House of Wax Review

Twisted artists and nauseating muses are no oddity to cinema. Creative minds verging on and often pushing over into insanity are trite, stale, ideas that we as a collective audience have sat through time and time before. Trust in House of Wax. For those mired and tired by the reams of chilling, uneventful features where dab hands plunge themselves into madness, Vincent Price will lead us once more to original ground. His offering from 1953 in collaboration with André De Toth will provide unnerving situations. Hellbent on offering the public something fresh and invigorating, House of Wax showcases a New York sculptor drumming up profits for his museum with the help of a manic business partner. 

For those who have seen a small handful of Price’s works so far, it should be no surprise that his role here is superb. A truly marvellous creation, one that does outshine everyone around him with relative ease. That sultry voice is used with expert precision, his performance as Professor Henry Jarrod a memorable one. Everyone else, from Frank Lovejoy to a very early appearance from Charles Bronson, plays second fiddle to how truly dominant Price is on screen. Truly one of the greats, holding his own in a film that doesn’t restrict him, but also doesn’t push him in the right direction. It comes off a tad unbalanced, and endearingly deranged.  

Possibly the biggest surprise of all is that, albeit deep-rooted in the filmmaking notions of its time, House of Wax still feels fresh and exhilarating. A very inviting piece that makes use of its setting and restrictions tremendously. Toth experiments with 3-D, despite not being able to see that himself, having only one eye. This inability to view a style Hollywood has been shoehorning into their movies for generations is, oddly enough, one of the large positives. It’s used sparingly, and never detracts all that much from the movie. You can see where and why it was used, but the actual utilisation of it all fits the jovial, almost wry style of filmmaking. Perhaps that’s the downfall of the film also, for this light approach to such a heavy subject makes for a contrast too great to understand or accept. Price acting at the height of his powers in what should be a horrifying freak show, are instead dropped into something so reliant on light-hearted tones. 

Price’s films are often fun. They’re not truly horrifying or out to scare you, rather the scenarios that are on show should disturb and cause discussion. House of Wax certainly manages to do so, and not without a few moments of genuine perfection thanks to the dedication Price throws at his role. A couple of great props and design choices are whisked away on a bed of trivial moments and light character studies. While it may explain the light-heartedness, De Toth’s direction blends a starkly terrifying story with shot and editing choices that remove large clumps of tension. A sad shame too, since when House of Wax throws itself into these moments of genuine terror, it’s all the better for it.  

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