Warners box-office hit House of Wax was released in the US on 25 April 1953 and provided Vincent Price with a springboard to horror fame, thanks to his nuanced performance as Henry Jarrod, a sculptor who gives into the public’s appetite for shock and sensationalism following a fire that leaves him horribly disfigured. No longer able to create wax figures with his own hands, Jarrod resorts to murder and ‘waxing’ his victims, who then become displays in his new museum, the eponymous House of Wax.
The colourful period melodrama also featured fantastic supporting roles from Carolyn Jones (later TV’s Morticia in The Addams Family) as giggling victim and future action star Charles ‘Buchinsky’ Bronson as Price’s mute assistant.
Here are 10 more fun things to know about the film.
1. It was the first 3D film from a major studio (Warner Bros Pictures), as well as the first horror film shot using in the stereoscopic process.
2. After 14 years appearing in a range of character roles, House of Wax established Price as a horror star.
3. Price’s make-up took three hours to apply.
4. The cumbersome 3D cameras resulted in the actors performing many of their own stunts. Watch out for the collapsing balcony in the opening sequence where Price narrowly escapes serious injury.
5. André de Toth, who directed the film, only had one eye.
6. It took some US$5.5m at the North American box office, mainly due to the 3D gimmick, which was used the combat a new threat, colour television.
7. A number of 3D films followed in its wake, not the least being The Mad Magician (1954), which was written by House of Wax scribe Crane Wilbur and again starring Price.
8. Price gave up the opportunity to pay the lead in a Broadway play, My Three Angels, in order to star in House of Wax. Regarding this decision, Price said, years later, ‘It was a great hit [the play], but it didn’t help them in their careers. Whereas House of Wax changed my life.”
9. Bela Lugosi was hired to go on a publicity tour for the film’s release. But the two horror stars never got the chance to meet during the tour.
10. It inspired 1966’s Chamber of Horrors, starring Patrick O’Neal, which was intended as a pilot for a potential TV series; and also the Mario Bava horror Baron Blood (1972).
CHECK OUT THIS VINTAGE PATHE NEWSREEL OF THE FILM’S OPENING