We need ourselves another long term project to sate on. Well, even if you don’t want one, here it is anyways. I really do love me some horror, but mostly I love to de-fang horror because I am so very scared of everything. I had an evil cat, ok. In fact, my original plan was to do a series on the Friday the 13th films, but I think that will have to wait. This is due in no small part to the fact that my disc of Friday the 13th Part I has suffered irreparable damage. You’ll have to wait till later for me to complain about Mrs. Voorhees driving her jeep and Mach 5 around curves on a dirt road while creepily staring at her passenger. Instead, let’s talk about the filmography of Vincent Price. Most of you know who he is, since he did the voice of “The Thriller”. You know, that song he did about not being able to escape the evil of Vincent Price? Well, he did a series of horror films of varying amounts of goodness starting in 1953 with the film “House of Wax.” Everyone who just realized exactly where this film is going, put your hands down. But I did too.
The film starts off with Vincent Price playing an artist named Henry Jarret who owns a museum of wax sculptures. His business partner, a very slimy fellow named Matthew, keeps trying to convince him to open a little chamber of horrors. His wax figures are amazing. They look just like living people. Now if you think there’s something weird about Vincent Price running an art museum with people so life-like they always seem about ready to bound off the podium, hold onto that feeling. His partner wants out of this deal and at first it seems like it might work out. A friend of “Professor Jarret’s” is coming to see him with a famous art critic. It almost does work out. The art critic is interested in buying him out but he’s leaving for Egypt, like you do, and so he’ll be back in three months to close the deal. That’s too long for Matthew who proposes to burn the whole place to the ground and collect the insurance money. Let’s all take a minute to think about how stupid that was, shall we? Firstly, you’re dealing with a slightly less evil Vincent Price who has referred to has wax sculptures as “his people”, “his children” and who actually converses with them like he can hear them. Is there any world that exists where Vincent Price would set that all on fire? Secondly, in order to make an insurance scam like that work you need to make sure you have the cooperation of everyone involved. Well, unless you double down and try and murder Vincent Price too. Ok, I guess that does solve that problem, if you’re totally psychotic.
Truth be told, and I hate to use this phrase but, that really did escalate quickly. This all happens in the opening ten minutes or so of the film. The fight itself is well shot and the action, while not stellar, is more than I expected from a 1953 horror film starring Vincent Price. Matthew also starts the gas going full blast so once the fire gets going long enough the whole building explodes. It blows all the windows out. For some reason having a realistic explosion made it feel different. If this were Michael Bay, there would have been a mushroom cloud involved somehow. During the entire fight the camera keeps panning to the wax statues slowly melting. Smiles turn to grimaces, eyeballs fall out and heads drop off. Vincent Price shows us what a great actor he is in these scenes, constantly struggling with what exactly to try and save. His statue of Marie Antoinette garners some attention but the panic renders him almost immobile. It fits. Imagine if your house was burning done, with you inside it. Could you really focus long enough to figure out what you wanted to save? Well, that’s great Matthew. We’ve just gone from crazy but mostly stable Vincent Price to crazy and more crazy evil Vincent Price. Also known as the Thriller.
We skip ahead some amount of time to Matthew and some strumpet piece of arm candy named Kathy discussing the fire. He talks about how he’s going to take her on a trip with the insurance money. She talks about how they can get married at Niagara Falls. People, take note. This guy and his reaction to her saying that is the reaction of every scumbag who has never wanted to settle down. Thankfully, due to the mercy of the Hayes code, we get to find out that evil is wrong and murdering people for insurance money is bad. You see, they never found his body after the fire. HMMM! I wonder if that is in any way important!? I never thought I would see the day when Vincent Price would be acting as the hammer of God’s justice, but this guy had it coming. The real question is how does this guy not see Vincent Price coming? This is the weakest part of the film, to be honest. Vincent, for the majority of the film from here on out, is dressed up in a heavy black coat and black hat. His face is horribly burned, so it kind of looks like the Phantom of the Opera stole the costume from Dark Man and decided to take up sculpting. When he catches up to his former partner, they’re in a lit room that’s around the size of a small office, or a large closet depending on how you want to see it. He kills Matthew and hangs him from the elevator.
While he does this, there’s a maid cleaning downstairs. My favorite scene in the movie is how long it takes her to register that he’s dead and wind up for a big ol’ scream. It took her around ten seconds. “Is he dead?” Takes a few more steps. “I’m still not sure.” Takes a few more steps. “Not convinced yet.” Gets right up in his face. Oh wow. He is so dead. Better take an extra-long breath for this one. The next to die is the arm candy strumpet that Matthew had. You might think I’m being sexist by calling her that, but she is unapologetically a social climber. Kathy is the hooker with a heart of gold before hookers with hearts of gold existed. Only thanks to the Hayes code, she’s a flirt with a heart of gold. Her friend seems to be the more serious type, a lady named Sue Allen. We see them together before she dies talking about “Maddie” as Kathy called Matthew. “Weren’t you going to marry him?” “Yeah, but then he committed suicide. Maddie was such a card.” Yeah. That’s the reaction I was looking for. Is everyone is this movie the worst person I’ve never met? Well, she exits through stage morgue after Sue finds her in her room later with twice baked Vincent Price looking over her. I think it was supposed to be a surprise that Vincent Price is really the bad guy, but who are you really fooling movie? If I saw Vincent Price with a puppy I would assume he was looking for a bridge to throw it off of. We already know Vincent Price is evil, but he needs to say it himself or it’s not worth my time!
The chase scene, wherein Vincent attempts to chase down Sue, is amazing. All the more so because it had me glued to my seat and the whole scene takes place on empty streets and involves two people. This is, I suppose, the effect of true dread and horror. There’s a scene where Sue is hiding behind a wall and she’s taking her shoes off while Vincent is just around the corner trying to figure out where she went. As much fun as I poke at this movie, there are some really genuinely unnerving scenes in it. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything here to tell you that Vincent Price steals Kathy’s body, that floozy, from the morgue. So now you can feel relieved in the knowledge that Vincent Price really has a wax museum that’s kind of just wax poured over people. He gets back in touch with that other art critic and he opens up a place that will shock and horrify. Oh, if only those poor bastards knew. The best part is that Vincent Price, now in a wheelchair, gives the tours himself! Unfortunately for him, Sue recognizes her friend now dressed up as Joan of Arc. Unfortunately for Sue, Vincent thinks she looks like his lost Marie and he wants to use her as a replacement.
Perhaps calling the rest of this movie a game of cat and mouse between the two would be a bit generous. It takes a bit for other people to figure out that Sue is right and that the statues are people, but the climax has two really thrilling fight scenes and some of the best horror movie stuff I’ve seen in a long time. I’ve joked about this movie in terms of it being made when the Hayes code was still in effect, but I seriously thought Vincent Price was going to win. If a movie can make me think that even though I know that a movie in that time period could never show a woman being covered boiling hot wax, they were doing something right. That and Vincent Price knocks out like ten policemen before he falls into his own vat of wax because evil is wrong. This was a good first film to open up on. The last scene where they have the all’s well that ends well talk feels like kind of a let-down after Vincent Price and best damned Wax museum you have ever seen. I would say give it a watch. You might think I spoiled a lot, but let’s be honest. Hearing about it is not seeing it, and if you didn’t know that Vincent Price was going to make wax statues out of people than this is also a public service announcement. And knowing is half the battle.