House of Wax (1953)
UNLIKE ANYTHING YOU'VE SEEN BEFORE!
Continuing on with 3D-tober, we travel back funnily enough to a time older then the last, with a headliner more familiar to most - one Vincent Price. There's been many versions of the old wax museum horror, particularly the commonly found lack-luster 2005 take, in which the general consensus I've ever heard from watchers was "at least Paris Hilton dies in it." Surely, the third dimension will be harnessed much the same as the last movie, with it's momentarily highlighted shenanigans - although this time around the selective glasses are changed to a full companion for the duration. Let's strap in and find out if this old timer can compete, or if it needs to practice a little wax on, wax off.
The story is actually a bit more than it needed to be, but in an appreciable way. Whereas the movie could have easily just started off with a psycho killer hiding corpses in a wax museum, this goes further into giving the players some character and reason behind their actions. Price plays an artist whose medium is wax, but his partner isn't fond of how little their museum is making in comparison to the more spooky and macabre attractions. The good artist has a way out however, letting his partner know that soon will arrive a man who may very well be willing to buy the operation from him, allowing his partner to be free of his involvement and himself to continue creating the art he enjoys. When the deal won't conclude until a later date, the impatient partner instead decides that arson is the best way to go, claiming the insurance check. A fight ensues, with the artist being left for dead amongst the flames as they burn hotter and brighter, eventually lighting the gas fixtures and causing an explosion.
All that backstory helps add a little to the motivation behind the killer - who it never really is a surprise as to who it is because of that backstory. Revenge from the burned man, damaged by his traitorous backer, is laid out one darkened night. It doesn't stop there however - even though he easily got away with it at that point - but the burned victim aggressor decides to open a new sort of wax museum - one so realistic visitors will faint and line up down the street. Yes, amid the assistants wax sculptures will be a new form of sarcophagus - one made of wax and wigs - and none will be the wiser. Of course, as is suspected by the viewers, this all goes south over the course of the movie when he has the unfortunate luck of using the corpse of a woman's friend, and then becoming a little obsessed with using that surviving woman as his masterpiece.
It's a straightforward story, but the interconnections between the characters and how they tie together flows relatively nicely. It's a step more than your typical "everyone's just knocking nethers" from the slashers, but not as overly complicated as setting up hideous traps for some perceived slights. The horror elements are there, but there's also a large amount of acting going on as the movie plays out very much theatrically at times. Crazy and over the top shots aren't something this movie seems to go for, keeping things most the time centered in a way that keeps the desired characters right in your focus - although surprising us with a few well used shadows in others. Body language isn't quite as much a subtle selling point as the line delivery has importance, but some great expressions do come out time to time. One of the assistants is even made mute, making it so his expressions and movement become his lines, implying a sort of simple enjoyment or stalking menace as need be for a man of such a large and imposing frame.
Audio is along with the actors, feeling very much placed in that era of films. You won't hear any modern pop songs here, but if at a fancy place - be it restaurant or can-can stage - you'll hear fitting music. The actors come through well, and the line deliveries as mentioned before become an important part of the piece, with actors using some emotions as fitting to help and drive the characters actions. At times they can be a bit exaggerated, but it all fits in to that stage-show feel when it becomes such, and most the times it's kept relatively on the level. They also include some callbacks to lines from scenes before, which helps make things feel a bit further connected.
Costumes can be quite fancy as well. Being a bit of a period flick with it's old-timey cop wagons and corsets, it isn't hard to set it apart from just loads of everyday common wear. The burned man looks to the common eye almost hysterical in it's archetypical "evil mystery man" design, with brimmed hat and dark cloak. The burns are also a bit of a fanciful take on it - not quite hitting the modern times of just trying to gross you out with utter realism - and is distinct enough to try and pull one over on you later. To help further set this burned man up, he's given a very distinct walk that makes him seem even more the bad guy - as if his introduction by killing and hanging a man wasn't enough to figure that out. The women's dresses almost always look nice and pretty without being overtly sexy and scandalous - again, a product of it's setting in that regard.
And finally, we come to the effects. Most of the deadly violence of the film is off-screen or otherwise pretty gore-less. The most elaborate part, I would say, would be the opening burning of the artist's wax displays. Between the rising flames and the cut-ins of the melting and burning wax sculptures, it takes on it's own horrific tint of gruesome carnage. It plays well with the fight between the artist and his partner going on, and how the artist feels as though it's as bad as murdering a real person to be destroying his creations. The third dimension is used as a gimmick in a few scenes - a punch here, a racket-ball there, even some door breaking - and is usually the best during those moments as far as popping out of the screen at you. It might not have been quite as exaggerated in effect as a few of the moments in the last movie we watched, but the extra depth to the rest of the movie really helped give it the feeling of watching a stage production of sorts, which in turn helps sell the idea of being inside a wax museum when the scenes take place there. Largely, however, this movie seems as though you'd be just as well off watching it without the third dimension involved.
Overall, it's an interesting enough movie to check out if for nothing else but the wax sculptures. It does more with it's characters then it needed to, although also looses a little bit of mystery because of it. The actors do a good job, even though at times it can be hit with a bit of over-exaggeration. I haven't seen the more recent version of this, but I imagine this one is probably going to be the more enjoyable movie considering it's old-timey sensibilities and attempts at slow horror instead of loud noise jump scares. The 3D here shouldn't be as much a selling point as much as the core movie itself, as it doesn't bring a huge amount to the movie over the acting or amazing wax sculptures.