House of Wax 3D Blu-ray Review
Henry Jarrod’s wax museum is home to lifelike scale models of Cleopatra and Mark Antony, Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth, Joan of Arc, and Marie Antoinette. He considers his works a thing of beauty. He speaks to them and hears answers. He says: “To you, they’re wax. But to me, their creator, they live and breathe.”
After years of financial troubles and empowering competition, Jarrod’s (Vincent Price) business partner Matthew Burke (character actor Roy Roberts) devises a plan: set the building (and Jarrod’s models) ablaze, collect the insurance money and walk away without harm. Jarrod refuses the idea but finds Burke has brought kerosene and a match with him anyway. Minutes later, Joan of Arc is burning at the stake and Jarrod is left to be engulfed.
And then the real madness begins. Having survived the fire, the now-disfigured Jarrod, armed with a deaf-mute assistant named Igor (Charles Bronson, credited as his given name Charles Buchinsky), has a new wax museum in order that houses figures with less prominent names—like Matthew Burke. From there on, any paying customer seems to be a potential model, including Burke’s lover (Carolyn Jones, who would later play Morticia Addams on THE ADDAMS FAMILY) and a friend (Phyllis Kirk, who would garner an Emmy nomination for TV’s THE THIN MAN) who discovers the secret of the Chamber of Horrors.
1953’s HOUSE OF WAX was originally shot in 3D and was the first such color feature released by a major studio (Warner Bros.). It’s fairly ironic to note here then that the director is André de Toth (helmer of westerns such as 1947’s RAMROD and 1952’s CARSON CITY, and film noirs such as 1948’s PITFALL and 1954’s CRIME WAVE), who had only one eye and so couldn’t truly enjoy his film in all three of its dimensions. Thankfully, viewers could appreciate the effects (no matter how silly they seem now, like the paddleballs flying at your face) and HOUSE OF WAX became one of the highest-grossing films of its year.
HOUSE OF WAX has so much going for it that it remains a horror classic 60 years after its release. First, there is the point that wax figures are beyond disturbing and, really, who knows what lurks underneath (a visit to any Madame Tussauds will undoubtedly spark one word: creepy). There is also the point that the killer is a betrayed and driven madman (draped in a black cloak and hat, no less, which calls to mind Erik in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA) who we see has been wronged and, as a result, sort of sympathize with. Here is a developed villain whose methods alone send shivers. Add to that just how frighteningly skilled he is at his trade and you have one of the great horror characters of any decade.
And of course there is Vincent Price, as big of a genre icon as anyone named Boris and Bela. His turn as Jarrod remains one of his most iconic performances, up there with Frederick Loren in 1959’s HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, Dr. Anton Phibes in 1971’s THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES and any of his numerous Poe characters.
HOUSE OF WAX 3D BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: 1.37:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. The 2D presentation is an overall strong one. While the overall video may not be as crisp as some of Warner Bros.’ other archival BDs and there is a certain level of softness for the duration that likely stems from the source, there are still many fine details throughout that make this a definite upgrade.
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0; French Dolby Digital; Spanish Dolby Digital. Subtitles in English, French and Spanish. This Blu-ray has a very nice audio transfer that presents clean dialogue and music cues throughout. This is the best HOUSE OF WAX is likely to sound on home video.
Commentary by David Del Valle and Constantine Nasr: The two film historians cover just about everything the running time allows them. This is a very thorough commentary that fans of HOUSE OF WAX will want to listen to immediately after a viewing of the feature.
HOUSE OF WAX: Unlike Anything You’ve Seen Before! (48:23): A number of fans (including Martin Scorsese, Joe Dante and Wes Craven, as well as historians) sit down to discuss the legacy, style and production of HOUSE OF WAX. The interviewees also touch on the arrival of 3D, director de Toth, the original, and more.
Round-the-Clock Premiere: Coast Hails HOUSE OF WAX (2:16) compiles newsreel footage of the premiere.
MYSTERY AT THE WAX MUSEUM (1:17:23): This 1933 film, shot in two-color Technicolor and directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Lionel Atwill, served as the inspiration for HOUSE OF WAX. Although not nearly as horrifying or memorable as HOUSE OF WAX, MYSTERY AT THE WAX MUSEUM holds its own as a fine little work that’s worth pairing with the 1953 remake.