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House of Wax 3D (1953)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/1/2013

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/8/2013

Let's face it, 3D is a gimmick. While it can be enticing, it doesn't make the story better or the acting better. The best that we can hope for is that the movie itself is actually good and that the 3D is going to create a more immersive experience (and not a muddy and dark one). 3D movies have become so ubiquitous that they are no longer a big deal. In fact, for each new major 3D release, I often read comments from viewers who chose the 2D option to save money and because 3D isnít that big of a deal. But, it hasnít always been that way. When 3D movies emerged in the 1950s, there was a great interest in them. The first major studio 3D film was House of Wax, which has just been released on Blu-ray 3D.

House of Wax introduces us to Professor Henry Jarrod (Vincent Price) a sculptor who is a master at creating life-like figures from wax. He is part owner of a museum which displays his works, but despite the prodding of his business partner, Matthew Burke (Roy Roberts), Jarrod refuses to create sensational displays which depict crime. Frustrated that the museum isnít as successful as it could be, and that a possible investor has delayed his purchase of the place, Burke decides to torch it and collect the insurance money. Unfortunately, Jarrod is trapped in the blaze and he collapses while trying to save his creations.

The story then jumps ahead. A new, glitzy wax museum is set to open in the city and whoís running it? Why itís none other than Jarrod, who is now in a wheelchair. For this new exhibit, Jarrod has decided to give in to the fancy of the public and show off famous murderers and deaths from history. Jarrod meets Scott Andrews (Paul Picerni), a young sculptor, and takes him on as an apprentice. Scottís friend, Sue Allen (Phyllis Kirk), has recently survived a run-in with a masked killer who is haunting the streets. She doesnít like the museum, especially the fact that one of the figures looks exactly like a deceased friend of hers.

Not only is House of Wax one of the earliest examples of a lavish 3D movie, when viewed today, itís a great example of style over substance. Despite the fact that the movie utilized what was at the time new technology, the film still feels very much like a movie from the early 50s. While an American production, this has the look of a Hammer film, as itís set in the early part of the 20th century (for some reason). The dialogue is often stilted, the dissolves feel dated, and the fight choreography...well, letís just say that if you keep pushing someone against a railing which is on fire, it will eventually break. The movie is also extremely sexist, but it probably didnít come across that way when it was first released. There is actually a good story here, but itís edited all wrong, as the scenes involving the masked killer seem to come out of nowhere, and this character should have been introduced after we learn that Jarrod survived the fire. (Having said that, the special effects makeup in the film is very impressive for the time.)

So, House of Wax is old and cheesy, is it worth seeing? The answer is yes if you have any interest in true 3D effects. The digital 3D we have today is nice, as they can produce some depth but itís nothing compared to this (especially those films which were shot in 2D and then converted to 3D via computer afterwards). House of Wax was shot using two cameras and the production design was staged to maximize the potential. This idea may not make sense at first, but in the first scene, when Vincent Price walks behind a wax figure in the foreground we truly get the sense that he has gone deeper into the screen, it all becomes clear. The 3D effects here offer a great sense of depth and layering, and for those of you who are old enough to know what Iím talking about, it looks exactly like a moving View Master. Having said that, the effects which are supposed to make it look as if objects are coming at the audience donít work very well here. The famous paddle-ball sequence falls flat in this transfer.

Even as recently as the 1980s, House of Wax was trotted out to demonstrate the power of 3D. (And it actually looked better than some of the 3D movies made in the early 80s when the craze re-surfaced.) In the 1950s, more and more households were getting televisions and Hollywood needed something to keep people packing theaters (besides air conditioning). 3D was the cure for that issue and House of Wax lead the way. Again, some of the movie comes across quite goofy now (look for Charles Bronson as Igor!), but thereís no denying that Vincent Price had screen presence. More importantly, if you are looking for something a little different to use to show off your 3D TV, House of Wax is a great choice.

House of Wax shows that fire was very selective about what it burned in the past on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. For the 3D version, the film is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio and the Disc contains a 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 31/15 Mbps. For the most part, the image is sharp and clear, although there is some grain present. The picture doesnít get took dark and the colors look fine (actually, they look very good for a 3D film). See above for comments on the 3D effects. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 2 channel track which runs at 48 kHz and a nearly constant 2.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. There is some mild hissing and popping on the track, but it shouldnít be distracting to most listeners. The track doesnít offer any dynamic effects, but the music and sound effects never drown out the dialogue. The Disc also contains a 2D version of the film, which is also at 1.33:1 and offers a 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps.

The House of Wax Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from David Del Valle and Constantine Nasr. "House of Wax: Unlike Anything You've Seen Before!" (48 minutes) is a documentary which examines the making of the film, its impact, and its legacy. Here, we get comments from the likes of Joe Dante, Wes Craven, and Rick Baker who reveal how they were effected by the film. We also learn about the history of 3D and why it was important to the film industry. "Round-the-Clock Premiere: Coast Hails House of Wax" (2 minutes) is a newsreel from 1953 which offers footage from the film's various first showings. Was that Ronald Reagan? We also get a TRAILER for the film. As an added bonus, the Disc contains the 1933 film Mystery of the Wax Museum in its entirety. The 77-minute film stars Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray. It has been letterboxed at 1.78:1.

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.