Vincent Price stars in House of Wax, released in 1953, a film whose title accurately describes to the audience what they are about to see though not necessarily of the horror they will encounter within. Combining that horror with a bit of mystery and a touch of madness, director Andre DeToth creates a very moody piece of work that finds Price in top form as sculptor Professor Henry Jarrod, a man who lives for his work.
Like many a picture where madness creeps into the main character’s actions and motivations, it does so through circumstance in this instance whereas in others it might be through one’s own obsession. Professor Jarrod only wants to bring beauty into the world and enrich the lives of those who visit his museum instead of going for the cheap shocks that others tend to give. Yet fate and greed step in to teach him a lesson, one that nobody should have to learn and it transforms him into a monster, physically and mentally as his work built over a lifetime melts away in a fire much like his face and hands. The man survives though his work does not and he becomes unglued, determined to recapture that which he lost while catering to the public’s demands for the adrenaline rush of horror and seeking a bit of sunshine that he discovers in Sue Allen.
Though DeToth is deft with the camera, it is Price who truly makes this film what it is, his portrayal of Jarrod something to marvel at. He is suave and smooth and the perfect gentlemen in all regards before the accident and after, he simply plays the part, blaming the world and turning that demeanour into one that is cruel and hard with the flick of a switch. Price shines as the villain, much as he always does, a man born to play the bad guy more so than any protagonist and one cannot help but be entranced by the dulcet tones of his voice as it hypnotizes almost immediately. The rest of the cast just manages to keep up with the man, that being Phyllis Kirk who stars as Sue Allen and the woman who is the cause of Jarrod’s second downfall, Frank Lovejoy as the Lieutenant who believes her, Carolyn Jones, Paul Picerni, Paul Cavanagh and of course, a young Charles Bronson as the mute Igor.
Originally filmed in 3D and while an interesting facet of the entire thing and revolutionary for the time as it was still a new thing, the process adds little to House of Wax overall. The scares that were supposed to be enhanced because of it might have been a little shocking at the time of its release but failed to resonate in the current day and there was little to be frightened of overall, perhaps the only weakness to be found within. The horror that was to be discovered would originate in the actions of the man who would burn down the museum and later on, through Jarrod and what he would do to bring it back to life. As a villain, Jarrod is scary as he is so underwhelming when one first meets him but as it is shown, he is more than dangerous and one would not want to meet him as the subject of his rage or fascination.
Ultimately, House of Wax is a fun watch, a movie that would kickstart Price’s career and plant him firmly in the horror genre for the rest of his life much to the benefit of audiences everywhere.
3.5 out of 5