Spooktober: “House of Wax” (1953)

House of Wax” is one of the most notable horror movies to come out of the 1950s, for technical reasons and because it’s simply a great film. It’s actually a remake of the 1933 movie “Mystery of the Wax Museum“; while that film is also great, this one has more distinct horror elements in it.

Vincent Price stars as sculptor Henry Jarrod, who owns a wax museum specializing in figures of historical people. His partner Matthew Burke (Roy Roberts) wants Jarrod to add a chamber of horrors to attract more guests, but Jarrod refuses to do anything so sensational. So, to claim the insurance money, Burke sets the museum, and Jarrod, on fire. Jarrod is presumed dead, but turns up alive several months later and sets about recreating his wax museum, with his assistants Igor (not the Igor you’re probably thinking of- this one is a death-mute sculptor played by Charles Bronson) and Leon (Nedrick Young, who didn’t receive credit because he was blacklisted at the time). Only this time, there is a chamber of horrors, and, seeking revenge, Jarrod constructs his figures by coating the corpses of his murder victims in wax.

Vincent Price as Henry Jarrod in “House of Wax”

“House of Wax” was the first Technicolor 3-D film from a major American studio, with the added bonus of having a stereophonic soundtrack. The 3-D craze had begun the year previously as a gimmick to lure the increasing television audiences back into theaters. Warner Brothers saw potential in the special effect, and set about finding a project to use it in. 3-D in the 1950s was very short-lived; only about 50 3-D films were released during the decade, and by 1954 they were on their way out. But “House of Wax” used it the best out of all these movies, particularly when a scary figure lunges out of the screen and over the audience. Ironically, director Andre de Toth was blind in one eye and couldn’t even see the 3-D effects he was filming. Now, “House of Wax” is remembered for its great use of 3-D, and was even released as a 3-D Blu-ray to commemorate its 60th anniversary.

Aside from its technical importance to film history, “House of Wax” is a wonderfully creepy film with a great performance by Price as the mad sculptor. This movie was a turning point in Price’s career; up to this point, he had starred in many films, but few were memorable. His evil turn in “House of Wax” led to him being cast as similarly crazed characters in horror films throughout the late 50s and into the 70s, such as “The Tingler”, “House of Usher”, and “The Abominable Dr. Phibes”. Vincent Price is now one of the most iconic figures in the horror genre, and it is largely thanks to “House of Wax”.

“House of Wax” can be rented on all digital platforms. It will also be airing on TCM at 10 Am EST on Halloween. Runtime: 88 minutes.

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