Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Film #115: Mystery of the Wax Museum

Mystery of the Wax Museum has an fascinating pedigree. Released in 1933, it was one of the only horror movies to be shot in two-strip Technicolor (the majority of Techicolor films were three-strip--cyan, yellow, and magenta). A precursor to Andre De Toth's more famous 1953 3D classic House of Wax, Mystery was believed for years by film historians to be lost. When faded prints of it were rediscovered in the late 1960s, its mythic reputation of a great, forgotten horror film suffered in comparison to then-contemporary horror movies like The Masque of the Red Death and Black Sunday. Yet, years later, it has regained its standing as one of the genre's most atmospheric offerings.

In it, Lionel Atwill is Igor, the New York waxworks sculptor whose maimed hands--received in an earlier London waxworks fire--now force him to only instruct lesser artists in his craft. Suddenly, people and corpses from the morgue begin disappearing, just as Igor starts turning an ugly eye to his assistant's fiancee, Charlotte (Fay Wray). This arouses the suspicions of Charlotte's roommate, wisecracking reporter Florence (Glenda Farrell) and sends her snooping into Igor's work, thereby stumbling on his evil plot to open yet another grand wax museum just like the one in dear old England. This beautiful, essential shocker was helmed by Warner Brothers' house director Michael Curtiz, later the director of Casablanca and The Adventures of Robin Hood. With Curtiz behind the camera, one knows they're in good hands, and even in the horror genre, he doesn't fail us (even without the 3D, this one's superior to Vincent Price's 1953 starrer, which is unfortunately kind of a bore). Atwill is superbly slimy (especially with that horrific makeup), and we get another chance to take in Fay Wray's lovely presence, sans that big monkey King Kong. What's not to like?

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