Movies My Dad Likes: House of Wax [1953]

When I was a young man horror movies seemed to appear every week with the main character played by Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing or in this case by the cultured Vincent Price. The lead character played by Price is Professor Henry Jarrod an artist who sculptures famous people from the past out of wax and exhibits them to the public, a kind of forerunner to Madame Tussauds. As with most of his characters in horror movies, Jarrod has mental issues or in the language of the times is totally bonkers. He believes the waxwork figures of his creation are real and holds conversations with them. As for his Marie Antoinette creation, he simply adores her.

Unfortunately the exhibition doesn’t attract too many visitors due to the lack of gruesome looking displays. Jarrod’s not too bothered but his business partner wants out and sets the exhibits alight to burn the building down so he can collect the insurance money. He doesn’t need to share it as Jarrod goes the way of his creations. Now everyone knows Jarrod will be back as there is no way that Vincent Price would ever exit a movie so soon. Fast forward eighteen months and sure enough he’s made a spectacular return looking as good as new and with a new exhibition, but this time it’s full of figures depicting ghastly murders of the past. He is off course burnt to a crisp under a wax impression of his old self. Of course the audience knows that if Vincent Price is playing a character in the movie then there’s no need to look elsewhere for the arch villain

Sure enough bent on revenge he goes on a killing spree without his mask as his new look terrifies the victims, his old partner being first in line. Mysteriously the victims’ corpses begin to disappear from the morgue; well there are no prizes for guessing who is taking them (with the aid of two henchmen in his employ). One of the criminal helpers, Igor a mute, provided an early credited cameo role for Charles Bronson, the actor of few words! A sure fire potential victim is our heroine Sue who would make a perfect Marie Antoinette replacement, but although petrified when the monster comes for her, manages to escape his clutches (this time). Well it was way to soon for her wax treatment.

When the new exhibition opens to the public there is speculation by the police as to how Jarrod managed to create waxwork replicas of recent murder victims so soon. It takes a considerable number of scenes before this speculation becomes suspicion. Noddy’s PC Plod would have figured it out in half the time!  Some VIP guests are given the grand tour, which included a visit to the basement where wrapped figures (or corpses as the audience had long since concluded) are laid on a table and sprayed with wax. The wax comes from a bubbling hot extra large cauldron perched above the table. Well we all know who will be going for a dip in it before the credits roll.

Other than Bronson, it’s difficult to recall the other cast members; such is the presence of Price when he’s on the silver screen. His acting in horror movies always reminds me of an over zealous pushy salesman, oops sorry I meant salesperson. You know the character can’t be trusted but you still get hooked! This movie is never going to make genuine horror fans jump out of their skin, as there are no real nasty surprises or sudden shocks. Nevertheless it could be shown to children during the Halloween season without them having nightmares, and of course it’s free of foul language. I found it an enjoyable watch and there is much pleasure to be had in predicting correctly what happens next; probably the only reason I watch the Apprentice!

Graham

★★★★

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