The movie that set star Vincent Price's career on a course with horror movie destiny, House of Wax was Warner Brothers' first 3D film and proved a massive success for the studio. Director Andre de Toth gives this modestly-budgeted period piece a lavish, colorful look, and it moves along at a nice clip, yet I couldn't help feeling just a little disappointed with the film.
Price plays Prof. Henry Jarrod, a gentle if eccentric sculptor of taste and genius who runs a small and unsuccessful wax museum. His partner and investor, Matthew Burke (Roy Roberts) wants to get his hands on the $25,000 insurance money on the building and so callously sets fire to Jarrod's painstakingly-crafted exhibits. The two men struggle, and Burke leaves Jarrod to a fiery fate. Of course, Jarrod survives to plot his revenge, albeit now a disfigured wretch of a man, driven to madness by the loss of his precious life works.
Phyllis Kirk, soon to play Nora Charles in THE THIN MAN TV series.
The murderous Burke has little time to enjoy his spoils, as Jarrod, clad in black cloak and slouch hat, sneaks into his office, strangles him, and arranges his body to drop down the elevator shaft in a semblance of suicide.
Next, he targets Burke's mistress, social climber Sally Gray (Carolyn Jones). Sally's friend, down-on-her-luck Sue Allen (Phyllis Kirk), comes upon Sally's dead body just in time to witness Jarrod's monstrous appearance, and is pursued by him through the fog-lined New York streets, until she reaches the safety of the family home of her beau, young sculptor Scott Andrews (Paul Picerni).
With the financial backing of kindly art critic Sidney Wallace (Paul Cavanaugh), a seemingly normal - if wheelchair-bound - Jarrod opens a new, grislier and sensationalistic gallery. His badly burned hands no longer capable of doing fine sculpting work, Jarrod is assisted by mute, hulking henchman Igor (Charles Bronson, in unconvincing pancake make-up) and an alcoholic ex-con in creating new figures for a series of tableau reenacting famous crimes and scenes of torture and death, which make the new House of Wax a notorious and immediate success. Only sensitive Sue, gazing upon a figure of Joan of Arc which bears a striking resemblance to her dead friend Sally, suspects the truth - that Jarrod is using actual corpses to imbue his new wax figures with their uncanny life. Unfortunately for Sue, Jarrod sets his sights on turning her into his newest wax masterpiece, Marie Antoinette.
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