They said it couldn’t be done. A fifth year of 31 Days of Horror? 31 more terror, gore and shower scene-filled movies worth highlighting? But Rejects always say die and never back away from a challenge (unless you count that time Kevin Carr was challenged to stop hot-waxing his belly hair in public), so we’ve rounded up the horror fans among us and put together another month’s worth of genre fun. Enjoy!
In 1910 New York, brilliant artist and sculptor Henry Jarrod (Vincent Price) uses his skills to creature exquisite wax statues of historical figures. His greedy business partner Matthew Burke (Roy Roberts) wants him to develop more exploitative pieces so they can turn a greater profit. When Jarrod refuses, Burke sets fire to the wax museum so he can collect on the insurance. Jarrod, whom many thought perished in the fire, returns months later in a wheelchair with horribly scarred hands. He opens a new wax museum, this time complete with the horrific elements that people expect from such an exhibit. Around the same time, a disfigured ghoul is carrying out mysterious murders around the city and stealing the bodies. A young woman (Phyllis Kirk) believes these missing bodies are being turned into wax figures for the House of Wax’s Chamber of Horrors.
House of Wax was made during the height of the 3D craze of the 1950s. Released in polarized 3D as well as the double-image anaglyph process, the polarized prints gave a crisp image, and it was the first color 3D film produced by a major studio. However, even though it was taking advantage of a fad, it was ironically directed by Andre de Toth who was blind in one eye and couldn’t actually perceive 3D. This possibly led to a greater focus on the story behind the movie rather than just some gimmicky effects. Burke setting fire to the wax museum in the opening scene sets the mood of the entire film. The audience sees the wax figures melt away and disintegrate before their eyes. To see this in the original 3D is pretty cool, especially in a context before modern stereoscopic 3D rendering. However, even without the 3D effects, this is a powerful and disturbing way to open the film.
This movie was made in the 1950s and takes place in 1910. Sex didn’t exist to these people. There were hints at it, especially with one of the young female victims (Carolyn Jones) playing an obvious gold-digger who is trying to marry into money. However, aside from a moment at the end when another would-be victim is stripped naked (tastefully off-screen, of course) in order to be given a waxing, there’s nothing on the sex angle.
Aside from a handful of the ghoul’s victims, the greatest violence perpetrated in this movie is against the wax statues in the wax museum. Still, meant as an obvious analogy to the human body, the melting figures can be quite grotesque in a Chamber of Horrors sort of way. Very little on-screen violence happens, aside from some bloodless killing and some fight scenes. However, the concepts behind the film – including being covered in boiling wax while you’re still alive – was actually a pretty bold choice back when this was made.
I would not call House of Wax an overtly scary movie, thought it achieves some chilling scenes with cinematography, make-up, and context. The ghoul who commits the murders is very creepy, and he sneaks around in a long black coat, playing an early version of the slasher movie killer.
While House of Wax plays somewhat soft on the standard horror movie elements, it’s still a great movie by actually telling a compelling story. It was a remake of Warner’s 1933 Mystery of the Wax Museum but given a more grim treatment. It was remade again in 2005 with the truly atrocious film starring the vapidly pathetic Paris Hilton, though with a completely different story. Avoid that version at all costs. For the best House of Wax, check out the 1953 version, in 3D or not. It’s one of Vincent Price’s less cheeky roles, and it also features a young Charles Bronson as the henchman Igor. (Every good horror movie has to have an Igor in it, right?)
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