Wednesday, October 30, 2013

House of Wax 3D Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
house of waxWarner Bros. Home Entertainment has released the 60th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray ,of AndrĂ© de Toth’s House of Wax 3D Blu-ray, which stars Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy, Phyllis Kirk, Carolyn Jones, Paul Picerni and a young Charles Bronson. This new edition features 3D and 2D presentations minted from a 4K scan and restoration, a new featurette and the original 1933 film that this was based on, Mystery of the Wax Museum.  This classic movie tells the tale of Professor Henry Jarrod (Price)  who’s the owner and figure sculptor in a wax museum whose specialty is historic figures. When he and his business partner, Matthew Burke (Roy Roberts) quarrel over the choice of exhibits displayed, Burke suggests it would be more profitable to burn down the museum in order to obtain the insurance money. As they fight, the museum burns and Jarrod is left for dead. It’s not until much later at a new museum that the fate of Jarrod and the mystery of how the lifelike waxed figures are created becomes gruesomely evident.


Film (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

In 1953, Vincent Price was a well known stage actor and a frequent supporting actor in films who was usually cast as a handsome cad in movies like Laura.  When Price was offered the leading role in House of Wax, he faced a difficult choice between deciding between a theater career or trying to become a movie star.  When he chose to do movies, that career path would completely change his life as the House of Wax was a major hit that if it was adjusted to today’s gross, it would have made more than $401 million, which would have placed the film in the top 100 highest grossing films of all time.  Not only did Price gamble on the movie, as Warners took a huge risk in making the first color 3D film released by a major studio which could have had serious repercussions for the studio if it had failed.  Another questionable move was the hiring of AndrĂ© de Toth as the director of the 3D movie since he only had one eye.  Despite his limitations, de Toth was smart enough to figure out all of the calculations for the camerawork to allow the film to add depth through the 3D format.
The film itself was a remake of Mystery of the Wax Museum and made in response to the huge success of Bwana Devil, the first film to take advantage of the new format.  These two films were so successful that they started a chain reaction with every studio rushing to put out as many 3D movies as they could.  After some fifty 3D movies, the format became unpopular until its began its cycle of over-saturation and burn out which continues to this day.   Not only did Price choose to focus on films, but he also decided to take on a horror role which was fairly new genre to him as he’d only had a bit part in Tower of London, unless you count the title role in The Invisible Man Returns.  After House of Wax, his roles were now villains or evil scientists and the like in movies such as The Mad Magician, The Fly movies,  The TinglerThe Masque of the Red Death, House on Haunted Hill, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Raven, and The Abominable Dr. Phibes.
The film’s plot features Price as the eccentric but sensitive artist Professor Henry Jarrod who along with his partner Matthew Burke (Roy Roberts) owns a wax museum that’s devoted to historical figures from the past.  Jarrod not only sculpts the figures, but he also stages them at a pivotal point in their lives, such as John Wilkes Booth in the act of assassinating Abraham Lincoln or Joan of Arc about to be set on fire.  For Jarrod, these figures are “his children” and he talks to them as he works on them and during his walks though his exhibit.  The one he care about the most is his likeness of Marie Antoinette which he feels is the most lifelike.
When is partner Burke decides that the museum needs more sensational displays, Jarrod refuses to compromise his artistic vision but offers to to get an outside investor to buy Burke out.  At first, Burke is amenable to that but once he discovers that it won’t happen for months, he changes plans and decides to burn the museum down for the insurance money against Jarrod’s wishes.  Jarrod tries to save his sculptures and the two men struggle, but Burke overcomes Jarrod and leaves him for dead.  To make sure that there won’t be any witnesses left, he douses Jarrod with kerosene before making his escape from the burning museum.
Months go by and Burke finally gets his insurance money which he plans to use to take his fiancee Cathy Gray (Carolyn Jones) on a vacation.  Those plans go awry when Burke is killed by a cloaked man dressed in all black.  Coincidentally, Jarrod is revealed to have somehow survived the destruction of his museum and has opened a new one called The House of Wax.  Jarrod didn’t escape the fire unscathed however, as he is now in a wheelchair and has lost the use of his hands because of the burn damage.  He now has  two assistants to do his sculpting for him, one an ex-convict and the other a deaf-mute (Charles Bronson).  When the House of Wax reopens, it now includes a “Chamber of Horrors” section that showcases historical and recent crimes and it even includes a reproduction of his old partner Burke’s death.
It’s not long before the cloaked figure murders Burke’s fiancee in front of her friend Sue Ellen (Phyllis Kirk) and then tries to kill her.  Sue Ellen manages to escape by running to the house of her old friend Mrs. Andrews (Angela Clarke) and her son Scott Andrews (Paul Picerni).  The police start investigating the murder of Cathy and they grow even more concerned when her body is stolen from the morgue along with other bodies.  As if that wasn’t disturbing enough, when Sue Ellen is taken to see the new House of Wax she is convinced that one of the historical figures looks exactly like Cathy.  She is further unnerved to meet the owner of the establishment Mr. Jarrod, whose explanations for who lifelike his models look doesn’t satisfy her.  Jarrod is just as interested in Sue Ellen as she is in him, as she has the exact look he’s been looking for to replace his Marie Antoinette.
The House of Wax is one of Vincent Price’s best films and it’s easy to see why it was so successful. I love the Gothic atmosphere of the film with its fog enshrouded rain-slicked cobblestone streets where a murderer stalks his prey as they run down the .  I’m not a fan of slasher movies, but these kind of movies are right up my alley especially the ones set during the gas lamp period.  Vincent Price is perfect in this role and I can’t imagine anyone else delivering his dialogue better than him. He was one of a kind and it’s easy to see why he was so good as these kind of characters.  While I think some of the revelations in the movie are very unbelievable to modern audiences, there’s still no denying the ultimate impact when everything becomes clear.  The 3D effects add a lot to the overall impact of the film and this new Blu-ray is definitely the way to see this film.

