As usual in October, I’m running a little behind on my horror movie reviews! Okay, we’ve seen a good one and a bad one in the past couple weeks. Let’s start with the bad one!
The House of Wax stars Vincent Price as Dr. Henry Jarrod, a sculptor who creates wax figures for a wax museum in New York. Dr. Jarrod is a real artist and creates sensitive representations of historical figures such as his masterpiece, Marie Antoinette. But his partner is a hard-nosed businessman, and wants Dr. Jarrod to sculpt figures from crime scenes, like the public wants. When Dr. Jarrod refuses, his partner burns down the museum for the insurance money. Dr. Jarrod seems to die in the fire as well.
A year later, a new wax museum opens up across town. The owner has badly burned hands and is confined to a wheelchair, but he is a genius at designing wax figures with the help of his assistant, Igor (played by Charles Bronson!). Around the same time the museum opens, Dr. Jarrod’s former partner disappears, while a wax figure that looks a lot like him appears in the new museum. Soon after, the partner’s girlfriend also disappears, while a Joan of Arc wax figure who could be her double becomes the museum’s new hit exhibit. Can you guess the secret of these new wax figures, or who the proprietor of the new museum really is?
I bet you can guess from the very first minute. This was not a subtle movie, and it has a number of weaknesses. First, apparently at it’s original showing in 1953, the movie was displayed in 3-D, and there are at least two long scenes in the movie that have little to do with the plot but must have been meant to demonstrate the 3-D technology. One of these, of an annoying man with a grating schtick and playing with a paddleball to advertise the opening of the museum, goes on for at least five minutes and is really unbearable. But these scenes are just indicative–practically every element of the movie screams amateurishness. Not like a low-budget B movie where the people involved have passion but no idea what they were doing–this was Warner Bros. Production values are perfectly adequate, it’s just a film where nobody cared or gave much effort.
The main exception is Vincent Price, whose performance as both the sensitive Dr. Jarrod, and later the deformed and revenge-crazed proprietor of the new wax museum, is really superb. In fact, Vincent Price is the only thing that makes this movie watchable. At the time, this movie established his reputation as a master of horror.
There are also a couple effective scenes–the shots of the wax figures melting in the fire, with Dr. Jarrod trying in vain to put out the flames destroying his beloved Marie Antoinette, are really done well. Later on, a scene of the deformed man chasing a woman through the streets of New York is pretty spooky, so long as you don’t stop to wonder why multiple streets in SoHo have absolutely no pedestrians or trafffic. (I’ve been in NYC in the middle of the night–there are people out even at 3AM!)
In the end, though, I can’t really recommend this movie, unless you have a special love for Vincent Price. Even then, you’d be far better off watching, say, one of the Edgar Allen Poe movies he did with director Roger Corman, or practically any of the dozens of other horror movies he starred in.
The House of Wax (1953)
Story/Plot/Characters–Dull script with merely functional dialogue. Insipid characters. Story was a potentially interesting mystery, but all the mysterious aspects were fumbled. Inclusion of pointless, time-wasting scenes. Vincent Price’s acting is the only saving grace here. (1 point)
Special Effects— Great make-up job on Vincent Price after the fire, and the fire in the wax museum was well done. (1 point)
Scariness–Not scary. My nine-year-old daughter watched this with no problems. (0 points)
Atmosphere/Freakiness–Some nice spooky atmosphere in the wax museum at night, and the New York night scenes. Some surprisingly freaky bondage-type stuff in the finale, as the endangered young lady is about to have boiling wax poured over her writhing handcuffed body. (1 point)
Total=3 points (Avoid)