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Wayback Wednesday: House of Wax (1953)

No, no, FUCK NO to wax museums!

When it comes to the world of spook and horror, there isn’t much I shy away from. Cemeteries are my happy place, demons are as lovable to me as bunny rabbits, and my dream house is a haunted one. If I had my way it would be Halloween every day. However, if there’s one spooky thing I DO NOT fuck with, it’s wax museums. The statues are life-size which is jarring, they’re lit and posed in ways that make them look too real, and they always, always, ALWAYS look like they’re about to reach out and grab you at any second. One time my brother and I visited a wax museum in Dublin and I did have to insist that we leave before actually finishing the tour. I thought it was going to be fun recreations of Judy Garland and Elvis Presley, but it was famine victims, 16th century royals, and a hall of serial killers. Yeah, it’s a no from me. House of Wax (1953) was a terror-inducing movie for me to watch because it’s one of the few that actually play to one of my greatest fears. A wax museum where the exhibits are actually the bodies of murder victims? Hell to the no!

Credit: / Warner Bros.

A remake of Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), House of Wax tells the story of Professor Henry Jarrod, a sculptor whose wholesome wax museum is burned down by his greedy business partner. Escaping from the blaze disfigured and deranged, Jarrod opens a new, macabre museum with one vital difference: every display is really a wax-coated corpse.

If you asked most people about House of Wax, I’m almost certain that their knowledge is limited to the mediocre 2005 remake. That movie still retains the “statues are wax-coated corpses” plot point, but trades in the legitimate chills for generic slasher scares. Actually, in all honesty, I enjoyed my viewing of this version of House of Wax so much that I’m pretty interested in contrasting and comparing the two. I mean, the remake stars stars Paris Hilton, Chad Michael Murray and Jared Padalecki so needless to say, I’m in. The biggest name by far in the 1953 version is horror icon Vincent Price who trust me, we will talk about AT LENGTH. Price is a large part of what makes this movie such a frightening delight but the movie also gets major props for being an old-school horror that doesn’t need to rely on clichés, jump scares, or gore to shock and scare. House of Wax is an extremely simple yet extremely effective horror. Brrr, I’m getting chills just thinking about all the times this movie unsettled me. You may just need to watch this one with the lights on. In the daytime.

I’m a firm believer that the best scary movies are the ones that play to the universal, timeless elements of terror that have been frightening people for generations: mysterious figures lurking in the dark, the uneasy feeling of being watched, and the wild ideals of the seriously unhinged. House of Wax incorporates all of those and more into its 90 minute runtime, making for a bone-chilling experience that is sure to send a shiver or two down your spine. It’s a creepy, morbid, twisted type of horror story that will leave you with goosebumps. That’s partly why I’m such a fan of these old horror movies. There’s a straightforward appeal to them that almost feels like a campfire ghost story come to life.

While there may not be any ghosts in House of Wax, there are a myriad of frights such as; an attempted guillotine murder, a heart-pounding chase down a deserted street, and even a creepy assistant named Igor! Now imagine seeing all of that in 3-D! Can you believe that House of Wax is the very first colour movie released in 3-D by a major American studio? That’s amazing. Especially considering that while this eerie thriller is a definite fright-fest, it’s still very much a B-movie. It can at times be cheesy and melodramatic, but I think that’s what adds to the appeal of such a spooky movie such as this.

Vincent Price is a LEGEND. There’s no other word to describe this astounding man. After more than a decade playing secondary characters and love interests, his leading role as Professor Jarrod revitalized Price’s career as a leading man, specifically one in horror movies. Damn, it isn’t difficult to see why. Price is absolutely mesmerizing. His performance is chilling to say the least, striking in not only the way he looks and speaks, but even the way he moves. Everything he does, even sitting, is so authoritative and imposing. It’s such a magnificent performance because from the beginning, he makes you earnestly believe that Jarrod is the real victim (which, in a way he is) and although you don’t agree with his crimes, you can understand why he’s carrying them out. Rarely do you get to see a horror villain’s origin story not told through flashback or exposition, and even rarer do you see one that is truly sympathetic. Jarrod is certainly a villain, but you understand that it’s only because he was a victim first. From charismatically sweet to deliciously cruel, the flawless duality in Price’s performance only confirms that House of Wax is entirely his movie.

Not that I found them particularly pleasant before, but watching House of Wax has ensured that I never, ever, EVER, want to visit a wax museum again. This unsettling creepshow is guaranteed to give you a newfound fear for any statue that looks just a tad too realistic, and have you staying far away from any wax-related tourist attractions you may encounter on your travels. Seriously, wax museums are the most terrifying places imaginable and I can’t fathom the type of person who would feel comfortable stepping foot in one. Give me haunted houses, deserted cemeteries, and demonic carnivals any day. I’d take clowns over wax statues hands down.

Have you seen House of Wax? What are your favourite horror movies?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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