'House of Wax': THR's 1953 Review
On April 10, 1953, Warner Bros. held the world premiere of the 3D film House of Wax at the Paramount in Times Square. In a trade ad touting a "new era of our business!" days before the pic's debut, studio chief Jack L. Warner hailed House of Wax's release as "an occasion as historic as August 5, 1927, when we held our first showing of 'Talking Pictures.'" The Hollywood Reporter's review of the film, headlined "'House of Wax' Exciting 3-D for the Terrific B.O. Winner," is below.
New York — Warner Bros.' House of Wax proves once and for all that true stereo combined with perfect color and directional sound is truly a visionary new and exciting medium. A medium which gives the audience the sensation of being closer to the action — the feeling of an eye witness to the events unfolding. Which is why House of Wax is great entertainment, an exciting, diverting thriller. It will bring millions of new and old customers to the box office, and run up a multi-million dollar gross for its producer-distributors.
Exhibitors can count on this to pay off their bill for 3-D equipment installation, and then some. In contrast to all the other 3-D pictures shown up to now, House of Wax will not only satisfy in itself but will advance the public appetite for stereo pictures beyond the novelty or curiosity stage.
House of Wax, produced in an improved Natural-Vision 3-D process, augments the depth-perception capacity with stereophonic sound. The result has a kind of spellbinding effect on the audience, giving a feeling of realism to a completely unreal story as well as a sense of participation.
The Paramount Theatre, where this preview was shown, had speakers arranged behind the screen and on side walls for this presentation of Warnerphonic stereo sound. The sound moved right across the screen with a walking player and definitely came from whichever side of the screen the actor was talking from. Sound effects heard from off-screen, from objects approaching the screen, heightened the dramatic effect. However, speech coming from persons off-screen addressing those on screen seemed a little strange in this instance. In any event, stereophonic sound, whether called Warnerphonic or by some other name, is definitely here to stay regardless of the processes it is used with.
The WarnerColor has shown constant improvement in almost every picture turned out in this color. In House of Wax, the colors were true and sharp, and the darker colors had the fine quality of the best British Technicolor. This, however, may have been due to polarized viewers, which naturally cut off considerable light. The Warner print used was especially light, obviously to make up for the color loss of glasses. The color accentuates the ghastly details of the story.
The plot of House of Wax, which, incidentally, was made once before in 1933, as The Mystery of the Wax Museum, is no great shakes but it is eminently serviceable. A mad sculptor is operating a waxworks museum in which he uses some actual cadavers covered with a thin layer of molten wax. He not only steals the bodies from the morgues and other places but actually kills the people he fancies resemble historical figures needed for his tableaux. He also recreates in wax recent crimes he himself has committed, using the bodies of the victims. The entire atmosphere is ideal for horror, color — and 3-D.
Vincent Price, aided and abetted by the expert makeup of Gordon Bau, gives the part of the sculptor as much ghoulishness as the audience can stand. He makes his blood-curling brothers, Herr Frankenstein and Mr. Hyde, seem like friendly folk. His flesh-creeping antics get a good assist from his two assistants, Charles Buchinsky and Philip Tonge. Phyllis Kirk is excellent as the girl in peril who fingers the murderer. Cathy Gray is very good in a bit part, as a dizzy dame and as a statue. Very competent performances are also supplied by Frank Lovejoy, Paul Picerni, Roy Roberts, Dabbs Greer and Reggie Rymal as the barker.
Andre de Toth's direction makes the best possible use of all effects, without throwing too many things at the audience. This type of 3-D gimmick is used with restraint here, and when done, as with a ping-pong ball being smacked into the audience by the barker, seems to belong in the particular setting. De Toth and his editor, Rudi Fehr, must also be kudoed for the smooth, fast pace of this well-told story and the spotting of the tough chilling effects.
The master hand of Bryan Foy is evident throughout in the spectacular scenes, such as the burning of a waxwork and in the general tightness and colorfulness of the production. Bert Glennon and Peverell Marley rate some sort of prize for the best 3-D and some of the best color photography presented on a screen. Backgrounds were always in focus, movements never blurred, foreground objects had proper image size.
A final word: Don't throw away the glasses — not yet. Discard all your previous notion of 3-D which resulted from inferior gimmick pictures designed solely to cash in with quickie efforts. Millions will see House of Wax, and come back for more. — Jack Harrison, originally published on April 10, 1953