House of Wax October 19, 2016
1953’s House of Wax is essential Vincent Price. It’s bitingly funny, competently grotesque, loaded with personality, and effortlessly fun. In this André de Toth helmed blockbuster, Price doesn’t just seem to be having a good time: he also appears to be feasting off the attention he knows he’ll be getting from ticket buyers, comparable only to Divine in Pink Flamingos, to Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet. To watch Price perform, especially in a film he’s clearly proud of, is an experience like no other — I’m sure I’m more partial than the next person to dropping everything to watch him work, but the guy’s a knockout of performative brilliance.
So while I still prefer his Corman directed Poe films of the 1960s — the series is a tremendous showcase of his talents — House of Wax marks an important point in his long career: it was the film that solidified his being the utmost horror centric personality of his generation following nearly two decades of supporting roles. A massive moneymaker (with its success even leading to a 1971 re-release) due to both its being an effective thriller and its standing as the first color 3D release distributed by a major American studio (to ironically additionally be directed by a partially blind filmmaker), House of Wax is the kind of immediately likable crowdpleaser that stands apart from its schlockier counterparts because it’s just as intent on devising a suspenseful story as it is in showing off its lofty artistic ambitions.
In the film, Price is Professor Henry Jarrod, an idealistic wax figure sculptor whose passion toward his unusual profession sours after his business partner (Roy Roberts) cruelly burns down Jarrod’s museum (with the man inside) for the sake of collecting insurance money. Thereafter does he go from quixotic artist to uninhibited maniac, murdering innocents only to cover them in wax and call them masterpieces.
His latest target comes in the form of a ravishing brunette named Sue (Phyllis Kirk), whom Jarrod believes will be the perfect candidate to recreate the beloved Marie Antoinette that perished in the fire that destroyed his prosperity. But because Sue suspects that one of her closest pals, the cheap Cathy (Carolyn Jones), was a victim of Jarrod herself, foiling the sculptor’s deranged plot becomes a major possibility. The latter’s still willful nonetheless, and nothing brings more trouble than interfering with crazed aspiration.
And yet I’d almost rather see Jarrod get away with his crimes than see him get ousted like some sort of subpar Scooby Doo villain — how fun it is to watch Price deliver zingy one-liners in-between murder seshes. Jarrod is among his most memorable characters, and Price relishes the opportunity to play such a grand villain. Take a closer look at the iconic scene in which the brute’s being fought by a would-be victim and the wax cast covering his burned face breaks off horrifically. You’ll know what I mean. B