Our review of TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: Horror, published September 25th, 2009, is also available.
A classic horror movie without the waxy build-up!
It's a carnival of terrors when Vincent Price gives you a tour of his demented House of Wax! Professor Henry Jarrod (Price) is a talented sculptor who has made a living making his wax creations look eerily lifelike. After a horrendous fire burns down his museum leaving him badly scarred and unable to work, Jarrod hires on two new assistants (including a very young Charles Bronson named "Igor") to help him rebuild his museum and sculptures. When the bodies of various stiffs start disappearing from the local morgue, the police are baffled as to where they've gone. But Jarrod knows, knows all too well…the stiffs are being covered in wax and are on display in his museum! As the deformed Jarrod continues to his ravenous work, it's up to a beautiful young woman (Phyllis Kirk, Crime Wave) and the London police force to stop the mad man's heinous plot before he strikes—and dips, and molds—again!
How can you not like Vincent Price, the silver screen's master of the macabre? Though he may have departed this earth for greener pastures, Price still haunts our dreams in such horror classics as The Abominable Dr. Phibes (one of his best), Roger Corman's The Pit and the Pendulum and, of course, that creepy Michael Jackson pop song "Thriller." Long before he was rapping about no mere mortal resisting the evil of the "Thriller," Price was hamming it up in great fun like the 1953 creep fest House of Wax. There is something intrinsically fun at work in director Andre de Toth's squishy, demented thriller. Who amongst you hasn't found those wax museums to be a bit ominous and repulsive? Every time I've visited one I've gotten the distinct feel that something isn't quite right…especially after I've entered the dungeon of horrors. And House of Wax is a dungeon of cinematic horrors, a movie that asks the question "what if a madman made wax sculptures out of human remains?," then proceeds to answer it with bone chilling screams. House of Wax is easily one of the best horror movies to come out of the 1950s. I realize this is a brave statement, considering it was originally filmed in 3-D (a goofy paddleball sequence is laughable), but stay with me on this one. Though it's a tad slow at times (talkative may be a more apt phrasing), there are plenty of moments of diabolical terror to balance out its unevenness. As the film progresses and the realization that the figures aren't just paraffin, well…it's a downright grotesque discovery. At the center of the film is Vincent Price's menacing performance as a man who's got too many bats in his belfry. Price has always walked a thin line between scary characterization and slight comedy, no more so than in House of Wax. Though it's a risky attempt, Price is able to pull it off with aplomb—his mad sculptor is a man driven by obsession for his creations (the film, in a way, owes a small debt to James Whale's classic Frankenstein). Sure, House of Wax isn't half as scary as it could be (damn those 1950s values!), yet it still made me shiver, especially when the camera panned in on one of Jarrod's deadly statues (played in real life by Carolyn "Morticia Addams" Jones). As Halloween rolls around year after year, House of Wax is the perfect horror movie for kids who aren't ready to handle A Nightmare on Elm Street yet are getting bored by It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!. It's short on gore and high on frights. Recommended.
House of Wax is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1 full frame. Overall Warner has done a nice job with this transfer. For a film dating over 50 years old, this print appears to be in very good shape. The colors are vibrant and solid with a worn look showing up only every once in a while. Though a small amount of dirt and grain pops up from time to time, generally the shadow detail is very good. Hey, the fact of the matter is that while this may not be a perfect looking image, fans will be happy to finally toss out their old VHS copies for this superior picture. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Surround in English. I was more than happy with the way this sound mix turned out. Though fidelity is low, there is a small amount of dynamic range in the track which is surprising considering its age. The dialogue, music, and effects are all clear without any major distortion marring the mix. In short, a better-than-average mix. Also included on this disc are English and Spanish Mono soundtracks, as well as English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
As for extra features, Warner has done a nice job with what we're given. The best of the lot is the original 1933 feature Mystery of the Wax Museum. Like Universal's The Truth About Charlie (which included the original Charade), House of Wax is a double-feature disc that includes this original film starring Lionel Atwill in a chiller that may not be as good as the remake, but is still a worthwhile inclusion (and the transfer and audio are in better shape than you'd expect). Also included on this disc is a premiere newsreel for House of Wax (this feature is also a lot of fun) and a theatrical trailer for the film presented in 1.33:1 full frame. Though a commentary track would have been welcome, fans should rejoice at what Warner has served up on this fun little flick.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• 1933 Version of "Mystery of the Wax Museum"
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