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 (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 has been losing money. Jarrod himself isn't interested in making a profit, but his business partner, Matthew Burke (Roy Roberts), hopes to recoup some of his investment by burning the museum down and collecting the insurance money. Jarrod is horrified by the thought of destroying his "friends", and tries to prevent Burke from carrying out his scheme. A fight ensues, during which Jarrod is knocked unconscious and left to die in the ensuing fire. 

Though badly injured, Jarrod survives, and, with the help of a new assistant, a mute named Igor (a very young Charles Bronson), he 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 had 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 would repeat for the final scene of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein). It was his performance in House of Wax, though, that established Price as a star of the genre. 

At the outset, we feel genuinely bad for his character, the kindly Henry Jarrod, when his beloved wax creations are destroyed in the fire. Following this tragedy, Jarrod's personality changes, and his outlook becomes much darker. 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 using them to "create" the attractions for his new museum. As good as he was playing the nice guy early on, House of Wax really comes to life the moment Price turns into a monster.

Seeing it without the 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.

1 comment:

Jake Moore AKA: @RiverCityOtter said...

Dave, I was lucky to pick up "House Of Wax" on DVD with the added extra bonus of the original film(1933)! Glad to have both in my collection this is my favorite #VincentPrice film/role! As you noted the range of emotion shown by Price much more dimensional then many of his other horror works to me!