DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

House of Wax, Blu-ray 3D+2D (1953/2013)

The long sought-after classic 3D (perhaps the best of the early 3Ds) movie looks and sounds great.

Published on October 7, 2013

House of Wax, Blu-ray 3D+2D (1953/2013)

House of Wax, Blu-ray 3D+2D (1953/2013)

Cast: Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy, Carolyn Jones, Charles Bronson
Director: Andre de Toth
Studio: Warner Brothers (10/1/13)
Video: 1.37:1 1080p HD 3D Color
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio , English Dolby Digital, French and Spanish mono 
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Extras: Theatrical trailer, House of Wax: Unlike anything You’ve Seen Before! (47 minutes, commentary by Constantine Nasr and David Del Valle), Premiere newsreel, Complete 1933 2D feature, Mystery of the Wax Museum in 2 strip color
Length: House of Wax: 88 minutes, Mystery of the Wax Museum: 77 minutes
Movie Ratings: ****     3D Rating: ****     Audio Rating: ***

House of Wax hit theaters in 1953 with an impact similar to the way Avatar captured the public imagination in 2009.

The film was the first dive into 3D by a major studio, and Warners Brothers pulled out all the stops. The movie was in color, multi-channel sound, and packed theaters with people wanting to get frightened in three dimensions. It was something TV could not do, and Warners lead the major studios with a high quality production. House of Wax wasn’t the first 3D film, but Bwana Devil in 1952 created a lot of excitement, something Warners was hoping to capture.

House of Wax has been somewhat of a holy grail for 3D fans (and often considered the best of the early 3D movies). It had been released in Japan in 3D for a now dead disc format, and there have been some anaglyphic (red and blue glasses) releases on VHS. For this 3D Blu-ray, Warners has done a lovely 4k restoration. It’s not a widescreen film, so this release is just slightly wider than the 4×3 aspect ratio typical of releases at the time. The stereo tracks are long lost, but the audio has been redone, with even a hint of the original mono surround track.

The movie concerns sculptor Henry Jarrod, played by Vincent Price. He owns a wax museum, but his partner doesn’t think it is gruesome enough to draw crowds. Jarrod doesn’t agree, so the partner burns it down to collect the insurance money. What ensues is a detective-horror show, with Jarrod using corpses covered with wax to get his museum back on its feet.

House of Wax looks just great. The movie was made with tremendous care, and there is little evidence of ghosting or mis-alignment when viewed on either my Samsung LED flat screen or on an Epson projector throwing at 88 inch image. The audio is crisp, and while I would have loved to hear the original multi-channel sound mix, what we get sounds quite good.

The 3D image is as good as anything done today, and scenes were arranged with great care. The infamous paddle ball sequence jumps out of the screen, and while it was shoehorned into the story to provide a 3D thrill, the effect is startling. In the script Price refers to the sequence as a cheap trick to draw the crowds. He’s referring to the sequence in the context of the movie, but it has a wider meaning no one will miss.

Director Andre de Toth was blind in one eye, so it’s amazing he was able to produce this film without ever seeing the dimensional result. It’s said he would wander around the set asking why everyone was so excited as they viewed the rushes. Of course the 3D setups were done by cinematographers Bert Glennon and J. Peverell Marley, assisted by Lothrop Worth.

Along with the movie is a 2D version, and the original 1933 Mystery of the Wax Museum, the film that House of Wax was based on. A very complete documentary is also included, “House of Wax: Unlike Anything We’ve Seen Before!”, a 47 minute piece on the history of the movie that includes comments from Martin Scorsese, Joe Dante, Vincent Price’s daughter, and some archival interviews with de Toth and Price. There is also an audio commentary by film historians David Del Calle and Constantine Nasr.

House of Wax is an important 3D release. If you have become a fan of 3D it simply must be in your collection. Warners has already released the Hitchcock 3D Dial M for Murder, but the House of Wax restoration is better and the 3D is superior. Warners owns a total of 15 classic 3D titles, and it’s hoped they will surface over the next couple of years.

—Mel Martin




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