Video (5 out of 5 stars) 

2D Video (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)     3D Video (5 out of 5 stars) 

Both of these 1080p (1.37:1) transfers (which are housed on one disc) look amazing for a film that’s sixty years old.  Since I haven’t seen this movie before on other other formats, I can’t say how much better this new 4K restoration looks in comparison, but I’m willing to bet that this is leaps and bounds better.  Colors are strong, black levels are impossibly dark and solid, and there’s some excellent detail on display during close ups.  Some of the scenes look a little soft but that’s due to the source not this restoration.  The 3D version is without a doubt the version to watch of the two as you can see the benefit right off the bat as soon as you see the opening sequence with the massive space between the foreground and background.  The street just stretches in front of you and it’s a very cool effect.  Other shots that were obviously meant to take advantage of the 3D format such as the guy hitting the paddle ball towards the audience, or the dancing girls kicking their legs up at the camera are obviously fun to see.  It’s the other shots and scenes that weren’t intentionally designed for 3D that are surprisingly good.  I loved seeing how the fog seemed to have a life of its own in 3D.  In any case, both transfers look very good and neither one suffers from scratches or other issues thanks to this fantastic restoration by Warners.

Audio (4 out of 5 stars) 

House of Wax’s DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track is just as impressive as the video restoration.  Although this is a front heavy mix with no activity for the rear channels, it is still provides a surprisingly strong sonic experience.  The dialogue is crystal clear with no age related issues like hissing.  The sound effects come through exceedingly well and strong especially during scenes like when the wax museum goes up in flames.  Every crackle of flame, scream, or explosion is startling good and you won’t believe that it came from a film this old.

Extras (4 out of 5 stars) 

You’ve got to appreciate any extras that include an entire movie as part of them.  The rest of the extras are excellent too especially the new documentary House of Wax: Unlike Anything You’ve Seen Before which is presented in high definition. The rest of the extras are in standard definition.
  • Audio Commentary - Film historians David Del Valle and Constantine Nasr offer a very detailed commentary for the film that extends to them talking about everything seen on screen in minute detail.  Having seen an interview between Del Valle and Price on another set, I’m not surprised by his thoroughness here and I enjoyed hearing their coverage for the film.
  • House of Wax: Unlike Anything You’ve Seen Before - A forty-eight minute documentary that covers the making of the film, it’s impact, and it’s longevity, along with comments from Price and De Toth through archival footage, as well as  comments from other directors such as Martin Scorsese, Joe Dante and others.  Even famed make up artist Rick Baker is included who talks about the make up effects used in the film.  All of them share their love for the movie and let us know how influential it was.  Scorsese even admits that this movie set the bar for 3D and that he used this as an example for his team before he tackled 3D for the first time with Hugo.
  • Mystery of the Wax Museum - Here’s the original 1933 Warners feature film that House of Wax remade later.  It’s very surprising how similar the two movies are and it’s great that it has been included as an extra here.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t been given the incredible restoration that the remake got or give the HD treatment.  It still looks pretty good for a movie that’s even older than the remake.  It’s addition to this set is a very classy move by Warners and a generous one.
  • Vintage Newsreel - I always like seeing this vintage newsreels to see how much has changed and because it’s glimpse back into history.  This one is devoted to the House of Wax premiere.
  • Theatrical Trailer 

Summary (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

The House of Wax is one of Vincent Price’s best movies and this Gothic horror film not only made Price a huge star, but it also changed the course of his career.  It was a very important film to Price and to Warners as well since it was a massive hit for them.  It’s obvious how much the film still means to them once you see the detail and care that went into this fantastic restoration.  The video and audio quality as well as the 3D for this set is incredible and the extras are also very good.  If you’re like me and haven’t seen this movie before, then I would recommend watching the 3D version as it’s very effective even today.
Order your copy today!
house of wax

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