Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Double Feature: House of Wax (1953); Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)

Hey guys!

For those of you wondering why I have not posted anything in almost a year, I should formally announce that I have retired from Cinema Freaks. What I mean by that is that I am no longer posting reviews on a regular basis. I am in a new stage in my life, and I simply do not have the time or the energy to write full scale critiques of movies. I realize the irony of this statement since I would usual go months at a time without posting anything even when I was active. However, I will still keep my account going in case I ever feel inspired to write about a movie or movie-related event I love (or hate). In other words, if I do reappear, it will only be on a rare occasion, which I think is a more appropriate relationship for me to have with the site at this point in time. Fortunately, I am confident that Dr. Doctor and whoever else decides to join will more than make up for my absence. So do not worry, you are in good hands.

All that being said, I have decided to dig up and finish up something that has been in the works for a really, really, REALLY long time. Remember way back in October of 2011 when we had "Month of Terror" theme? Remember how I didn't do anything for it? Well, things did not go as planned and this project was put on the shelf for a while. Anyway, since Halloween is coming up again, I might as well make up for it by completing and publishing the review that I had meant to show, which also happens to be my first double-feature review. While it has been a while since I have seen the films, I wrote down most of the stuff that I had seen (I mostly just added a few more pictures, plot points and jokes), so I do not think I skipped over any critical details. But just in case, I am sorry if I did. Anyway, without further ado:

Starring: Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy, Phyllis Kirk
Director: Andre de Toth

Haven't had your fair share of "House of Wax"? actually want more after the Paris Hilton version? Well...okay then...

Today we are going to look at the two pictures that inspired the 2004 film. Or at least the title because the plot for that movie has absolutely nothing to do with the two previous ones! And even though it is the younger of the duo, let's first start out with the Vincent Price version since it is the first one I saw and it is the movie that most people are familiar with:

It starts off in 1902 with a sculpture named Henry Jarrod, played by Price, who has a deep love for his wax creations. However, he is seemingly meets his end when his greedy business partner torches the place for insurance purposes, leaving him inside to burn. Several months later, mysterious occurrences begin to unfold, as the partner is found dead and a number of bodies are stolen from the local morgue. When a local girl finds her roommate murdered and she is stalked by a strange-looking being, she is convinced to go to the opening of the new wax museum to get her mind off of things. The man in charge is actually Jarrod, who survived the fire but is now partly paralyzed. Bound to a wheelchair, he is unable to sculpt himself and relies on the help of others to complete his work. The girl soon begins to suspect that the wax figures are a little too lifelike for their own good...

This movie was...okay. I think one of the biggest problems it has is that, despite being a thriller, it has no sense of, well, suspense. Almost everything is shown immediately, and you can pretty much determine what Price's plan is and how it is done. The loud, blaring music that is featured throughout the picture does not really help matters either.

Despite these problems, Price does manage to give an impressive performance. When introduced, he is shown to be a man who is very passionate about his work as he talks about his creations in a very calm yet highly articulate manner. You can tell that he believes that they are actually alive in his eyes. Therefore, despite only knowing him for a few minutes, you feel genuinely bad for the guy when his museum is burned down. But you also get a sense of his inner demons by observing the work that he designs after the accident, which show his anger at those who wronged him, and as he slowly drifts into madness.

See, he became so mad that, almost 40 years later, he was still doing the same damn thing!

Unfortunately, the other characters are kind of bland. Nothing really stands out about them in any way that transcends the usual stereotypes: the main suspicious female protagonist, the first female victim, the determined authority figure, etc. There is also a mute guy who works for Jerrod and is depicted as a simpleton. I think I am suppose to be offended by this, but I am not sure. Oh, the mysterious figure that goes around? Well, he looks like this:

HAHAHAHAHAHA! Are you serious?! What the hell is that?! It looks like the evil version of Sloth from "The Goonies" if suffered a server accident at a Silly Puddy factory! How is this guy suppose to be subtle anyhow?!

Then again, he could just be the grandfather of the Toxic Avenger...

Granted, subtlety was never really an option for this film. It was one of the first 3D movies released in theaters, and the first one in color by a major movie studio. Almost needless to say, I did not see the movie in 3D, but no worries: it very conveniently points out which parts you are suppose to be impressed by! The first scene is when the wax museum opens up and a street performer almost breaks the fourth wall by talking directly to the camera, though he is still technically speaking to the crowd in the film. So what does he do to astound us?!!!:

Why, he bounces a paddle ball in our faces!!! Gee, in any other circumstance that would have been pointless and annoying, but its in 3D, so ooooooooo!!! That's really what "Avatar" could have used!!! Some asshole trying to deck you with a paddle ball!!!

So what else gets the 3D treatment? A can-can explanation needed...

I think there was one or two other things that were suppose to be 3D, but I forgot what they were. To be honest, they were so minor it was hard to tell it. So...thanks "House of Wax"! You helped inspire a whole generation of directors, producers, and executives that you do not need story or character development as long as you have crazy images and sexually overtones!

