Title: House of Wax
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Writer: Charles S. Belden (play), Crane Wilbur (screenwriter)
Director: André de Toth
Producer: Bryan Foy
Starring: Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy, Charles Bronson, Carolyn Jones, Phyllis Kirk
Released: April 10th, 1953
To say that Vincent Price is an icon, is a bit of an understatement. The guy has been in more great horror movies than I can count. All of the great Edgar A. Poe adaptations, The House on Haunted Hill, The Last Man on Earth, The Fly, and all the others that will just creep you out. Of course, everyone has their favorite, and House of Wax, is mine. I love a story that revolves around a good guy done wrong, then turns evil. When you have a character that goes off the deep end mentally from some sort of trauma, it isn’t too far away from reality, so that is a fascination. This film was part of the 3-D craze of the decade, and like most others, wasn’t defined by it, and the effects were mostly forgettable, but the film is not. So, from 1953, I give you, House of Wax…
The movie begins with a scene from inside a wax museum, and Professor Jarrod (Vincent Price) is working on one of his figures. His partner, Matthew Burke drops by to take a look at the financial records. He isn’t pleased with the moderate business they’ve done, so he suggests to Jarrod that they set fire to the building and collect the insurance money. This infuriates Jarrod, who looks at his figures as if they are real people. Burke scoffs at his partners feelings, and lights the building on fire anyway. He and Jarrod get into a fist fight, and Jarrod ends up on the wrong end of that scuffle. He’s presumed dead, although we never actually see it happen.
The next thing we see, is Burke, as he’s romancing a girl (Carolyn Jones) that looks young enough to be his daughter. She’s a gold digger though, and doesn’t care about his age. He tells her about the twenty-five thousand dollar insurance money that he received, and they make plans to go to Niagara Falls, and get married. They both go home, and Burke immediately goes to his safe, and grabs a wad of cash. He doesn’t realize that there is someone else in the room with him, and this creepy looking, cape wearing dude, throws a rope around his neck, and strangles him to death. Next, the creepy guy drags the body out into the hallway, places a rope around Burke’s neck, and tosses him into the elevator shaft, making it look like suicide.
The next day, Cathy Gray (Carolyn Jones), is talking with her roommate, Sue Allen (Phyllis Kirk), as she prepares to go out on another date…with another older man with money. She does, and Sue heads out to find a job. Sue comes in later at night, and after she gets harassed by her landlord, she heads upstairs to ask Cathy if she can borrow some money for rent. She discovers that Cathy has been murdered, and not only that, but the killer is still in the room! She jumps out of the window to the roof, and using a fire escape, gets to street level. The killer follows her, and a chase scene follows. Sue manages to get to a friend’s house, and she’s hysterical about the nights events. The next day, Sue tells the police what’s happened, and they’re skeptical about her story. As this is going on, the killer steals the body of Cathy Gray from the morgue.
We then see that Professor Jarrod survived the fire, and he meets with a rich finance man about opening a new museum. The man agrees, and Jarrod tells him that this museum will be different from the last, because he’ll be showcasing more macabre displays and not historical events. Jarrod also has two henchmen at his side, and they assist him because he’s now crippled and in a wheelchair.Sue and her boyfriend, Scott Andrews, (a talented sculptor) head to the new museum to check out what all the excitement is about in the city. They’re astonished at the reality of the wax figures, and especially, the Joan of Arc display. Sue is freaked out by the display, because it’s a dead ringer for her friend, Cathy Gray. Jarrod tells her that he uses photographs from the newspaper to use as reference for his wax figures. Jarrod then invites Scott to come over and sculpt at his museum, and he agrees. Scott then takes Cathy to a show to get her mind off of the murder, but she can’t shake the feeling that something is wrong about the museum.
The police go to the museum to check things out (since Jarrod was supposed to be dead), and one of the officers remembers the face of the on assistant. He’s suspicious, so they bring in his assistant for questioning. They find a gold watch in his possession, and it has an inscription on it. It has the name of one of the murdered people on it, so they know he has something to do with the foul play. They question him, and he cracks and tells them everything. While this is going on, Sue went tot he museum to meet Scott, but he’d already left. Jarrod and his assistant grab Sue, and take her to the waxwork downstairs. Jarrod wants to use her to recreate his Marie Antoinette, and he’ll stop at nothing to do it.
Scott returns to the museum to check and see if Cathy is there, and he hears her scream. As he attempts to get down to her, he’s stopped by Igor, the other assistant. Igor knocks out Scott, and puts his head in the guillotine. Just as he’s about to decapitate him, the police arrive and stop him. They bust in downstairs, and a fight breaks out. Jarrod seems to have superhuman strength, as he fights off half a dozen officers. Eventually though, the knock him off of a staircase, and he falls into his own boiling barrel of wax. The police rescue Sue from her chains, and Scott and her are reunited.
Here’s my take on the movie:
This is undoubtedly one of the best horror movies of all time. It holds up over time, and Vincent Price performs wonderfully. He executes the wild imagination of an artist perfectly, and then in the same movie changes into a mentally deranged fiend. The policemen were both good actors (Frank Lovejoy, Dabbs Greer), and you’ll recognize both of them if you’re a fan of old T.V. and cinema. Phyllis Kirk is a good “damsel in distress”, and even though he didn’t speak (his character was deaf & mute), Charles Bronson was pretty good too, as the evil henchman! It was one of his earliest roles on the big screen. The music score was also very good, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the name David Buttolph.
I’ve never seen House of Wax, but it sounds very similar to another Vincent Price movie, The Abominable Dr. Phibes. Of course, that came out nearly two decades later. I wonder if House of Wax was an influence.
Anyway, I agree that Vincent Price was a great actor with a really amazing personality. It is sort of a shame that he spent much of his career typecast in horror movies, many of which were kind of subpar. That said, he certainly did appear in a number of now-classic films during his lifetime.
Yeah, he was pretty much type-cast, but it was his calling to be a horror actor I think. He did do some comedy and drama films too, but is certainly known for his macabre roles.