House of Wax (1953) explores the horrors of a waxwork museum. It was also one of the first films to feature the use of stereoscopic 3D.
The plot involves devoted wax figure sculptor Professor Henry Jarrod, played by the exceptional Vincent Price, whose beloved workshop is burnt down by his business partner in an attempt to claim the insurance money. Believed to be dead, Jarrod makes a miraculous return with plans to build a new House of Wax - yet this time with the bodies of his victims.
The film successfully creates an atmosphere of dread, with a mix of bright colours of the wax museum in stark contrast to the dark shadows of the night. The waxworks, although beautifully made, immediately lend themselves to the uncanny valley being seemingly all too real with an eerie stillness, where the horror is fully realised as we find that Jarrod is turning his victims into waxwork models.
One can also not forget the striking images of the burning waxworks, being particularly disturbing as we see their 'flesh' melt and eyeballs pop out.
Moreover, the appearance of the caped stalker becomes particularly iconic as it captures the dreaded sense of a menacing and relentless pursuer, seemingly being everywhere at once with nowhere to run. This is no more apparent than in the classic scene with actress Phyllis Kirk being chased by the shadowy figure with a billowing cloak.
Additionally, Jarrod's unmasking has been described as one of the great shock moments in horror cinema, as his flesh peals away to reveal his scarred injuries underneath.
Being one of the first 3D films to be featured on the big screen, many attempts are used to exploit this to the fullest, from victims and objects flying at the screen during brawls to a not so subtle entertainer batting paddleballs directly to the camera. Unfortunately, there are no 3D versions of the film available in modern times, but the scenes remain crudely entertaining nonetheless.
Overall, with dusky shadows, a menacing villain, and a bizarre museum brimming with the uncanny, House of Wax remains fresh and appealing as a horror classic despite its age.