Studios know that if there’s one place they can really make some fast cash from the horror genre, it’s on home video. It seems like every October countless horror movies take over video shelves. Some of these — such as the new 35th Anniversary Edition of John Carpenter’s Halloween — are better than others. Most are just for stores to bulk up knowing we will pick up whatever we didn’t last year. The most surprising may be how many of these are getting thrown onto Blu-ray. Many may question why so many horror films keep getting churned out while the classics keep getting the cold shoulder, but the fact is, fanboys will always pick up a new edition of their favorite — myself included.
Some of these films actually stand on both lines of classic and horror. The aforementioned Halloween — featuring a fantastic new transfer — and the original 1958 version of The Fly, have been granted new life. And now Warner Bros. has reached into their vault to deliver a stunning upgrade to another Vincent Price-starring classic with House of Wax 3D. The first major motion picture to be delivered in the third dimension is finally available in its original format. Filmed using Natural Vision 3D lenses, it’s pretty amazing how much better an old film looks, compared to the endless list of post-converted 3D movies being made today. And now, you can add House of Wax to sit right alongside the also fantastic Universal 3D release of their Creature from the Black Lagoon.
House of Wax is the tale of revenge as poor Professor Henry Jarrod (Price) finds his beloved “friends” melted in a fire after his business partner, Matthew Burke (Roy Roberts), sets the place ablaze to capitalize on the insurance money. Now, Jarrod has returned to build himself the wax museum he always wanted, but has now decided to include a “Chamber of Horrors.” Meanwhile, a string of missing persons is on the rise, and the suspicious deaths of both Burke and his fiancée Cathy Gray (Carolyn Jones), shedding new light on Jarrod’s new creations after Cathy’s friend, Sue Allen (Phyllis Kirk) visits the museum and can’t help but notice the uncanny resemblance between Joan of Arc and Cathy. Jarrod can’t keep from noticing himself, how much Sue looks like his beloved Marie Antoinette, and a mysterious killer may be lurking in the shadows, looking to make Sue one of Jarrod’s magnificent creations. Be on the look out for a young Charles Bronson as Jarrod’s assistant Igor.
The Warner Bros. press release states: “MPI’s work on House of Wax includes a 4K scan, and a full restoration of the two ‘eyes,’ as well as perfect 3D image alignment.” And thankfully, House of Wax 3D melts onto Blu-ray in a 1.37:1 aspect ratio on a 50GB disc with the 3D version a definitive presentation. Full of depth in every frame, director André De Toth gives a sterling example of how to effectively use the format — and only had one eye! I tried to nitpick the picture, but couldn’t spot any amount of banding, aliasing, or ringing. Detail is fantastic, with colors bright and cheery, without any case of bleeding. There are only a few in-your-face moments throughout House of Wax — particularly the paddle ball sequence — with most of the presentation being of the window-variety, allowing the viewer to look into the film’s world.
There was one case of crush in the opening scene involving some capes worn by a couple of characters making them look more like apparitions wandering around the frames, but considering we’re watching a horror film, I can’t help but wonder if it was an intended effect. Aside from that, this is one mighty fine picture. A limited amount of DNR has been used, but film grain is still on display. The 2D transfer is another case altogether. There is no fine detail in any scenes and the picture looks soft and out of focus. Warner Bros. clearly wants you to watch the 3D version, but more care could have been put into the 2D for those wanting to pick up the release that have yet to purchase a 3DTV. But for those of us lucky enough, House of Wax is demo-worthy material.
But don’t expect to wow anyone with the sound. I had to crank my volume up a good 6 levels to get to an enjoyable listening level, which resulted in hearing non-stop white noise. All dialogue is crisp and clean, but the 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio sure could use a tune-up. There are some rather enjoyable uses of surrounds, but they’re kept to a minimum involving swelling music, some fire effects in the beginning, and a thrown chair.
Perhaps the reason for not sprucing up the audio was to leave room for the special features. In addition to both the 3D and 2D versions of House of Wax on the same disc, there’s also a third full length movie: Mystery of the Wax Museum; the 1933 film House of Wax is based on. Both of which are based on the story by Charles Belden. More of a comedy than horror film, Mystery is a really fun watch that feels like His Girl Friday taking on the crime genre. Full of every blemish imaginable, Mystery was slapped on the Blu-ray in the special features section with absolutely no restoration. It’s should come as no surprise the film is as fun as it is seeing how it was directed by Casablanca’s own Michael Curtiz. Considering it was the first one of the first 2-strip Technicolor films, it honestly could have been thrown on a separate Blu-ray with the 2D version of House of Wax and resulted in an even bigger reason to buy the set.
Additional special features include the film’s theatrical trailer, vintage newsreel footage: “Round-the-Clock Premiere: Coast Hails House of Wax,” an audio commentary featuring Vincent Price friend David Del Valle and Constantine Nasr — Del Valle delivers a fun and engaging behind the scenes commentary while Nasr is dry and sounds like he’s reading cue cards. Listen strictly for Del Valle. Also included is an all new feature called “House of Wax: Unlike Anything You’ve Seen Before!” This feature runs a whopping 48 minutes and features interviews from the likes of Wes Craven, Larry Cohen, Joe Dante, Rick Baker, Del Valle, Victoria Price (Vincent’s daughter), and Martin Scorsese, who still claims House of Wax to be “the greatest 3D film” and talks about making his crew watch it in the original dual-projection format before they started filming Hugo.
Considering how much content is packed onto the disc, it’s amazing how sturdy the 3D House of Wax holds up. House of Wax is strictly for the 3D fans only however, seeing how the 2D version doesn’t hold a candle to the film’s original display. The special features are fun, if limited, but House of Wax is definitely a worthy purchase for 3DTV owners only.
Cover art and photos courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures