Arguably one of the most famous 3D movies ever made, House of Wax stands up to viewing with modern eyes, and literally knocks it out of the park, not to mention the screen!
Vincent Price plays Professor Jarrod, a sculptor at the New York wax museum, whose talent is matched only by his pride in his work. Unfortunately, his business partner, Burke (Roy Roberts), wants him to make the exhibits more sensational rather than historical works such as Joan of Arc and his personal favourite, Marie Antoinette. Jarrod has set up someone to buy out his partner’s share, but before he can do that, the museum is burnt to the ground by Burke and Jarrod is left for dead in the conflagration.
Surviving but badly crippled and unable to use his hands, Jarrod builds a new museum utilising the talent and hands of the deaf-mute Igor (Bronson, credited here under his real name of Charles Buchinsky). The new sculptors are a little too life-like, however and the Jarrod now has a chamber of horrors, which happens to include a depiction of his ex-partner’s recent suicide. Coincidence? Oh, come on, you know the score…
The film’s place in cinema history is already secured as it’s genuinely one of the best of the fifties horror thrillers from Warner Bros, with Price at his best - being both sympathetic and sinister. The infamous ‘reveal’ set piece still packs quite a punch, much in the same way as the Phantom of the Opera unmasking in the silent classic, but is somewhat diminished by the fact we’ve already had a bloody good look at the attacker’s face several times throughout the film. Although spoofed wonderfully in Carry on Screaming, and a common trope these days, it’s actually a remake of a 1933 film starring Lionel Atwill and the original scream queen Fay Wray. Mystery of the Wax Museum is also included on the disc as an extra and itself still packs a wallop.
That early version boasted the gimmick of two-strip Technicolor, so it’s fitting to see that coupled with the fifties remake in its original three-dimensional format. If you marvelled at Avatar and were captivated by Gravity, you really need to buckle in before you experience House of Wax. This is how the format should be used. Everything is thrown at the audience; from the famous paddle ball sequence (which literally breaks the fourth wall) to can-can dancers’ legs and more. However, there’s also a lot of subtle depth here - both on screen and in the story. It truly is fantastic filmmaking and utterly immersive. And all under the guidance of a director who only had one eye, so couldn’t actually see the effect.
Elsewhere on the disc, there’s enough goodies to satiate any film buff’s appetite. As well as the original 1933 movie, there’s a lengthy documentary that includes vintage clips of Price and director André de Toth, which is excellent and an informative commentary from David Del Valle and Constantine Nasr. It’s the extra dimension that makes this an essential purchase, however. If you’ve got the facility to enjoy it, make sure you do. It still looks amazing ‘flat’, though (which you’re able to do at a touch of a button).
HOUSE OF WAX (1953) / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: ANDRÉ DE TOTH / SCREENPLAY: CRANE WILBUR / STARRING: VINCENT PRICE, FRANK LOVEJOY, PHYLLIS KIRK, CAROLYN JONES, CHARLES BRONSON / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (HMV EXCLUSIVE)