31 Scary Movies: ‘House of Wax’

“House of Wax” (1953) – Director Andre de Toth’s turn of the century flick – set in New York City – bursts with gleaming horror camp.

A mysterious man with a black hat and cape chases women in dark alleys.

Unusual, suspicious equipment – including a huge, smoky cauldron – fill a secret lair.

Police try to rescue a damsel in distress.

A loyal assistant does not speak.  He only grunts, and his name is – you guessed it – Igor.

Yes, “House of Wax”, starring the legendary Vincent Price, is a wonderfully sinister treasure, and it has ignited horror fans’ thirst for nostalgia for decades.  Professor Henry Jarrod (Price) embraces and proudly obsesses over his own odes to nostalgia too.  He eagerly applies his talents as a sculptor and constructs an impressive array of figures for his wax museum.

The professor’s attention to painstaking detail shines through, as Cleopatra, Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, Joan of Arc, and Marie Antoinette – to name a few – appear lifelike among the living and breathing.  One can even find Jarrod talking to them like a proud parent.  His occasional pep talks almost give his wax statues comfort, but like some displays of affection, such words soothe the giver more than the receiver.

Unfortunately, Jarrod receives some bad luck, and his beloved House of Wax does not take visitors for some time.  Thankfully, he reopens it, but under a different name.  This is not the same House of Wax, but Jarrod eerily seems more attached to his creations than ever.

What is going on here exactly?

Well, with Vincent Price’s character pouring concrete all over this classic horror foundation, one might quickly suspect that the professor’s intentions are not all rainbows and lollipops, especially when he exclaims, “How wonderful it is to be scared to death!”

With his ominous elegance, magician-inspired facial hair and a one-of-kind voice box, this is Price at his best, and simultaneously, The Big Apple seems to be suffering through a period of its worst.  Is there a link?

One could ask Igor – played by Charles Bronson (yes, that Charles Bronson) – but he cannot speak.  It will not be terribly challenging for movie fans to add two plus two, but what feels cliché in 2018 was groundbreaking in 1953.  That’s what makes “House of Wax” one of the 1950’s most memorable horror films and an utterly enjoyable ride 65 years later.

Image credits: Warner Bros.; Clip credits: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

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