Alphabetical Movie – House of Wax
My dad wasn’t a big movie buff but I remember him telling me about House of Wax long before I ever saw the film.
In the early 80’s we were in the grips of a rebirth of 3D films and our local independant station, in an effort to capitalize on such box office hits as Friday the 13th 3D and the upcoming Jaws 3D, decided they were going to screen the classic 3D film Gorilla at Large. For reasons less clear to me now, I was excited by this idea.
To be fair, how could I not be with an intro like this one?
We’d gone to the Korner Store (not a typo – the name of the store was “Korner Store”) to pick up our complementary 3D glasses and we’d popped some Jiffy pop. It was time to watch the gorilla come right off of our 18″ color screen!
As we waited breathlessly for the pre-credits commercial break to finish, my dad told me about the first 3D movie he’d ever seen – House of Wax with Vincent Price.
He talked about the opening scene in which the wax museum is set on fire. As the waxworks melted, he said, it seemed as though they were going to melt right onto the audience. It made 3D sound exciting and different.
Now, when you watch a pretty crappy rip off of King Kong on an 18″ color TV, the mystique of 3D wears off in a pretty big hurry. But hey, at least we had Jiffy Pop. I’ve never forgotten the way my dad described the experience of watching House of Wax, though.
3D has never been as exciting to me as it was that night. These days I find 3D annoying and expensive. Even in films with impressive 3D (Avatar and Coraline are two great example), I’ve never felt like 3D made the story any better. It certainly didn’t improve the story enough to make the higher ticket price feel worth it.
That night in 1982, I saw that 3D was just a gimmick. An effective gimmick, to be sure. I did watch the movie.
Still, there was the legend of House of Wax as the 3D film that would explain it all. So convinced was I by my dad’s memory of the film, I always assumed that when I saw House of Wax, I would, once and for all, get 3D.
I’ve never seen the film in 3D. I picked up the DVD because of that memory of my childhood and because Vincent Price movies should be purchased on principle alone. The opening fire is impressive, even without the 3D, and Price is magnificent.
Then you come out of the intermission and there is a guy with a couple of paddle balls engaging in one of the cheapest 3D tricks this side of Harold and Kumar. In the middle of a horror film about a guy who kills people and uses their corpses to make wax sculptures I’m watching a paddle ball barker smack his rubber balls directly at the camera.
Oh yeah, I remember, 3D is just a gimmick. In order for the gimmick to be effective, you have to remind people that it is there.
My dad didn’t remember the paddle ball guy or, more likely, he chose to leave paddle ball guy out of his description of the film.
Here’s the thing – House of Wax is a film worth watching because Vincent Price is in the film and his presence makes the trashiest horror film classier. By making the film in 3D, people went to see it because the gimmick worked.
But there is no moment in the film that is better because of 3D. There are only moments (like paddle ball guy) that are worse without 3D because they no longer make sense.
I wish I could remember House of Wax the way my dad did.
In a sense, though, I do. Because every time I watch House of Wax, I remember how he described it to me. I don’t need to see what it looks like in 3D because in my head, I can see how it looked to him.
Which, I must admit, is good enough.
Side note: memory is a funny thing. Did my dad tell me about “House of Wax” the night we watched “Gorilla at Large” or did he tell me at some other time? Was it even my dad who told me the story? I remember it that way now and so it is my reality – even if it never happened. The name of the store was totally “Korner Store,” though. I know I’m right about that.