‘The ultimate dimension in terror!’
House of Wax is a 1953 American horror feature film directed by André de Toth from a screenplay by Crane Wilbur (The Bat). The movie stars Vincent Price – and is largely responsible for him becoming a horror icon – alongside Phyllis Kirk and Carolyn Jones. Charles Bronson also appears. It is a remake of Warners’ Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) without the comic relief featured in the earlier film.
House of Wax was an example of the early 1950s 3D film craze and was the first 3D film with stereophonic sound. It was successfully re-released in the US in 1971 and loosely remade in 1966 as Chamber of Horrors. The 2005 House of Wax movie bears the same title but has hardly any connection beyond that.
Professor Henry Jarrod (Vincent Price) is a devoted wax figure sculptor with a museum in 1910s New York. When his financial partner Matthew Burke (Roy Roberts) demands more sensational exhibits to increase profits, Jarrod refuses.
Unwilling to wait to be bought out, Burke deliberately sets the museum on fire, intending to claim the insurance money. He fights off Jarrod in the process, who is desperately attempting to save his precious sculptures, and splashes kerosene over his body, leaving him to die in the fire.
Miraculously, Jarrod survives with severe injuries and builds a new House of Wax with help from threatening deaf-mute sculptor, Igor (Charles Bronson).
The museum’s popular “Chamber of Horrors” showcases both notable crimes and more recent ones, including the murder of Jarrod’s former business partner by a cloaked, disfigured killer. Burke’s fiancée, Cathy Gray (Carolyn Jones) is also killed. But when Cathy’s friend, Sue Allen (Phyllis Kirk), visits the museum, she makes a discovery that leads to the horrifying truth behind the House of Wax…
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“Price is both fearfully loathsome and brilliantly passionate as Jarrod, and it is this well-rounded performance that operates the moral complexity of House of Wax … In the hands of another actor this might come across as forceful foreshadowing to Jarrod’s impending madness, but Price’s speech is so impassioned that Jarrod is seen as much as a martyr as the sculptures he surrounds himself with…” Classic Horror
“Although entertaining and lavishly produced, House of Wax is no masterpiece; if anything, its glossy beauty undermines the horror. A reasonably close remake of 1933’s Mystery in the Wax Museum (starring Lionel Atwill), the film is less creaky than its source, but less atmospheric as well, failing to establish the sense of mystery and suspense necessary for genuine thrills.” Hollywood Gothique
” …more of a triumph for ‘Natural Vision’ than horror, although Price’s velvet menace was extremely enjoyable.” Alan Frank, The Horror Film Handbook
“There is a certain amount of fun to be had with the 3-D, which thrusts legs, spears and even lines of can-can dancers swinging their legs out of the screen – indeed, House of Wax must hold some type of curiosity value for being the first 3-D film to wave a female derriere out of the screen into its audience’s face.” Moria
“Even in the flat, the House of Wax might have been in the running as one of the great silly films.” News Chronicle, 1953
“House of Wax is as handsomely mounted as anything from a major Hollywood studio of the time, but the rush to production (the film was shot in just four weeks after only three months of preparation) was in evidence both behind the scenes and in front of the camera.” Denis Meikle, Vincent Price: The Art of Fear
Cast and characters:
- Vincent Price as Professor Henry Jarrod
- Frank Lovejoy as Lt. Tom Brennan
- Carolyn Jones as Cathy Gray
- Phyllis Kirk as Sue Allen
- Paul Picerni as Scott Andrews
- Roy Roberts as Matthew Burke
- Paul Cavanagh as Sidney Wallace
- Dabbs Greer as Sgt. Jim Shane
- Charles Bronson (credited Charles Buchinsky) as Igor
- Angela Clarke as Mrs. Andrews