Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Half Price

I'd never seen either House of Wax/The Mystery of the Wax Museum but I guess I'm up to speed now.

We started with the remake, House of Wax (1953), starring Vincent Price. Ms. Spenser had seen it before in the original 3-D, but I had to be content with plain old flat film. Trivia - director Andre de Toth was missing an eye, so he couldn't see the 3-D effects. It starts with Price as a mild mannered sculptor with a London wax museum. Although a famous critic praises his work, Price has a business partner wants out of the business. He achieves this through a touch of arson, leaving the partner rich and Price apparently dead.

Some years later, a mysterious crippled stranger opens a new museum, one full of gory and shocking horrors. This stranger, Vincent Price, has hands too burnt to work, but he has a team of assistants to do the actual sculpting, including a deviant drunk and deaf mute. Oh yes, and bodies are going missing from the morgue, and some of the wax sculptures seem to be based on their features. Shades of Walter Paisley!

Price soon finds a lovely young woman to model his masterpiece, Phyllis Kirk. She's a little suspicious because her friend (Carolyn Jones!) has recently died and her body has disappeared, and doesn't that statue of Joan of Arc look familiar?

This version is set in the Gay 90s, and there is a lot of silly period details: German beer halls, strait-laced corsets (in fact an entire dressing scene), gas lights, and so forth. Price is great as always, as are his henchmen, but Phyllis Kirk is a bit wet, especially after we'd seen the original.

Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) stars Lionel Atwill, with Fay Wray as the model of Marie Antoinette (together again!). The story is almost identical to the remake, but the feel is very different. For one thing, Price builds up a lot of charm points before the fire - Atwill less so. Also, Mystery is set in comtemporary times, 1933 New York mostly, so the hokey Gay 90s stuff is avoided.

But most of all, the girl whose investigation brings the whole thing down is played by Glenda Farrell. Like her classic role, Torchy Blane, Farrell plays a fast-talking, hard-partying girl reporter. Her patter is great, whether she's calling her editor Poison or just telling her playboy boyfriend "Don't count on it". She's a real live wire. Maybe her presence unbalances the movie a little, since she shouldn't really be the central figure.

Also, Mystery was filmed in two-strip color, which gives it an odd pink and green look. You can see why they dropped this technology. But it almost makes sense in something macabre like this.

So, two great movies for the price of one, and one movie with Vincent Price. How can you go wrong?

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