House of Wax (1953 film)

1953 film by André de Toth

House of Wax

Theatrical release poster

Directed by

Andre DeToth

Screenplay by

Crane Wilbur

Based on

\"The Wax Works\"
by Charles Belden

Produced by

Bryan Foy


Vincent Price
Frank Lovejoy
Phyllis Kirk
Carolyn Jones
Paul Picerni


Bert Glennon
Peverell Marley

Edited by

Rudi Fehr

Music by

David Buttolph

Distributed by

Warner Bros.

Release dates

April 10, 1953 (1953-04-10) (New York)
April 25, 1953 (1953-04-25) (US)

Running time

88 minutes


United States




$1 million

Box office

$23.75 million

House of Wax is a 1953 American period mystery-horror film directed by Andre DeToth. A remake by Warner Bros. of their 1933 film Mystery of the Wax Museum, it stars Vincent Price as a disfigured sculptor who repopulates his destroyed wax museum by murdering people and using their wax-coated remains as displays. The film premiered in New York on April 10, 1953, and had a general release on April 25, making it the first 3D film with stereophonic sound to be presented in a regular theater and the first color 3D feature film from a major American studio (Columbia Pictures\' Man in the Dark, the first major-studio black-and-white 3D feature, premiered two days before House of Wax).

In 1971, the film was re-released to theaters in 3D with a full advertising campaign. Newly struck prints of the film in Chris Condon\'s single-strip StereoVision 3D format were used for this release. Another major re-release occurred during the 3D boom of the early 1980s. Warner Bros. released a loose remake of the film in 2005.

The Library of Congress selected House of Wax for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2014, deeming it \"culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant\".

Drive-in advertisement from 1953.

Filmed under the working title The Wax Works, House of Wax was Warner Bros.\' answer to the surprise 3D hit Bwana Devil, an independent production that premiered in November 1952. Seeing promise in the future of 3D films, Warner Bros. contracted Julian and Milton Gunzburg\'s Natural Vision 3D system, the same one used for Bwana Devil, and decided to film a remake of their 1933 two-color Technicolor thriller Mystery of the Wax Museum, which was based on Charles S. Belden\'s three-act play The Wax Works. Although the entire newspaper angle of the earlier film was eliminated and Mystery was set in the year it was released, whereas House of Wax was set in circa 1902, the two films have many similarities in plot and dialogue.

Among the foregrounded uses of 3D in the film were scenes featuring fights, can-can girls, and a paddle ball-wielding barker. In what may be the film\'s cleverest and most startling 3D effect, the shadowy figure of one of the characters seems to spring up out of the theater audience and run into the screen. As director Andre DeToth was blind in one eye, he was unable to experience stereo vision or 3D effects. Vincent Price recalled: \"It’s one of the great Hollywood stories. When they wanted a director for film, they hired a man who couldn’t see 3D at all! André de Toth was a very good director, but he really was the wrong director for 3D. He’d go to the rushes and say \'Why is everybody so excited about this?\' It didn’t mean anything to him. But he made a good picture, a good thriller. He was largely responsible for the success of the picture. The 3D tricks just happened—there weren’t a lot of them. Later on, they threw everything at everybody.\" Some modern critics feel DeToth\'s inability to see depth is what makes the film superior, since he was more concerned with telling a thrilling story and getting believable performances from the actors than simply tossing things at the camera.


The film premiered in Los Angeles at the Paramount Theatre on April 16, 1953. It played at midnight with a number of celebrities in the audience, Broderick Crawford, Gracie Allen, Eddie Cantor, Rock Hudson, Judy Garland, Shelley Winters, and Ginger Rogers among them. Producer Alex Gordon, knowing actor Bela Lugosi was in dire need of cash, arranged for him to stand outside the theater wearing a cape and dark glasses and holding a leash with actor Steve Calvert in a gorilla suit on the end. Lugosi was interviewed by reporter Shirley Thomas, who thoroughly confused the aging star when she asked the prearranged questions out of order, and, embarrassed, he left without attending the screening. Footage of Lugosi in front of the theater appeared in a Pathé Newsreel released in theaters on April 27, 1953.

