Lionel Atwill - Ivan Igor
Fay Wray - Charlotte Duncan
Glenda Farrell - Florence Dempsey
Frank McHugh - Jim
Allen Vincent - Ralph Burton
Gavin Gordon - George Winton
Michael Curtiz - Director
Henry Blanke - Producer
Don Mullaly - Screenwriter
Ray Rennahan - Cinematographer
Anton Grot - Art Director
Cliff Hess - Film Score [Title]
Fay Wray, whose scream was used as bait to catch the Moon Monster of Doctor X (1932), was teamed again twice with Lionel Atwill, first in The Vampire Bat (1933). Atwill played Dr. Otto Von Niemann of Kleinschloss, who hypnotized his butler to supply fresh victims for his uncoventional research. The vampire killings were cover-ups for something more horrid, and Melvyn Douglas as Inspecor Karl Breetschneider, with the help of Glenda Farrell as newspaper reporter Florence Dempsey was able to uncover the plot and save Fay Wray from a trasfusion of Atwill's "blood substitute."
The Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) saw Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray teamed in two-color Technicolor. It brought the old Lon Chaney style back to cinema, the horror of disfigurement. Atwill was Ivan Igor, waxworks sculptor, who lost both income and reason when his partner burned their museum for the insurance. The melting of the wax figures is an early touch of nastiness. Escaping the holocauset, seemingly unsinged but confined to a wheelchair, Igor sets up shop again.
This time he snatches bodies and even murders to obtain models for his exhibition, coating the corpses with wax. Fay Wray exposes the mystery and Atwill, too, for as her fists flail at his face his whole head cracks away to reveal the burned, scarred and two-color Technicolored mess beneath. The first great unmasking in modern horror movies, it remains a moment unequalled in the memories of millions, including Miss Wray: "I was in his clutches and I had to hit him in the face. It was necessary for the audience to see this and be shocked. But when I struck him, and the moment I saw part of him, I just froze. I wanted to run; I just couldn't go on. So they had to make another mask and do it over when I recovered."
--DENIS GIFFORD, from A Pictorial History
of Horror Movies, 1973
Although not the first horror film to be shot in the two-color Technicolor process--that was Doctor X (1932), also directed by Michael Curtiz--this was the first to be generally released in color after its first run. Weighed down with the same laborious comedy elements and the same tendency to angle towards the whodunit, it is as much of a disappointment, for all its reputation, as Doctor X. Its reputation was no doubt largely the product of novelty: not just Technicolor but the fact that, unlike the other major horror movies of the early thirties, it was set in a recognizably contemporary, bustling New York City (even if moving from Broadway into the wax museum was to move back into the timeless, placeless world of horror movies).
Atwill is splendid throughout as the sculptor forced to wear a waxen mask when his face is hideously scarred by fire, and who finds a substitute for sclupture in killing people, encasing them in wax, and turning them into exhibits. But the film really only comes alive in the climactic sequence of the fire, with the waxen figures twisting and writhing as though alive while the terrified Fay Wray, first striking at Atwill's face and then clawing at it as she realizes it is a mask, reveals for the first time the monstrous, shrivelled thing beneath. A remake with Vincent Price and filmed in 3-D, House of Wax (1953) directed by Andre de Toth, shifted the locale to Baltimore. (Note: The DVD version of this film contains, as a bonus feature, the only currenly available DVD version of The Mystery of the Wax Museum.)
--PHIL HARDY, ed. from The Encyclopedia of
Horror Films, 1986
A selection of Wax Museum films.
Find Wax Museum on eBay.com
A selection of Wax Museum in books.
A History of Horror
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