The first time I watched The House of Wax was around 1984 when a local theatre was showing classic 3D films each Friday for a few months. I was 14 at the time and thought I was in for a hokey experience – what I ended up with was a new appreciation for the classics, for 3D cinema (when done well), and especially for Vincent Price.
Released in 1953, it was a remake of Mystery of the Wax Museum without the humour of the original (thanks Wikipedia). The film was one of the first colour 3D movies from a big American studio, and apparently one of the first with stereo sound… pretty innovative for 1953. The movie tells the tale of Professor Henry Jarrod (played by Vincent Price), an master in the art of wax sculptures and his quest for vengeance against his financial partner, who burns down the Wax museum to recoup his investment through insurance. In an attempt to stop the blaze, Matthew Burke (played by Roy Roberts) knocks out Jarrod in a fight and leaves him to burn in the fire.
Thinking Jarrod perished in the fire, we learn that Burke collected the insurance payout through a conversation with Burke and his girlfriend/Fiancé at dinner. Burke also tells her a tale of how sad he was at the loss of his friend and partner… a lie of course.
Well, it turns out that Jarrod was not killed in the fire, but was burned, leaving his hands useless. He has decided to create a school to teach his art and to recreate a new wax museum, but this time dedicated to the macabre, depicting true life horror scenes in wax. Working through the hands of his students, he even goes as far as to model the faces of the wax figures on victims of crime in the news papers.
Well, all is not as it seems, and a shadowy figure is seen leaving the wax museum/school and descending on Burke, murdering him while making it look like a suicide through hanging. We catch a glimpse of the killer who is horrible disfigures – it is the true face of Jarrod, dis-figured in the original wax museum fire. Shortly after the suicide is reported in the news, Burke’s body disappears, and a new exhibit opens in the museum depicting Burke’s apparent suicide with a picture perfect model of Burke as the centerpiece. Next to go is Burke’s fiancé who is murdered in her sleep by the grotesque Jarrod. Almost caught, he is seen by a flat mate of the now dead lady. When she describes the horrible face of the killer, she is not initially believed. Soon Burke’s Fiancé’s body disappears and a new exhibit depicting Joan of Arc at the stake takes it’s place with a model that looks exactly like the freshly dead woman.
What’s happening? Burke, enraged and crazed after the loss of his life’s work and his disfigurement in the fire, has decided to get revenge on his former partner and all those that may stand in his way. He has taken to creating wax sculptures by covering the bodies of his victims in wax and making them the centrepiece of his works. The burn make up on Price, in my opinion looks great and the performances by all are top notch. I really don’t think that it should be considered scary by today’s standards, but is a classic in any case. The movie has recently been re-released on Blu-Ray and in 3D and I must say it looks fabulous. This is a movie that I heartily suggest you watch, even if you’ve seen it before.
Check out the Trailer below: