Henry Jarrod (Vincent Price) is an accomplished if a bit goofy wax figure sculptor in turn of the century New York, looking for investment partners. After a betrayal and assault at the hands of business associate Burke (Roy Roberts), his lab and figures are destroyed in a protracted and creepy scene in the first fifteen minutes of the film. Jerrod is missing and presumed dead, and Burke makes off with the insurance funds.
A few months later, bodies have gone missing – including that of a few noted local murders. Burke is murdered by strangulation by a man with a severe facial disfigurement, who then stages the killing to look like a suicide. Shortly after this, Burke’s fiancee Cathy Gray (Carolyn Jones) is strangled as well, and her body goes missing at the morgue. Her girlfriend and housemate Sue Allen (Phyllis Kirk) has a run-in with the same cloaked, creepy man who murdered Burke. She seeks solace at the house of a friend, and reunites with a sculptor suitor (Paul Picerni).
Meanwhile, Jerrod – seemingly well, except for hands that can no longer sculpt – re-emerges in the public eye. He is rebuilding his wax empire with the help of two well creepy assistants – Igor (Charles Bronson) who does not speak, and Averill (Nedrick Young). Jarrod’s works now include a “Chamber of Horrors” that showcase historical crimes as well as local ones, such as Burke’s death. When Sue visits in a small group, Jarrod is immediately obsessed, begging her to come pose so he can use her as a model for his Marie Antoinette. Meanwhile, Sue notices the wax Joan of Arc figure that is a dead-ringer for her recently-deceased housemate and begins to voice misgivings about Jerrod, which are ignored by the police.
The film is a good little horror movie, despite a few silly 3D affectations. It has earned a place in Hollywood history for several reasons: House of Wax was the first 3D color release, as a remake of the 1933 pre-code Mystery of the Wax Museum. It is also the film that launched the horror leg of Price’s career. We need to remember that at the time this film came out, we did not “know” Price as a creepy leading man the way we do today. His effectiveness as the suave and saucy Jerrod is compelling today (after many similar performances) – so imagine what the experience felt like when he was fresh to viewer’s eyes. The film also features several other notable and prolific actors: Bronson, Kirk (Nora Jones from “The Thin Man” television program from ’57 to ’59), Jones (also known as Morticia and Ophelia Addams in “The Adams Family” television program from ’64 to ’66), and Paul Cavanagh (a British actor playing the gentleman investor).
An absolute must-see for any horror fans!