House of Wax (1953 film)
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|House of Wax|
House of Wax original film poster
|Directed by||André de Toth|
|Produced by||Bryan Foy|
|Written by||Charles S. Belden (play)
Crane Wilbur (screenwriter)
|Music by||David Buttolph|
J. Peverell Marley
Lothrop B. Worth
|Editing by||Rudi Fehr|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Release date(s)||April 10, 1953 (premiere)
April 25, 1953 (nationwide)
|Running time||88 min.|
House of Wax is a 1953 American horror film starring Vincent Price. It is a remake of Warners' Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) without the comic relief featured in the earlier film, and was directed by André de Toth. The 1953 House of Wax was an early example of the 3D film craze of the early 1950s.
The film was the first 3-D color feature from a major American studio, and premiered just two days after Columbia Pictures's Man in the Dark, the first 3-D feature released by a major studio. It was also the first 3-D film with stereophonic sound to be released in a regular movie theater. Previously, 3-D films with stereo sound were only produced to be shown in specialty cinemas, such as the Toldi in Budapest, and the Telecinema in London. House of Wax followed the very successful premiere months earlier of the independent production, Bwana Devil, both sparking the 3-D film boom of the 1950s. It premiered nationwide on April 10, 1953 and went out for a general release on April 25, 1953.
In the 1980s, House of Wax received a major re-release in theaters during the then-current 3-D boom. New 3-D prints of the film were created for the re-release using the StereoVision single strip 3-D process created by Chris Condon.
Professor Henry Jarrod (Vincent Price) is a devoted wax figure sculptor with a museum in 1910s New York. When his financial partner Matthew Burke (Roy Roberts) demands more sensational exhibits to increase profits, Jarrod refuses. Unwilling to wait to be bought out, Burke deliberately sets the museum on fire, intending to claim the insurance money. He fights off Jarrod in the process, who is desperately attempting to save his precious sculptures, and splashes kerosene over his body, leaving him to die in the fire. Miraculously, Jarrod survives with severe injuries, and builds a new House of Wax with help from threatening deaf-mute sculptor, Igor (Charles Bronson).
The museum's popular "Chamber of Horrors" showcases both notable crimes and more recent ones, including the murder of Jarrod's former business partner by a cloaked, disfigured killer. Burke's fiancée, Cathy Gray (Carolyn Jones) is also killed. But when Cathy’s friend, Sue Allen (Phyllis Kirk), visits the museum, she makes a discovery that leads to the horrifying truth behind the House of Wax - that all of the waxworks are the wax-coated bodies of Jarrod's victims. Allen herself almost becomes an exhibit, but the police arrive in time to save her.
- Vincent Price as Professor Henry Jarrod
- Frank Lovejoy as Lt. Tom Brennan
- Carolyn Jones as Cathy Gray
- Phyllis Kirk as Sue Allen
- Paul Picerni as Scott Andrews
- Roy Roberts as Matthew Burke
- Angela Clarke as Mrs. Andrews
- Paul Cavanagh as Sidney Wallace
- Dabbs Greer as Sgt. Jim Shane
- Charles Bronson (credited Charles Buchinsky) as Igor
- Reggie Rymal as the paddleball barker
Stereoscopic 3-D was an alternative technology (like Cinemascope and Cinerama) used by 1950s studios attempting to compete with the new threat of television. Just over 50 titles were released in the 3-D process during its 2½ year heyday. House of Wax was always shown in dual interlocked 35 mm projection with polarized glasses. The film was re-released in the period of 1975 through 1980 in both single strip 35mm Stereovision 3-D and in Stereovision's pioneering (first commercial success) 70mm 3D process, where it played in major venues like Grauman's Chinese Theater, in Hollywood, and the huge Metropolitan Theatre in Boston (seating 4300 patrons). This effort pre-dated the first IMAX 3D (also on 70mm film) by nearly 12 years.
House of Wax, originally titled The Wax Works, was Warner Bros. answer to the 3-D hit Bwana Devil, which had been released the previous November. Seeing something big in 3-D's future, WB contracted the same company, Natural Vision, run by the Gunzburg Brothers, Julian and Milton, to shoot the new feature. The film is a remake of the studio's film Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), which based on Charles Belden's three-act play, The Wax Works.
Among the scenes featured in the film that make the best use of 3-D are a museum fire, a paddleball man, and can-can girls. Ironically, the director de Toth was blind in one eye, and unable to experience stereo vision or the 3-D effects. “It’s one of the great Hollywood stories,” Price recalled. “When they wanted a director for [a 3-D] film, they hired a man who couldn’t see 3-D at all! Andre de Toth was a very good director, but he really was the wrong director for 3-D. He’d go to the rushes and say, ‘Why is everybody so excited about this?’ It didn’t mean anything to him. But he made a good picture, a good thriller. He was largely responsible for the success of the picture. The 3-D tricks just happened—there weren’t a lot of them. Later on, they threw everything at everybody.”
The film was one of the biggest hits of 1953, earning an estimated $5.5 million at the North American box office. Over the years, it would be liked as the greatest horror film of the 1950s. In addition, it helped the reputation of Vincent Price, who did numerous mainstream films. Now he got his chance to do a film role as a crazed maniac: after a string of low key thrillers, he got the best part of his career in a big Hollywood film. He was sought after later for more roles as villains in other horror films, including The Tingler, House of Usher, and The Masque of the Red Death. Also famous would be Carolyn Jones: she later played other women, including the vampish Morticia Addams on the TV comedy horror spoof The Addams Family.
Home media releases
- The movie was released on DVD by Warner Bros. Home Video on August 5, 2003.
- A 3D blu-ray will be released in US, on October 1st 2013, this will include the original 1933 "Mystery of the Wax Museum".
- Mystery of the Wax Museum
- List of 3D films
- House of Wax (2005 film)
- Carry On Screaming! - A horror spoof which shares a similar plotline to House of Wax
- Vincent Price filmography
- Eddie Sammons, The World of 3-D Movies, Delphi, 1992 p 32
- R.M. Hayes, 3-D movies: a history and filmography of stereoscopic cinema, McFarland & Company, 1989 p 42
- Steve Biodrowski "House of Wax (1953) – A Retrospective", Cinefantastique website
- 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1953', Variety, January 13, 1954
- House of Wax at the Internet Movie Database
- House of Wax at AllRovi
- House of Wax 3-D Expo: Q&A with Actor Charles Picerni at Hollywood Gothique
- Cinefantastique retrospective article