House of Wax

Starring: Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy and Phyllis Kirk
Warner Home Video
RRP: 15.99
Z1 11054
Certificate: PG
Available 23 May 2005

Professor Jarrod is an expert wax sculptor who runs an exhibition of the macabre. His financial partner wants to pull out of the venture, so Jarrod arranges for an interested businessman to buy-in. But his current partner can't wait the required three months for the money, so he sets light to the place for the insurance pay out. Jarrod tries to stop him but, after a fight, finds himself trapped in the building attempting to save his life's work. He is assumed dead; however, Jarrod returns as a crippled, twisted representation of his former self, and kills the arsonist by making it look like suicide. When he kills the man's lady friend, he is seen by her room mate. Later, miraculously looking fine except for being wheelchair-bound and possessing gnarled, useless hands, Jarrod opens a new House of Wax under another name. The Chamber of Horrors depicts lifelike figures of recent violence. The unsuspecting earlier witness is invited to model for a cast, until she notices that a figure looks a little too like her murdered friend...

This is undoubtedly a superb film for it's time (1953), which still stands up well today. The fight sequence between Jarrod and his former partner is a little over-dramatic, but what film wasn't in that era? The performances are solid, there's no padding, and the plot makes for an enjoyable 84 minutes. There's even an Intermission inserted into the middle of the film, and it's still there now.

Originally House of Wax was screened in 3-D, hence the nonsensical lingering on the man with the bat and attached elasticated ball at the opening of the new museum. As a point of interest Charles Bronson plays Igor, Jarrod's deaf-mute assistant.

Extras include Round the Clock Premiere, in which black and white footage of personalities of the time visiting the screenings is seen. It's amazing how some so-called starlets react the moment they realise a camera is on them (cue tilting of head and fluttering eyelashes).

Also included on this single disc is the 1933 film Mystery of the Wax Museum, starring King Kong's Fay Wray, upon which House of Wax is based. It's valid only as an interesting reference; it's a perfectly fine movie, almost scene for scene the same as House, but has not had the picture or sound cleaned-up. At least this 1953 Vincent Price version doesn't have the feel of a Chicago gangster flick.

You could pick holes in House of Wax if you really wanted to. There are a few quirky or silly comments, and the epilogue is entirely superfluous to requirements. Also, near the conclusion, all the police rush from the station to the museum, leaving a drunken criminal behind by himself. Nevertheless, this is a great film, and I find a modern remake by a Hollywood incapable these days of inventing a new story to be completely unnecessary.

Ty Power

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