Saturday, October 3, 2009

Film Review: HOUSE OF WAX (1953, André de Toth)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 90 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Vincent Price, Charles Bronson.
Best one-liner: "I'm moving up honey, no girl ever hits the jackpot till after she passes 14th street."

HOUSE OF WAX is a remake of the exceptional MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933), but, unfortunately, that original film doesn't co-star Charles Bronson, so I'm afraid I'm going to leap straight to the 1953 version. The first color 3-D feature from a major American studio, HOUSE OF WAX was helmed by one-eyed auteur André de Toth (CRIME WAVE, THE INDIAN FIGHTER), who was thus unable to properly appreciate his finished product, but that certainly didn't stop him from having all kinds of objects flung, poked, wiggled, etc. directly into the frame (also see: every single 3-D movie ever made). Probably the most obnoxious example of it here is the tuxedo-wearing miscreant who incessantly whips his paddleball straight at the lens. Kind of amazing.

Just look at this douche.

Anyway, we've got velvet-tongued wax-maestro Vincent Price as a victim of a fire that melts his only friends- paraffin figures of historical personages like Marie Antoinette and John Wilkes Booth. Probably as close to hardcore gore as the 50's could get was to show wax figures melting, their skin liquefying and eyeballs popping.

(It's a striking visual, and the possible inspiration for a certain scene in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Also, the 'burn makeup' that eventually rears it's head is surprisingly excellent for 1953.) Time passes and Vincent regroups, picking up some unwholesome manservants along the way- one of whom is a young Bronson (age 32, and billed by his real name, Buchinsky!).

Bronson eagerly shows off his latest self-portrait.

Bronson hides in plain sight.

Bronson plays a mute, possibly mentally-disabled Igor-type character who is actually named "Igor." He gets to fling a cop, make ape-like faces, and nearly guillotine an unsuspecting victim, so Bronson fans will be well-pleased.

There's evocative, fog-enshrouded, cobblestoned New York City street sets; sumptuous visuals (in Warnercolor!); and a majestically macabre central presence in the form of Vincent Price, here making his ‘leading man in a horror-flick’ debut. (He'd previously been a film noir standby.)

Lucky for us, there were many more of these roles to come…

-Sean Gill

2009 Halloween Countdown

31. PROM NIGHT (1980, Paul Lynch)
30. PHENOMENA (1985, Dario Argento)
29. HOUSE OF WAX (1953, André de Toth)


Anonymous said...

That 'douche' with the paddleball has a name. Reginald 'Reggie' Rymal.
He was also an expert with yo-yos and devil sticks and knife throwing, among other things. Cool guy. (RIP)
He was just doing what he was hired to do, so please don't hate on him for the 3D effects being annoying to some people. namely you alone.
He has family remaining, a member of which happened to feel slightly hurt upon reading your page :/

Sean Gill said...

To whom it may concern:

95% of the movies I write about on this site I absolutely adore, and would never want to change even one frame within their hallowed reels. Often I joke about these films, but it's generally only because they're so close to my heart.

Now, 3-D effects, from HOUSE OF WAX to SPACEHUNTER to FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3-D have become something of a recurring joke on this site, from main titles that FOOOOSH into the frame to the kid dangling a yo-yo into the lens in FRIDAY 3 to the barker's paddleball. It's all about the ridiculous 3-D gimmickry of trying to simulate poking objects into your eye, and I love that. Again and again, movie after movie, we see the same techniques employed as the filmmakers try and find new and engaging ways to simulate poking us in the eye. In HOUSE OF WAX, when Rymal's Barker flung his paddleballs into the frame for an amazingly lengthy span, I was beside myself. The Barker himself is assuredly a 'douche' (he's tryin' to poke us in the eye!- ha!) but, of course, Reggie Rymal is not. And I love the scene. In a film starring two of my all-time favorite performers- Charles Bronson and Vincent Price- Rymal's scene stands out, and I absolutely delight in it. I would never intend to insult Rymal himself- in fact, he represents a kind of multi-talented, cross-disciplinary performer who rarely exists in today's world, which is truly a shame. I sincerely apologize if you found my comments offensive, that was certainly not my intention.


BIBLEMAN said...

the wax head on the right of charles bronson looks like gene simmons