DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
HOUSE OF WAX (director: André de Toth; screenwriters: from the play by Charles Belden/Crane Wilbur; cinematographers: Bert Glennon/J. Peverell Marley; editor: Rudi Fehr; cast: Vincent Price (Prof. Henry Jarrod), Phyllis Kirk (Sue Allen), Frank Lovejoy (Lt. Tom Brennan), Roy Roberts (Matthew Burke), Carolyn Jones (Cathy Gray), Paul Picerni (Scott Andrews), Charles Bronson (Igor), Ned Young (Leon Averill), Paul Cavanagh (Sidney Wallace), Dabbs Greer (Sgt. Shane), Angela Clarke (Mrs. Andrews), Reggie Rymal (Paddle-ball man); Runtime: 88; Warner Bros.; 1953)

 
"A more conventional and not as absorbing remake of Mystery of the Wax Museum."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A more conventional and not as absorbing remake of Mystery of the Wax Museum, 1933, made with the gimmick of 3-D (used in a fun way with novelty shots of a barker batting paddleballs in your face and a murderer jumping seemingly out at the audience). It also effectively used the special Warner Color process. The TV version I saw was showing the film in the conventional way.

It is very competently filmed, and has plenty of chills and screams such as a woman being chased through the deserted city streets by the disfigured man in a cloak who murdered her best friend. Strangely enough, the film's director, André de Toth, lost the sight of one eye and therefore couldn't appreciate the effects of 3-D since he had no depth perception. This is also the film where Vincent Price made his mark as a villain figure in horror films and was typecast forever in that role.

Prof. Henry Jarrod (Price) is a genius sculptor of wax figures and has a small museum in the New York City at the turn of the century, where he's partners with a crass businessman, Matthew Burke (Roberts), who doesn't appreciate the aesthetic beauty of Jarrod's work. He wanted to make the museum more commercial by displaying a Chamber of Horrors, but Jarrod is only interested in creating real-life beauty from historical figures such as Marie Antoinette and Joan of Arc. Burke claims he wants more business revenues for his stake in the partnership and is anxious when Jarrod has arranged for wealthy art critic Sidney Wallace to have a private viewing at the museum. Wallace mulls over the prospects offered him by Jarrod to buy Burke out and become his partner, but Wallace says he can't make that decision until three months from now as he'll be away on a business trip.

This news isn't good for Burke who needs money right away, and he decides not to wait but to burn the place down for the $25,000 insurance money. When Jarrod tries to stop him, he's overtaken by Burke and left to die in the museum. He escaped without being detected but is a disfigured and bitter man without the use of his hands, and has secretly started a new museum with his assistants Igor (Charles Bronson) and Leon (Young). He uses his pupils to steal bodies from the morgue and to do the sculpture work he can't do anymore. Igor is a deaf mute who does all the dirty work, while Leon does the sculpture under his master's direction. He's a parolee who was once a great artist but slid downhill because of his drinking problem. The biggest change in Jarrod, is that he has now turned into a monster who seeks revenge. He gets to Burke and hangs him, keeping his body as a wax figure in the museum. He has decided to use real people and pour wax over them to make his work look absolutely real. He starts a Chamber of Horrors by making a wax figure of the first man in New York to die in the electric chair, William Kemmler (August 6, 1890).

To fool others he gets around in a wheelchair, even though he has full use of his legs. He strangled Cathy Gray (Jones), the girlfriend of Burke, in her rooming house apartment and was discovered by Sue Allen (Kirk). Cathy is now immortalized as the face of Joan of Arc.

Sue ends up living in the house of her mother's friend, Mrs. Andrews, and starts seeing her sculptor son Scott (Picerni). He's a friend of Wallace's and ends up working in Jarrod's cellar. When Sue believes that Joan of Arc is really Cathy, the police begin to take her seriously and investigate Jarrod.

Warning: spoiler to follow in the next paragraph.

The policeman investigating the murder of Burke, which took place a year ago, is Lt. Brennan (Lovejoy). He will come to the rescue of Sue and Scott, who are trapped in the cellar of Jarrod's museum, when he sweats it out of Leon what the insane genius is up to--to make Sue his next Marie Antoinette.

It was a decent enough horror film but it stalled at times, and its Grand Guignol characterization was too often wasted by touristy tours of the museum. They were interesting, but didn't add much to the story.

REVIEWED ON 9/6/2001     GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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