So I had never before seen House of Wax and was sort of feeling creeped out as I started to watch it. Then, my wife informed me that I was not watching the version featuring the thespian talents of Paris Hilton, and I instantly felt more at ease . . . No, indeed, this was houseofwax.jpgthe 1953 version starring one of the all-time greats of classic horror films – Vincent Price. In the film, Price plays an artist named Henry Jarrod who sculpts beautiful wax figures for his wax museum. Although Jarrod is left for dead by a greedy business partner intent on getting insurance money by burning down the museum, Jarrod somehow survives the fire and attempts to start from scratch with a brand new wax museum. At the same time, however, a mysterious disfigured man has begun to run amok, killing Jarrod’s ex-business partner and several others. Soon, the corpses of those murdered begin to disappear and the figures in the wax museum begin to look even more lifelike than they did before. . .

Overall, I thought House of Wax was a pretty creepy film with a really good story. It was as I was watching it that I suddenly remembered that Warner Brothers originally did this as a 3-D film (it was actually the first 3-D film to be accompanied by stereophonic sound). Many of the shots were rather obviously choreographed (the ball-and-paddle scene is perhaps most conspicuous) to have some of those dramatic shooting-towards-the-camera motions that work so well in 3-D. Using such a gimmick for this particular film seems somewhat ironic considering that Price plays a character who doesn’t want to give into the values of shock and sensationalism that has saturated the day’s popular culture.

Indeed, it is the artistic conflicts of Jarrod that give the film some depth beyond just a run-of-the-mill thriller. Jarrod is a Pygmalion-like character, unable to find beauty in the world except through his art. The thwarting of his attempts to remain commercially and artistically pure is what seems to drive him over the line, as he finally caves and starts creating the popular shock-effect shows. This caving, however, is apparently accompanied by an admittance that there is absolutely nothing good about reality. In fact, to Jarrod, life is now worth destroying if it can lead to the creation of art, which remains his one source of beauty. The film doesn’t develop these themes as much as I would like, price.jpgand indeed, the viewer has to fill in several of the blanks for him/herself to understand Jarrod’s motivation. And yet, though I haven’t viewed the newest version for myself, I have a strong feeling that the 1953 version treats such themes to a much greater extent than the recent 2005 incantation, which sounds like it strayed far from the Price version and is more just your ordinary modern scare-fest (late in his life, Price actually criticized such modern horror films for being just shallow glorifications of violence).

One final note, just to show I’m not totally against all remakes. Our Netflix DVD actually was a dual-feature that also contained the 1933 Mystery of the Wax Museum upon which the 1953 film was based. The 1933 film featured Fay Wray, who would capture the admiration of King Kong later that year, and was directed by Michael Curtiz, who later in life would go on to direct such classics as Casablanca and Mildred Pierce. However, other than some really nice overly stylized sets and the opportunity to see what an early film done in Technicolor Process 3 looked like, there is little to recommend viewing this film. The 1953 film is superior in almost every way – better acting, better script with a more sensible plot, etc. It is an example of a remake done well, taking the germ of a good story and further developing the worthwhile themes while cutting off the needless excess. It’s too bad modern remakes are rarely so successful in their efforts.