As summer fades into fall and we inch ever closer to Halloween, there’s only one place to turn our attention: Horror.
Vincent Price didn’t invent the horror genre, but in the 1950s and 1960s, he was its undisputed master.
After nearly two decades in Hollywood, he found his niche at age 42 playing a murderous sculptor in House of Wax, a 1953 remake of 1933’s Mystery of the Wax Museum, one of the earliest color films.
Price plays Henry Jarrod, a dedicated artist who creates historically accurate wax figures for his museum. A true craftsman, he refuses to cater to the public’s whims for more sensational and grotesque displays.
This leaves his museum mostly empty and Henry broke. Though he doesn’t mind, his investor Matthew Burke does.
Henry appears harmless, but we get hints right away that he’s not playing with a full deck—he’s a bit too close to his statues, especially his greatest creation, a figure of Marie Antoinette. He caresses her and calls them all his closest friends in a tone of voice that would have you calling for the check early on a blind date before you ended up chained to his basement wall.
Tired of waiting for a profit, the investor Burke burns down the House of Wax with Henry inside to collect the insurance money. Despite an obvious case of arson—and the fact that Henry’s body was never discovered—Burke manages to collect the money and is living the high life.
It all comes crashing down when Burke is murdered by a scarred figure dressed in black and walking with a limp.
Is it Henry Jarrod, back from the dead, deranged, and seeking revenge?
Indeed it is.
Henry opens a new wax museum, and this time, he’ll give the unknowing rubes a truly macabre show. Since his hands were burned in the fire and he can no longer sculpt, he now murders people and covers them in wax to recreate his greatest works.
No one suspects except Sue Allen, who insists that his Joan of Arc looks a little too much like her recently murdered friend Cathy.
No one believes her, but when Henry discovers that she knows, he will do everything he can to stop her from exposing him…and to add her to his collection.
House of Wax is a thoroughly good time. At a crisp 90 minutes, the film flies by, and keeps you on the edge of your seat. It’s an unapologetic genre film, and gets straight to the point of entertaining you without a lot of extraneous detail.
It won’t scare anyone over 12, but I will admit to turning to my fellow watchers at one point and asking, “this is creepy as hell, isn’t it?” and getting enthusiastic nods of agreement.
I loved it.
It was the first successful color 3D film and landed in the top 10 at the U.S. Box Office.
And if my local library is any indication—3 copies of the film on DVD, all currently checked out—the love for this film is as strong as ever.
Add it to your spooky film rotation this Fall—if you dare.
You won’t regret it.