Sunday, October 7, 2012

Night of Terror #6: Mystery of the Wax Museum

First of all, I would like to apologize for not updating the site on Saturday. The only movie I had time for was Another Fine Mess, which not even I would be able to twist into Halloween-appropriate viewing (unless you just happen to be really scared of slide whistles).

But, I'm roaring back to life with Mystery of the Wax Museum, the 1933 shocker directed by Michael "Dodge City" Curtiz and that served as the inspiration for 50s horror classic House of Wax. The premise of both movies is the same: Brilliant wax sculptor who refuses to pander to the lowest common denominator with scenes of violence and horror loses his precious works due to an unscrupulous business partner. Then, years later, the sculptor (now confined to a wheelchair) opens up a new wax museum, with all the blood and guts you could hope for - but around the same time, someone is stealing bodies from the morgue...

The theme of "art vs commerce" isn't one you see in a lot of horror movies, but Mystery is a pretty satisfying riff on that very idea. Lionel Atwill adds Dr. Igor to his list of great screen villains, and he's surrounded by a supporting cast that ranges from below-average to fantastic: Glenda Farrell is especially great as a Hawksian female reporter.

But the true star of this movie is the nightmarish visual style which has elements of German Expressionism along with that particular 2-strip Technicolor voodoo you can only get during this brief period in movie history. There are some sequences, like pretty much the entire climax, that don't make any sense dramatically but make all the sense in the word nightmarishly. There are also some strong newspaper-comedy elements to the movie - some people would probably find these jarring but I sort of like them.

Also: One of the great classic Hollywood abrupt endings.