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House Of Wax (1953)

1/09/2010. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy House Of Wax (1953) in the USA - or Buy House Of Wax (1953) in the UK

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region 2 DVD: pub: Warner Bros 11054. 2 films: 84m & 86m plus extras. Price: under 3.00 if you know where to look)stars: Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy, Phyllis Kirk, Carolyn Jones and Paul Picerni.

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I blame Tom Weaver. After reviewing his interview book, 'I Was A Monster Movie Maker', this month and with so much discussion about the 1953 film 'House Of Wax' and not having a copy and seeing it was available so cheaply, I couldn't resist it.

Even better, this DVD also features the original 1933 film 'Mystery Of The Wax Museum' starring Lionel Atwell, Fay Wray, Glenda Farrell and Frank McHugh. It was filmed in an early two-colour Technicolor which looks a bit bleached at the beginning because of its age but settles down later into the film. As it came first, it made sense to watch before the main feature.

A wax statue model-maker Ivan Igor (actor Lionel Atwell) survives a fire fight with his boss and comes up with a novel way to make new models, using his team to pluck corpses from the local mortuary. Girl reporter Florence Dempsey (actress Glenda Farrell) is looking for a big story starts to unravel what is going on, especially as Igor has his eye on actress, Charlotte Duncan (actress Fay Wray), only he's not going to wait for her to die.

Bear in mind the age of the film and no doubt heavy cameras, direction seems a lot more solid than you're used to even a decade later. Plot-wise, there are some similarities to 'The Phantom Of The Opera' with an obsession for a lady, just with a lot more people involved. Igor's true face is equally gruesome. In many respects, the story is more a journalist investigation with a dash of humour than horror but it's still arresting.

Now for the main feature, 'House Of Wax'. This time, it is wax sculptor (actor Vincent Price) Professor Harry Jerrold's business partner who burns down their wax museum for the insurance money rather than wait a few months for an investor to come back from Europe. Jerrold is severely burnt, especially his hands but is determined to carry on and recruits a couple new sculptors, one of whom is played by a young Charles Bronson, to work under his direction with the point of making a wax museum of horror or, after seeing the results, gruesome ways people had been killed. Jerrold also includes his business partner whom he had hung from a lift shaft. To get true authenticity, Jerrold stole his body from the mortuary and had him waxed...literally. The same is true for actress Cathy Gray (actress Carolyn Jones) whom he wanted for Joan of Arc. Sue Allen (actress Phyllis Kirk) notices the similarity between the statue and her dead friend and starts making the connections for the police. Jerrold sees the possibilities of turning Sue into a Marie-Antoinette and it becomes a race against time as to which will happen first.

This film was originally made in 3-D but for DVD release it lacks that element so it in full colour. Saying that, on a plasma screen it does still have the depth and is still effective, especially where a yo-yo juggler is used to throw his yo-yo out into audience. I bet everyone ducked when they watched it at the cinema. It's certainly in your face and probably the biggest concession to showing 3-D in use when I suspect the rest of it was used for depth of vision.

Any film with Vincent Price in is always going to be worth watching and even as a crazy man he still conveys a mixture of tragedy and kindness, even if it's only to anaesthetise Sue Allen before the wax treatment.

If you haven't had a chance to watch this film before then it's worth a look. Having both versions together might allow you to compare how different the filming techniques have been in the twenty year gap between them. I enjoyed both films for themselves rather than making any direct comparison.

GF Willmetts

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