House of Wax, Blu-ray 3D (1953/2013)

House of Wax, Blu-ray 3D (1953/2013)

Cast: Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy, Phyllis Kirk, Carolyn Jones
Director: Andre de Toth
Studio: Warner Bros. Entertainment
Video: 3D 1080p HD color (WarnerColor), also contains 2D version
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0, DD mono French or Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Complete 1933 Warner Bros. B&W film Mystery of the Wax Museum, “House of Wax: Unlike Anything You’re Seen Before!”, Commentary track by David Del Valle & Constantine Nasr, Newsreel of film’s opening nights, Theatrical trailer
Length: 88 minutes
Rating: *****

Sorry this has been out for so long, but Scoersese says it’s the best 3D film ever, and he made Hugo, which is surely among the few half-dozen or so great 3D films today. It’s a glorious restoration by Bob Furmanek, who also did the 3D Kiss Me Kate and the first The Bubble in 3D. It is a remake of a 1933 2D B&W film, Mystery of the Wax Museum (which is included in its entirety in the extras on this disc), and is very close to the original except for elimination of the smart-alec female newspaper reporter in the first film. But the actor playing the main character, Prof. Henry Jarrod, really can’t hold a match to the skills of Vincent Price, who is great and for whom this film provided a huge boost to his career.

The film was shot with the Natural Vision system, which used two big Mitchell 35mm cameras facing each other with a mirror splitter in between their lenses. The oddest thing about the production was that the director, Hungarian Andre de Toth, was blind in one eye and couldn’t see 3D. The publicity people got him to dispense with his usual eyepatch when on the set and in publicity photos. The stereo soundtrack, which originally had a separate track for surround speakers around the theater (they called it WarnerPhonic Sound), caused more problems with local theater showings than the 3D projection, which required both projectors in most theaters to be used at the same time to project two different reels of 35mm film, and they often got out of sync with one another. Thus the ten-minute intermission. And why the 3D craze of the ‘50s only lasted about 1 1/2 years.

This film established Price as the replacement for Boris Karloff in horror films thereafter. This was the first job he had after being cleared from the Grey List, which assumed that anyone who was against the Nazis during the 1930s (before the war) was automatically a communist.  He plays a wax figure sculptor who is far too obsessed with this creations. His partner burns down the original museum to collect on the insurance and Jarrod is badly burned during the fire. He is thought to have died, but comes back with a face mask to open a new successful wax museum, while getting his vengeance and secretly using actual corpses under the wax to achieve the amazing life-like appearance of his figures. He first uses the body of Carolyn Jones, who he has killed (and who later was seen in the Addams Family TV series) for his Joan of Arc, and then wants to possess the body of her living friend, Phyllis Kirk, for his beloved wax Marie Antoinette. Kirk does a lot of screaming as the hapless victim but is rescued from being covered in hot wax at the very last second and the crazed sculptor receives his due. (This was the first film for Charles Bronson, who plays a deaf and dumb Jarrod lab worker.)

It’s an incredibly well-made 3D film, with excellent deep focus and creepy examples of the excellent makeup (which took three hours daily to put on Price). (I had to swap the left and right images from viewing of most 3D Blu-rays.) Seeing the lovely wax figures melt in the original fire is truly affecting. It was also most influential in the horror film genre and with Price’s career, and was one of the highest-grossing horror films ever. The documentary in the extras on the making of the film is fascinating. However, a small gripe about the extras: their titles all appear on the content screen in 3D and glasses are required in order to read them, but the extras are not in 3D. If only all 3D films were as good as this one, or as Hugo, Avatar, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, or Gravity, 3D in its new incarnation would be a much bigger success than it has been to date.

—John Sunier

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