House of Wax is a 1953 American color 3-D horror thriller film, about a disfigured sculptor who repopulates his destroyed wax museum by murdering people and using their wax-coated corpses as displays. Directed by Andre DeToth and starring Vincent Price, it is a remake of Warner Bros.' Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933). It premiered in New York on April 10, 1953 and began a general release on April 25, 1953.
House of Wax was the first color 3-D feature from a major American studio and premiered just two days after the Columbia Pictures film Man in the Dark, the first major-studio black-and-white 3-D feature. It was also the first 3-D film with stereophonic sound to be presented in a regular theater.
In 1971, it was widely re-released to theaters in 3-D, with a full advertising campaign. Newly-struck prints of the film in Chris Condon's single-strip StereoVision 3-D format were used. Another major re-release occurred during the 3-D boom of the early 1980s. In 2005, Warner Bros. released a new film also called House of Wax, but its plot is very different from the two earlier films'. It received largely negative reviews from critics.
In 2014, the film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress, and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
Professor Henry Jarrod (Vincent Price) is a talented wax figure sculptor with a wax museum in early 1900s New York City. He specializes in historical figures, featuring sculptures of John Wilkes Booth, Joan of Arc, and one of Marie Antoinette, which he considers his masterpiece. When his business partner Matthew Burke (Roy Roberts) demands more sensational exhibits to increase profits, Jarrod refuses. Jarrod then gives a private tour to renowned art critic Sidney Wallace. Wallace, deeply impressed with Jarrod's sculptures, agrees to buy Burke out, but will not be able to do so until after he returns from a Continental trip.
That same night, Burke deliberately sets the museum on fire, intending to claim the insurance money. In the process, he fights off Jarrod, who is desperately attempting to save his precious sculptures. Burke splashes kerosene over Jarrod's body and leaves him to die in the fire.
Miraculously, Jarrod survives, but with severe injuries including crippled hands and uses a wheelchair. He builds a new House of Wax with help from deaf-mute sculptor Igor (Charles Bronson) and another assistant named Leon Averill. Jarrod now concedes to popular taste and includes a "Chamber of Horrors" that showcases both historical crimes (beheading of Anne Boleyn; Charlotte Corday; Anne Askew; Jean-Paul Marat) and recent events, (such as the execution 12 years before of William Kemmler) and the apparent suicide of his former business partner Burke. In reality, Burke was murdered by a cloaked, disfigured killer who then staged the death as a suicide. Burke's fiancée, Cathy Gray (Carolyn Jones), is murdered soon afterward. Her body mysteriously disappears from the morgue.
Cathy’s friend Sue Allen (Phyllis Kirk), who found Cathy's body and saw the murderer, visits the museum and is troubled by the strong resemblance of the wax Joan of Arc figure to her dead friend. Jarrod explains he used photographs of Cathy when he made the sculpture. Unsatisfied, Sue returns after hours and uncovers the horrifying truth behind the House of Wax: many of the figures are wax-coated corpses, including Cathy and Burke. Sue is confronted by Jarrod, who can walk very well and only pretended to be crippled. He proclaims her his new "model" for a sculpture of Marie Antoinette (both Jarrod and Wallace had earlier noted Sue's striking resemblance to the original sculpture). Sue tries to fight him off, hitting his face, which is revealed to be a wax mask that shatters and exposes fire-scarred flesh beneath; this in turn reveals that it was Jarrod who was the cloaked figure who murdered Burke and stole Cathy's body. He subdues Sue and straps her to a table, preparing to coat her living body with wax. The police, having learned the whole truth from Averill, arrive in time to save her. Jarrod tries to escape, but, fighting with a police officer, dies when he is knocked into the vat of molten wax he had prepared for Sue.