HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: House of Wax (1953)
HTS Overall Score:64.5
Ah yes, Vincent Price, the king of horror in an age that’s passed us by. With his unique voice and sharp, aristocratic features he’s the quintessential horror villain. I remember growing up listening to him voice Lamont Cranston, AKA “The Shadow” on old time radio reruns as well as his forays into “The Outer Limits” etc. Like Peter Cushing he became a horror legend and rightfully so. Now before us we have the 1953 rendition of “House of Wax”, and while it is not exactly a cinematic masterpiece, it outclasses the horrible remake starring Paris Hilton and Chad Michael Murray in every possible way. More cerebral and relatable in both the villain’s beginnings and the victims end, it is a piece of classic horror where gore and blood dripping from the ceilings were not necessary to create that sense of dread and terror.
Professor Henry Jarrod (Vincent Price) is a mild mannered sculptor who specializes in the art of wax replication. His work in recreating pieces of history in such a life like way are nothing short of breathtaking. His only problem is that he’s a bit too attached to his work and the fact that his partner doesn’t really care about his work. In a fateful day his partner decides to burn down the wax museum to collect the insurance and leaves Henry there to die. Several years later his partner is living life in the fast lane without a care in the world, when a mysteriously disfigured man dressed in black takes his life, and his body. However, the body-snatching doesn't stop there. A young socialite is murdered in her sleep and taken by this self-same man and the body abducted from the morgue. Her flat mate, Sue Allen (Phyllis Kirk) barely escapes the monsters clutches herself when she discovers the body.
During the same period Henry Jarrod shows up once more, as a cripple in a wheel chair, his hands maimed by the same fire that destroyed his wax studio years ago. As a result he can no longer sculpt wax replicas or create art of any kind by himself. This, however, is fixed by Henry utilizing his talents as the master and employing several protégé’s in order to re-create his long lost wax museum. Gone is the simplistic and soft Henry Jarrod, and in his place is a man who’s been warped by bitter loss. Instead of the soft recreations he once did, he is obsessed with the macabre, recreating acts of violence and modern murders in order to shock and repulse the masse. Sue is captivated by a recreation of “Joan of Arc” and notices upon closer scrutiny that the resemblance to her murdered flat mate is uncanny. Convinced that there is more to these wax sculptures than just plain replication Sue delves deeper and deeper in the life of Henry Jarrod, but is unprepared for the madness that she is about to confront.
As much as I love Vincent Price and the old horror of yesteryear, “House of Wax” isn’t up there with his best work. The plot line has a lot of potential, but the viewing experience doesn’t work out as well since there’s very little done in the way of hiding the foreshadowing and the lack of tension doesn’t help it either. When you know the very outcome it tends to taint the experience. Vincent Price does his normally fantastic work as the tormented Professor Jarrod and Phyllis Kirk plays her part to the T (including the classic screaming heroine at ear splitting decibels). With some more spit and polish this easily could have been a LOT creepier than it was. I’ve seen a lot of classic horror and this one just wasn’t very terrifying. There was a few points that made you squeamish when you realize what was being done with the victims, but as I said earlier, the overly obvious villain and motives tended to rob the viewer of some of the terror that could have been implied with a more polished script.
However it is much more entertaining if viewed as a detective mystery rather than a horror film. With the addition of the detectives and Phyllis’ constant digging it felt better as a “Sam Spade” mystery rather than a vehicle for the macabre. Not a bad movie at all, it’s still fun to watch Vincent Price in his prime and the addition of the 3D was a nice feature, especially for those who like to see the advent of modern 3D.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=12857[/img]Disappointingly, “House of Wax” suffers from a rather old master and some seriously erratic and excessive grain. While I’m happy that the film hasn’t suffered from drastic DNR, which can be the case with a grainy picture that the studios want to “clean up”, very little has been done to restore the picture in the film. There is an excess of grain in some shots, followed up by scenes with fantastic clarity. Detail is just as hit or miss. In some scenes the detail is beautiful then the next the camera seems out of focus and the picture blurry only to have another fantastic scene pop up again. Colors are bright and pleasing to the eye, with rich primaries and some deep dark blacks to compliment them. Shadow detail is generally very pleasing and little to no black crush in most dark scenes. Overall a bit of a disappointment, but at the very least you can tell that there is little to no digital manipulation done to the master
The 3D for this film was not too shabby, especially for those who wondered how good 3D made 60 years ago could be. there is a lot of depth to the picture, some subtle, some not so subtle as well as a few "pop out" effects (think of the paddle ball scene). The amount of dimensionality given to the back ground and foreground objects was excellent to say none the least. My only real complaint with the 3D was the massive amount of ghosting that went on. Many of the characters would look like I was seeing double the whole time and some significant blurring. The brightness levels are acceptable and the film doesn't appear to be too dark, however the grain structure looks very muted when looking through the 3D version. Overall a decent solid 3D presentation marred by the main issues listed above
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=12858[/img]The audio is by far the most disappointing piece of the whole puzzle. The vocals tend to sound a bit harsh and tinny in a lot of scenes, especially when something loud, such as a scream, happens. There is a definite feel that the audio was strained either in the recording studio or in the source. Another annoyance is constant hiss that stays throughout the film, even when no one is talking. On the other side the dialogue is clean and locked up front with the 2.0 DTS-HD MA track. Dynamics are decent for a 2.0 track and as you can guess, there is no surround usage whatsoever. A very front heavy track that seems to be a rather flawed track. I’ve heard much worse, but I honestly was hoping for so much more.
• "House of Wax" Unlike Anything You've Ever Seen Before
• Commentary by David Del Valle and Constantine Nasr
• News Reel
• Theatrical Trailer
• 1933 WB Feature "Mystery Of The Wax Museum"
Vincent Price is always a treat to watch on screen, or listen over the radio. His voice is so unique and well-crafted for the horror genre that it’s obvious why he was chosen for such a maniacal villain. Unfortunately “House of Wax” was never one of his better films, although it is leagues better than the horrifying remake of the same name. With Mediocre picture and audio it’s only real pull to own is the addition of the original 3D used back in the early 50s. So I’d say it’s a definite rent for fans of horror due to the classic nature of the film, and if you’re a collector it might be a pickup, but unfortunately the whole presentation isn’t anything special so the average Joe will probably pass.
Starring: Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy, Phyllis Kirk
Directed by: Andre De Toth
Written by: Crane Wilbur
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 2.0, French, Spanish, Italian, German DD Mono
Studio: Warner Brothers
Runtime: 98 minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: Oct 1st, 2013
Buy House of Wax 3D Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: Rent It
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