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House of Wax

House of Wax(1953)

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The working title of the film was The Wax Works. In several reviews, Carolyn Jones, who played her first major role in House of Wax, was mistakenly identified by her character's name, "Cathy Gray." According to an April 1953 Daily Variety news item, actor Ned Young, who played "Leon Averill" in the film, was stripped of all billing after he appeared "vociferously unfriendly" before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. A February 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that cameraman Robert Burks filled in for Bert Glennon, when the latter fell ill with the flu. During production, February 1953 Hollywood Reporter news items reported that director Andre De Toth sought nurses and medical assistants to play extras in the chamber of horrors sequences. After three female extras were reported to have fainted during a guillotine scene, De Toth acknowledged that the tight 1890s corsets were partially responsible.
       House of Wax was the first 3-D film produced by a major studio. According to March and April 1953 Hollywood Reporter news items, House of Wax opened at the Downtown Paramount Theatre in Los Angeles with a "round-the-clock premiere," consisting of twelve showings, starting with a midnight "spook premiere" on April 16, 1953. This was one of many publicity stunts exhibitors used to promote the film. To experience the special 3-D effects of House of Wax, the audience donned special Polaroid viewers, which cost the theater ten cents each to distribute. According to an undated Hollywood Reporter news item found in the AMPAS clipping file for the film, Arch Oboler, who produced the first 3-D film, Bwana Devil, sent sample pairs of "Magic-Vuers" polarized glasses to film reviewers before the House of Wax premiere, claiming they were more comfortable than the Polaroid viewers distributed by the theaters and had a larger viewing surface. The cost of the Polaroid viewers were tacked onto the admission price.
       According to a Variety article, film executives, after finding that the higher admission price had not scared away New York teenaged patrons, speculated whether the draw was due to the novelty of 3-D or the opening stage-show headliner, popular singer Eddie Fisher. Other articles discussed how some theaters shrewdly itemized the prices for admission and the 3-D viewers, thereby decreasing the prevailing twenty percent Federal admissions tax. The high ticket prices and novelty of 3-D inspired a Ohio store, McKelvey's, to print a full page Jantzen swimsuit ad in a Youngstown, OH paper that made light of the film. After the Independent Theatre Owners of Ohio, who considered the ad "one of the most vicious pieces of copy ever seen," notified Warner Bros., the studio threatened action, which resulted in a retraction of the ad.
       Although most reviewers found the plot of House of Wax to be "serviceable" at best, they praised the picture's 3-D photography, which they felt was superior to previous 3-D fares, as well as its stereophonic sound. The Hollywood Reporter, Newsweek and New York Times reviewers found House of Wax to be the best example of 3-D photography to date and commended the paddle ball and can-can dancer scenes as being particularly effective. However, the Daily Variety review applauded the WarnerPhonic sound as the most important technological feat of the film and the Hollywood Reporter reviewer predicted that sterophonic sound, was "here to stay." However, the New York Times reviewer, complained about the "intolerable artlessness of its sound," which was "thrown and howled at the audience" as if to "overwhelm" with "brutal stimuli." A May 1953 New York Times letter to the editor accused the producers of irresponsibility toward the public and prayed "for guidance from an enlightened government."
       According to a May 1953 Variety article, House of Wax was the longest running film at the New York Paramount Theatre in four years and was expected to generate for the house one of the largest returns in its history. Although, as some reviewers predicted, the film became a tremendous box office hit and was successful enough for exhibitors to pay for the installation of special stereophonic and 3-D equipment, according to a Variety article, by June 1953, the film had almost run out of equipped theaters.
       According to an August 1971 Daily Variety news item, Stereovision International paid Warner Bros. for a two-year license to reissue House of Wax as a single strip 3-D. In December 1971, a Hollywood Reporter news item reported that House of Wax producer Bryan Foy had filed a complaint with the Producers Association and considered suing Stereovision for omitting his name from ads and promos for the reissue. July 1972 Daily Variety and Hollywood Reporter articles reported that Milton L. Gunzberg, who served as Natural Vision supervisor for House of Wax and the 1953 Warner Bros. Charge at Feather River, filed suits against Warner Bros., Stereovision executive Al Silliphant, Seven Arts and Sherpix International for failing to credit him for photographing the two pictures and for failing to pay him his share of the profits, as called for in a contractual agreement.
       Charles Belden's story was originally used as the basis of the 1933 Warner Bros. film Mystery of the Wax Museum. For more information about that film and other productions based on it, see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40. Another version of House of Wax, directed by Jaume Collet-Serra and starring Elisha Cuthbert and Chad Michael Murray, was released by Warner Bros. in 2005. That version had a modern setting, involving a college road trip.