Film Review: House of Wax (1953)

Also known as: The Wax Works (working title)
Release Date: April 9th, 1953 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Andre DeToth
Written by: Crane Wilbur
Based on: The Wax Works by Charles S. Belden
Music by: David Buttolph
Cast: Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy, Phyllis Kirk, Carolyn Jones, Paul Picerni, Charles Bronson (as Charles Buchinsky)

Bryan Foy Productions, Warner Bros., 88 Minutes

Review:

“I’m afraid that the visit of a such distinguished critic may cause my children to become conceited. To you they are wax, but to me, their creator, they live and breathe.” – Prof. Henry Jarrod

House of Wax is hand down, one of my favorite Vincent Price films ever made. In fact, as much as I love the Edgar Allan Poe adaptations he’s in, this was the movie that really sold me on the guy and opened up the Pandora’s box that sent me down the rabbit hole of classic horror.

While I had already loved the Universal Monsters films and older black and white stuff, House of Wax really introduced me to the generation of films that followed, many of which starred Vincent Price, Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee… and sometimes a combination of two of them or on rare occasions, all three.

At a very young age, this also introduced me to the original version of the 3D gimmick. While I didn’t see this in 3D, it gave me an understanding of it and how these films were shot. Plus, it’s cool seeing it on a normal screen, as in 1953, movies weren’t made to be digested at home on a television set.

This was directed by Andre DeToth, who had previously made some memorable classic film-noir pictures. He had an eye for cinematic composition and he would utilize that to great effect, here, while also applying it to the 3D effects shots.

What sets this apart from DeToth’s beautiful noir movies is the use of color, which is vibrant and vivid, even more so than the colorized pictures of the day. Even when the film takes place in darkness, the world is still alive with dynamic hues.

Additionally, DeToth’s mastery of a high chiaroscuro style comes into play in the great sequence that sees the film’s female lead running through the urban streets and alleyways with the grotesque killer in hot pursuit. While this wasn’t done in black and white, it used dark hues and a lot of contrast with bits of color accenting the composition, helping to boost texture.

Vincent Price is dynamite in this and it is one of his best roles. He was on his A-game and his performance in this film is what led to him having a career as America’s top horror star for decades.

I also loved seeing a young Charles Bronson in this, who would work with DeToth again in a noir movie titled Crime Wave.

As an Addams Family fan, I also like that Carolyn Jones is in this, a decade before her most famous role as Morticia Addams.

One thing that really stood out to me when seeing this, as a kid, was how messed up and dark the story was. It’s about a wax artist who lost everything and was only able to reestablish himself by killing people and using them as the base for his wax figure creations. In fact, the plot of this film inspired two different horror short stories I wrote around middle school age. I’d assume that it also inspired Roger Corman’s classic beatnik horror comedy Bucket of Blood.

Overall, this is not just one of my favorite Vincent Price films, it is one of my favorite films of all-time. It led me down a path that I have enjoyed immensely for thirtyish years and I still tend to feel the need to watch this every October.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other Vincent Price films from the ’50s through the ’70s.