Monday, October 29, 2012

October Watch: House of Wax (1953)

When I was, maybe, 13, House of Wax (1953) showed on local UHF affiliate, KBVO.

It scared the bejeezus out of me.

I haven't seen it again since, nor did I catch the 00's-era remake featuring... sigh.  Paris Hilton.

House of Wax was my first full Vincent Price film, and while it may not be as straight up creepy as House on Haunted Hill or weird as The Fly, it still freaked me out pretty well when I was the right age.  It also gave me a lot of respect for Vincent Price as someone other than a guest star on The Muppet Show and Batman.

The film, while gothic in spirit, is shot during the era where Technicolor required a lot of light, and movies were offering up all sorts of color to compete with the monochromatic invasion of the television screen.  The movie was originally seen in 3D, but I've only ever seen it on television, so...

So basically the whole scene where the guy is playing with paddle balls makes absolutely no sense in 2D and just comes off as a really, really weird interlude.

Apparently this is a remake of a 1933 film, Mystery of the Wax Museum, which I really have to look up.

The story tells the tale of a brilliant sculptor working in wax figures as his media of choice.  He prefers to depict historical figures rather than create wax houses of horror, and that, it seems, is bad for business.  He runs afoul of his business partner who shares ownership in their wax museum.  The partner torches the place with the artist, Jarrod (Vincent Price) inside.  Soon after the business partner and his ladyfriend are killed by a mysterious figure, just about the same time a new wax museum appears - run by Jarrod who has ceased hiding out.  Phyllis Kirk plays a young woman who was a roommate of the murdered girl.  Visiting Jarrod's new museum, she spots a Joan of Arc wax figure that looks a lot like her pal.

And, of course, it's a Vincent Price film, so...

As an adult, the movie feels like campy good fun.  I have no idea why, at age 13 I was so reluctant to believe anyone was turning actual people into wax figures (it does seem really horrible) and I was shocked by the conclusion.  There is still one genuinely really good scare provided by Kirk and Price, the rest is sort of over-the-top Price-ness and a pretty fair Halloween bit of horror for those of us who prefer not to take in our scares in the Eli Roth variety.

All in all, its no required viewing, but it's a fun movie that knows what it is and chooses just to do that as well as can be.

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