Well, I guess the one other good thing about the movie is that the mysterious figure, despite how ridiculous it appears, is the only part of this film that possesses even somewhat of a mystery. But when it is revealed who it is, its kind of a mixed bag. The film does play tricks on you so there is some ambiguity about its identity and the revelation is kind of impressive. However, it also opens up a lot of questions that make the logic behind it very flawed, not helped by the fact that the films ends kind of abruptly. Kind of describes the film overall: a lot of potential, but improper execution.

When I was done watching this film, I discovered that the other movie featured on the DVD was not some cheap sequel like I originally suspected, but actually the 1933 film that this was based on. Yes, even in the 1950s, Hollywood was doing rip-offs of itself. Oh well, its not like I am going to find out that there is a 1925 silent version of "The Wizard of Oz" with campy slapstick and racist overtones! HAHAHA...oh, wait...

Anyway, I decided to watch it and this is what I got:

Starring: Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Glenda Farrell
Director: Michael Curtiz

Directed by Michael Curtiz, who would go on to do classics like "The Adventures of Robin Hood" and "Casablanca," this movie has a somewhat similar set up as the Price version. It starts off in 1921 with a sculpture named Ivan Igor, played by Lionel Atwill, who has a deep love for his wax creations before his greedy business partner torches the place, leaving him to die. Twelve years later (which technically puts it in the present day), the partner is found dead and bodies are stolen from the morgue. A local reporter begins to investigate the issues and it leads her to a wax museum. The man in charge is actually Igor, who survived the fire but is now partly paralyzed and bound to a wheelchair, unable to sculpt himself and relying on the others to process his work. The girl soon begins to suspect that the wax figures are a little too lifelike for their own good...

Apparently this was the last of the two-color Technicolor films to ever be released. So, let's start off with the obvious: the picture quality is terrible! It is like they took the film reel and left it out in the rain for several hours! To be fair, the Wikipedia entry says that when it was converted to a DVD format, the people messed up the print job, giving it an appearance that is different from the original film, hence the bad quality. There may be a better version of it, but it is most likely not for the general public, so we are stuck with this. Oh well...

Visuals aside, the film is a lot lighter than the 50s version. I wouldn't even call it a horror film necessarily, its more like a relatively light-hearted mystery thriller, bordering on a comedy even. This is apparent when viewing the main characters. Atwill does a decent job. Unlike Price, he seems less obsessive and more quirky. But he also appears more bitter about his disabilities and has a more human quality. Despite this, I have to give the acting award to Price; he just has more of a presence and a subtle sinister nature that really brings the film together. Atwill just seems more like a wacky old crank by comparison.

However, the film generally focuses on the reporter, played by Fay Wray, who would star in "King Kong" later that year. She spends a good portion of the movie having a love-hate relationship with her boss, and the two do have good chemistry. It is also kind of fun to see her get other people annoyed but keeps on doing her thing. My major problem with her: she talks WAY too fast. A lot of actors in the olden days spoke with machine gun-style delivery (including others in this film), but she REALLY needs to chill out! Thank God for subtitles! Still, its a decent performance overall and as much as I love the original "Kong" its nice to see Wray in a role where she actually has a personality and is not screaming half the time she is on screen.

The rest of the characters do not fair as well. They are basically the stereotypes that you picture in your mind when you think of movies made in the era: authority figures in hats and coats walking around, acting tough and demanding answers while speaking really fast and in a lingo that no one uses anymore. It is almost like they are doing a parody of themselves!

So how does the creature in this movie compare to the one in the 50s version:

Mmm...not bad. A little more realistic that the 1953. It still looks kind of silly (this photo makes it look a lot creepier than it actually is), but again, not bad.

The only other thing I can really add is that the picture, at 77 minutes, speeds by really quickly, particularly the ending, which says a lot given how quickly the 50s version (only 88 minutes) ended. The Price version was at least tiring to conger up a feeling of suspense; this one simply does not have any time to do it.

So that concludes the two "Wax" movies. Which one of them holds up? Well...neither, to be honest. They both have cheesy special effects, a host of bland characters and a sometimes awkward plot. Simply put, they are pretty dated. But if I had to choose which one was the best? I would go with the 50s version. It has Price, the picture quality is better, its runs smoother, and it has a darker tone. A lot of this has to do with the fact that it had twenty years to improve itself, which may seem unfair, but hey, there are plenty of remakes that don't take advantage of that, so I have to give credit where it is due.

I won't say that either of these films are necessarily bad; they are okay for what they are. They are just not very high on my list of recommendations because there is better stuff out there. Still, if any of this stuff appeals to you, feel free to go and see them. You will probably like them better than the Paris Hilton one at least...

And that will do it. It has been great doing this blog, guys. Maybe I will see you again sometime...

The images and links in this review do not belong to me and are for entertainment purposes only. As always, please do not sue me.