The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


House of Wax

As the love-it-or-hate-it debate over 3D rages on, a simple fact is often overlooked: 3D has an important part in our cinematic heritage. Regardless of what you think about it, a fair number of prestigious filmmakers have opted to use the format over the decades. And, at times, 3D has been used magnificently. One need look no further than 1953's House of Wax for proof. Here is a movie that was designed and made for the then-new technology. Seeing it in 2D is the same as watching it in black-and-white or without sound; you're fundamentally not seeing the film as its makers intended. Warner Home Video and Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging have done something both remarkable and important: they've made House of Wax available on 3D Blu-Ray, with a 4k scan, a complete restoration, and perfect 3D image alignment. Needless to say, this is one of the most significant home video releases of the year.

Vincent Price plays Henry Jarrod, a master wax figure sculptor who practically views his creations as children. His dishonest business partner suggests burning down their museum to collect insurance money. Jarrod refuses, so the guy torches it anyway. It appears that Jarrod perishes in the blaze, but later, he reemerges, ready to present a new and improved museum. However, his reappearance coincides with a number of local disappearances. One young woman, Sue Allen (Phyllis Kirk), notices that Jarrod's sculpture of Joan of Arc bears an uncanny resemblance to her missing friend Cathy (Caroline Jones). Could Jarrod be doing something nefarious? Hint: yes.

In what has to be one of the great cinematic ironies, House of Wax was directed by Andre de Toth, who had only one eye and therefore couldn't experience his own film's 3D effects. Nonetheless, he made what, along with James Cameron's Avatar, is widely viewed as the definitive 3D motion picture. It's quite possible that de Toth's seeming liability was actually an asset. Outside of the movie's famous paddle-ball sequence, the director used 3D for atmosphere rather than for gimmickry. In 3D, Jarrod's museum looks massive, and the way the statues stand out from everything else gives them an eerie quality. Scenes involving a mechanical contraption Jarrod uses in making his creations benefit from 3D, too; the machine's parts poke out at you ominously.

Beyond the visuals, House of Wax is just a great story. Jarrod is a genuine anti-hero. He's a decent, passionate artist driven mad by catastrophe. Vincent Price delivered one of his best performances in the role, capturing Jarrod's decent into evil. The movie also has a visual lushness and an ominous feeling of dread throughout. House of Wax has gone down in the books as a classic, but now – finally – it can be appreciated in the form it was always meant to be seen in. There is no need to ever watch it in 2D again.

Blu-Ray Features:

The most successful 3D movie of the 1950s, House of Wax, comes to 3D Blu-Ray for the very first time on Oct. 1. The disc has some very cool supplementary material, starting with audio commentary from historians David Del Valle and Constantine Nasr, who provide background on the film's production.

House of Wax: Unlike Anything You've Ever Seen Before!” is an all-new, 48-minute documentary looking back at the film. Among the topics: how de Toth overcame his visual issues to direct the movie, the special projectors and sound systems installed in theaters to show it, and how the 3D craze of the '50s came to be. Famous fans like Joe Dante, Wes Craven, and Martin Scorsese appear on-camera to offer their perspectives on both the film itself and its groundbreaking use of 3D. This is a very entertaining doc that serves as a perfect companion piece to the main feature.

“Round-the-Clock Premiere: Coast Hails House of Wax" runs about nine minutes and offers silent footage of the movie's premieres, with Hollywood stars (including Ronald Reagan) in attendance, as well as ordinary moviegoers. The original theatrical trailer is on the disc, as well.

Finally, there's Mystery of the Wax Museum, the 1933 feature that House of Wax was based on. Its inclusion means you're getting two full-length movies on one disc.

If you have a 3D Blu-Ray set-up at home, House of Wax is a film you must add to your collection. If not, let it serve as an incentive to get one. This is a movie best appreciated with that extra dimension.

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