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All things considered, HOUSE OF WAX ($20) is more of a melodrama with horrific flourishes, than a flat out horror movie. However, what firmly roots HOUSE OF WAX in that particular genre is the presence of horror move icon Vincent Price, who is always fun to watch. For those not aware that there was an early version of the story, 1953’s HOUSE OF WAX actually reworks the story told in MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM, which Warner Bros. released in 1933. Unlike its predecessor, HOUSE OF WAX goes with a turn of the century period setting, which gives the film a different esthetic and a decidedly more creepy style than the original.

HOUSE OF WAX tells the story of Professor Henry Jarrod (Price), an eccentric sculptor and operator of a wax museum. Unfortunately for Jarrod, his unscrupulous partner decides that he wants to recoup his investment in the wax museum through arson, which leads to Jarrod being burnt and crippled in the fire. No longer able to sculpt because the fire ravaged his hands, Jarrod turns those duties over to pupils, as he sets out to open a new wax museum. Just as Jarrod prepares to reopens his wax museum, a grotesque killer begins a series of murders, after which the victim’s bodies mysteriously disappear. The cast of HOUSE OF WAX also features Phyllis Kirk, Frank Lovejoy, Carolyn Jones, Paul Picerni, Roy Roberts, Angela Clarke, Paul Cavanagh, Dabbs Greer and Charles Bronson, who is billed under the name Charles Buchinsky.

Warner Home Video has made HOUSE OF WAX available on DVD in a proper 1.37:1 full screen transfer. HOUSE OF WAX was originally shot in WarnerColor and released in 3D, so the movie doesn’t look quite as good a "flat" Technicolor movie from the same period. There are times that the image appears rather grainy and there are other odd quirks because the film was photographed to create 3D effects. The image appears fairly sharp and offers better than average definition. Colors are pretty well saturated, but don’t have the appeal of hues created with the Technicolor process. Flesh tones seem a bit flat and in the case of Charles Bronson’s makeup- appear somewhat less than human. Blacks appear pretty accurate and the whites are fine. Shadow detail is decent, although some dark sequences are decidedly and intentionally murky. Digital compression artifacts are not a cause for concern.

HOUSE OF WAX comes with a perfectly fine Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack that decodes to standard surround. The soundtrack demonstrates a bit of background hiss during quieter passages, but it otherwise free from surface noise and other audio anomies related to age. David Buttolph’s atmospheric musical score is the primary component of the stereo surround mix, being nicely spread to the outlying channels. However, there are one or two occasions where the music climaxes and it becomes just a bit distorted. As for the dialogue, it is pretty crisp and always completely understandable. French and Spanish language tracks are also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, French, Spanish Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, Bahasa, Thai and Korean subtitles.

Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as some truly fine supplemental features. On side one of the DVD is newsreel footage of the film’s premiere and a theatrical trailer. However, side two contains the real meat of the supplements- namely the original 1933 version of the story MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM. Starring Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray, MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM is a little creaky in places, but is actually a whole lot of fun. MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM comes from the only surviving two-strip Technicolor source left in existence- Jack Warner’s personal print. The transfer has a number of blemishes and scratches, as well a few registration problems, but for the most part the presentation is more than acceptable. The lurid color scheme of the two-trip Technicolor process is well rendered and creates a nice atmosphere for the film. MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM is both a great cinematic curiosity and a significant horror genre entry, thus making it something that every movie buff will want to see at least once.

HOUSE OF WAX is an enjoyable little scare-fest featuring horror genre icon Vincent Price. The film’s presentation is satisfying, although not perfect due to aspects of its original production. Additionally, I am sure that many would like to have seen it offered in some form of 3D- perhaps high definition will make that type of presentation somewhat more practical than it is now. However, Warner has gone the extra mile with the DVD by including MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM, thus making the disc a must own for horror movie fans. One final note: I certainly hope that Warner will someday issue DR. X (another exceedingly rare two-strip Technicolor horror movie) on DVD, perhaps with THE RETURN OF DR. X- another rare horror movie featuring screen legend Humphrey Bogart in a rare genre appearance.



House of Wax (1953)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2003 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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