Professor Henry Jarrod is a gifted sculptor who pours his passion into creating marvelously life-like wax models of historical figures. He doesn’t mind that his sober little wax museum only draws a couple hundred visitors on a good day; he’s certainly not willing to stoop to adding a salacious “house of horrors” feature to draw the punters. Unfortunately, his business partner, Matthew Burke, sees things differently. If Jarrod isn’t going to turn the House of Wax into a crowd-drawing thrill house, well, he’d like to get his money out and invest it in something a bit more promising. When Jarrod is unable to secure alternate financing immediately, Burke decides that his share of the $25,000 insurance policy on the place will do, and sets fire to the museum. Jarrod tries to stop him, but loses the fight, and Burke leaves him lying unconscious as the building burns around him. With Jarrod dead, the insurance policy is paid out to Burke in full, making him a wildly wealthy man in 1910s New York. It makes him a magnet for gold-diggers of all sorts, as well as drawing the sinister attention of a horribly scarred man who murders Burke (making it look like suicide) and makes off with the insurance money the first chance he gets. Hmm…do we know of any victims of terrible fires who might have it in for Burke?
I just about let a Saturday with Vincent get away from me! I managed to watch House of Wax last Saturday, but was traveling for work earlier this week and haven’t sat down to write about it until just now. I seem to have worked my way backwards through the Vincent Price movies I chose for this Challenge, ending up on this penultimate Saturday with his very first film in the genre–and it’s amazing to see how many of the tropes we associate with Price horror films are present from the very beginning. Here we have the talented artist who is content with his lot in life until cruel Fate interferes; a tragic accident that scars him in body and mind; the relentless pursuit of vengeance against those who wronged him; and the use of his art to disguise his deformities and get close to his victims. Writing these synopses has started to feel a bit like playing MadLibs. If we have to stifle a little yawn watching Price go through these gyrations one more time, imagine how he must have felt!
Which isn’t to say I was yawning at House of Wax–quite the contrary! I enjoyed it very much. In fact, of all the movies I watched during Saturdays with Vincent, it’s the one I’m most likely to watch again and maybe even add to my collection. (With Pit and the Pendulum a close second.) Price dooms himself to decades of horror work by being so darned perfect as both the mild-mannered artist and the monster he becomes. Since it’s his first time in this sort of role, he’s fully present and giving it his full actorly attention; there’s none of the weariness that we can see in some of his later, similar roles.
I loved Carolyn Jones (later famous as Morticia Addams) as Cathy Gray, roommate to Our Heroine, Sue Allen; she’s a hard-nosed little social climber who puts on a delightfully bubble-brained facade while pursuing the deepest-pocketed men she can find. Her role is sadly brief, as she’s an early victim of the waxworks killing spree; you see, Matthew Burke was her big score, although he died before she could get herself legally hitched to his cash reserves. There’s a gorgeous scene in which the two women talk while sweet Sue helps worldly Cathy dress for an evening out–her date with doom, as it turns out. The scene begins with Sue lacing Cathy’s corset, then helping her don the layer after layer of complicated clothing–over-corset vest, underskirt, blouse, overskirt, jacket–she even does up Cathy’s boots with a button hook. It says a lot about both their relationship and the effort of being women out in the world. The funny bit was, after Cathy leaves, we cut to a scene of Sue heading out for her own appointment, now as fully decked out as Cathy was–and all I could think was, “Well, who helped her get dressed?”
This review is for the Peril on the Screen challenge of RIP V.