31 Horror Films #23: House of Wax 1953 Dir. Andre de Toth

Last year I did a series of daily micro blogs going through the history of horror films by year. This was meant to give people an example of the high points of the genre. This year I'll be doing the same thing, but going off the beaten path to provide some films you may not have heard of. These films may not be up your alley, but they're all interesting.

House of Wax 1953 Dir. Andre de Toth

In the 1950s and 60s, movie going audiences were putting the scare into theater owners by opting to stay home, sound familiar?. This trend forced theaters and filmmakers alike to develop new ways of putting butts in the seats. Every attempt was made to engage the audiences, Smell-O-Vision, Emergo, as well as several other gimmicks were thrown at audiences in an attempt to get them to flock to the local cinema. One of these "gimmicks" was 3D…sound familiar?

House of Wax, a remake of 1933's Mystery of the Wax Museum, and was the first color 3D feature film released from a major studio. This must have been a huge coup for Warner brothers, because their premiere came just two days after Colombia's Man in the Dark premiere, which was the first black and white 3D feature film.

The film follows Professor Henry Jarrod, played by Vincent Price, a sculptor of wax figures, and proprietor of a wax museum in 1890s New York. Most of Jarrod's sculptures are was replications of famous historical figures with the prize of his collection being Marie Antoinette. Jarrod refefuses to succumb to the pressures of his business partner, who orders him to build more sensational exhibits to drive the public in. After the partner sets the museum on fire to collect insurance money on the failing business, the two men fight among the flames, and miraculously, Jarrod survives to build a new museum aided by his assistant Igor, played by Charles Bronson in his first onscreen role.

Jarrod's new museum features all of the classics of his original, but also includes a "Chamber of Horrors" showcasing sensational crime stories of the past and present. When a resemblance is recognized between a recent victim and Jarrod's sculpture of Joan of Arc, the sinister plot is revealed.

This film is a blast to watch, it represents a time in horror films when the plots revolved around large period set pieces, fantastic actors and sinister revenge plots. The whole of House of Wax plays like a grand opera, and when the horrors in the final act are revealed, no one should be disappointed. Vincent Price, as always, does a brilliant job and demands both fear and pathos from his audience. It's also worth pointing out, that this film hinges on the changing trends of the public's fickle tastes, and released by a studio who employed "gimmicks" to deal with the same. I wonder if the filmmakers had this in mind when the film was being created? Regardless, House of Wax remains a fun and engaging film that is a grandiose and sinister "chamber of horrors".

Watch the trailer HERE