Topping the box office charts for five weeks and earning an estimated $5.5 million in rentals from the North American box office alone, the film was one of the biggest hits of 1953. It was originally available with a stereophonic three-track magnetic soundtrack to accompany its stereoscopic imagery, though many theaters were not equipped to make use of it and defaulted to the standard monophonic optical soundtrack. Previously, films with stereo sound were only produced to be shown in specialty cinemas, such as the Toldi in Budapest and the Telecinema in London. As of 2013, no copy of the original three-channel stereo soundtrack is known to exist, and only the monophonic soundtrack and a separate sound-effects-only track are believed to have survived, but a new stereo soundtrack has been synthesized from the available source material. The initial 3D screenings of the 88-minute film included an intermission, which was necessary to change the reels because each of the theater\'s two projectors was dedicated to one of the stereoscopic images.


Initial reception

Early reviews of the film were mostly mixed to negative. Variety was positive, writing: \"This picture will knock \'em for a ghoul. Warners\' House of Wax is the post-midcentury Jazz Singer. What the freres and Al Jolson did to sound, the Warners have repeated in third dimension.\" Harrison\'s Reports called the film \"a first-class thriller of its kind\", and \"the best 3-D picture yet made\", though the reviewer felt that \"the added value of depth is not significant enough to warrant the annoyance of viewing the proceedings through the polaroid glasses, and that the picture would have been as much of a chiller if shown in the standard 2-D form, and probably even a greater thriller if shown on a wide screen.\" The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote that, as a 3D film, it was \"a smoother effort than its predecessors, obviously made with more care and less tiring to the eyes\", but that, \"n all but technical respects, the film is a childish and inept piece of work.\"

Bosley Crowther of The New York Times found the film \"disappointing\", writing: \"This picture, apart entirely from the fact that it is baldly, unbelievably antique in its melodramatic plot and style, shows little or no imagination in the use of stereoscopic images and nothing but loudness and confusion in the use of so-called stereoscopic sound. The impression we get is that its makers were simply and solely interested in getting a flashy sensation on the screen just as fast as they could.\" Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post wrote: \"It\'s supposed to be a horror movie and it\'s horrible alright... The novelty has some appeal especially through its long shots into depths, but there is also a feeling of limitations once what novelty there passes. Then it is we go back to the gaga script devised by Crane Wilbur from a story which served one of the early talking films and one is inclined to shudderingly ask: Are we to go through all that again?\" John McCarten of The New Yorker also hated the film, writing that he thought it had \"set the movies back about forty-nine years. It could have set them back further if there had been anything earlier to set them back to\", and concluding that \"when Mr. Price started clumping around and choking ladies with knots that wouldn\'t pass muster at a Cub Scout meeting, I took off my glasses once and for all, put on my hat, and left.\"

Later reception

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On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 93% based on 44 reviews and an average score of 7.5 out of 10. The site\'s \"critics consensus\" reads: \"House of Wax is a 3-D horror delight that combines the atmospheric eerieness of the wax museum with the always chilling presence of Vincent Price.\"


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House of Wax revitalized the film career of Vincent Price, who had been playing secondary character parts and occasional sympathetic leads since the late 1930s. After this high-profile role, he was in high-demand for the rest of his career to play fiendish villains, mad scientists, and other deranged characters in genre films such as The Tingler (1959), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), and The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971). Supporting actress Carolyn Jones, who had her first credited role in House of Wax, gained a much higher profile more than a decade later when she played Morticia Addams in the TV comedy horror spoof The Addams Family.

Home media releases

The film was released in 2D on DVD by Warner Home Video on August 5, 2003. This release included Mystery of the Wax Museum as a bonus.
A 3D Blu-ray disc of the film was released in the U.S. on October 1, 2013, to celebrate its 60th anniversary. Like the earlier DVD, the Blu-ray includes Mystery of the Wax Museum as a bonus (in standard definition). A reissue of this format was released through the Warner Archive Collection on June 23, 2020.


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