bodies in wax, to "create" the attractions for his new museum. As good as he was playing a nice guy early on, House of Wax really comes to life the moment Price turns into a monster.

Without 3-D, some scenes are now a bit silly (in one, a roadside barker, trying to drum up business for Jarrod’s new museum, hits a paddle ball directly into the camera). But thanks to the deliciously sinister performance of its lead, House of Wax continues to impress audiences to this day, and has earned its place as one of horror’s true classics.

No comments: