"The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of" ... Bogart, Shakespeare, The Maltese Falcon, Those Great Movies

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Creepy Museum and Vincent Price - The House of Wax

By ClassicBecky

I have always loved wax museums. They are out of style now, few and far between, but when I find one I revel in the quiet, creepy atmosphere created by the still wax figures with life-like eyes that seem to follow you as you move. It may be hard to find a real wax museum, but I can always visit the best one ever put on film by watching The House of Wax. Vincent Price, creepy wax figures, wonderfully scary music – who could ask for anything more?  The House of Wax, released in 1953, is actually a remake of a 1933 movie called Mystery of the Wax Museum with Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray. The1933 original was shot in a 2-strip Technicolor process that created a blue-green color denoting dark and sinister atmosphere. It is a wonderful movie and any classic film buff would love it.

That story of a genius sculptor who is driven mad was remade with Vincent Price originally in 3D process. It is easy to spot the 3D technique even when seen without it. Hands thrusting at the screen and objects flying toward you during a fight scene, a street barker expertly using a paddleball to shoot the ball right at the audience, Can-Can dancers, all very clever. But this movie does not require gimmicks to thrill and frighten you.
Price plays Henry Jarrod, a sculptor of wax figures who loves beauty and despises exploitative museums that feature famous criminals in the act of murder and mayhem. Jarrod’s partner, played by staple character actor Roy Roberts, is unhappy with Jarrod’s refusal to add such figures to their museum, is greedy for profit, and decides to burn it down for insurance money. Jarrod, horrified at the grisly melting and burning of his beloved figures, tries desperately to put out the fire, but is caught in the building and presumed dead. This scene is wonderfully horrifying and not soon forgotten! Interestingly, Vincent Price in real life was scared of fire, yet most of his movies feature him battling fire in one way or another!

A few years later, we find Jarrod again, not dead as presumed, but left a wheelchair-bound cripple with burned, useless hands. He opens a museum with figures sculpted by students, very odd students indeed, including a young Charles Bronson as a very scary-looking deaf-mute. Jarrod has given in to popular demand and created a chamber of horrors in his new wax museum. The scenes of the public being led through the museum are done with lots of humor and Price’s signature sarcasm.

Jarrod meets young sculptor Scott Andrews, played by Paul Picerni, and is interested not only in his talent, but also in his female companion, Sue Allen, played by the lovely Phyllis Kirk. Jarrod is fascinated by Sue because she looks exactly like his favorite creation, Marie Antoinette, who was destroyed in the fire. Sue has witnessed the murder of her friend, played by Carolyn Jones, who, as an aside, had the smallest wasp-waist I’ve ever seen. Sue was chased through the streets by the murderer, a hideous looking man in a hat and cape. It is with Sue’s suspicions about the figures in Jarrod’s museum that the story gets really ghoulish.

This movie is Price at his best, sinister with a dark humor that makes one wonder what he is really thinking, acting up a storm as the mad genius. The music by David Buttolph is extremely scary by itself, and the spooky scenes of fog, fire, night-time in the dark museum, up to the final shocking climax, will give you real chills. But, as Henry Jarrod says while leading his public through the chamber of horrors – “It’s wonderful to be scared to death.”

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