April 10, 1953, the horror film The House of Wax, with Vincent Price, opens at the Paramount Theater in New York. Released by Warner Brothers, it was the first film from a major film studio to be shot using the three-dimensional or stereoscopic film process and one of the first horror films to be shot in color.
Directed by Andre De Toth, The House of Wax was a 1933 remake Mystery at the wax museum. The film tells the story of Henry Jarrod (Price), a sculptor who goes mad after his partner burns their wax museum to the ground in order to collect the insurance payment. Jarrod survives the blaze and later opens his own wax museum, featuring an exhibit immortalizing crimes past and present, including the murder of his ex-partner by a mysterious disfigured killer. The heroine of the film, played by Phyllis Kirk, eventually discovers that Jarrod himself is the killer and that the museum’s “sculptures” are all the wax-covered bodies of his victims.
The 3D filming process involved using two cameras, or a single dual-lens camera, to represent both the right eye and the left eye of the human viewer. The images from the two cameras were then projected simultaneously on the screen. Cinephiles must see The House of Wax through special stereoscopic glasses to see its full 3D effect. The lenses have been specially tinted so that the viewer can see the images of the right and left eyes only with the eyes for which they were intended. The 3D process proved particularly effective during the film’s decisive chase scene, in which the masked killer chases Kirk’s character through a series of gas-lit streets and alleys, with the viewer following them.
The House of Wax launched Price on his long and successful career as a star of horror films. It also revived the career of Charles Buchinsky, who played the supporting role of Jarrod’s mute servant; he would achieve international fame as Charles Bronson, star of countless action films. Earning an impressive (by 1953 standards) $ 4.3 million at the box office, the film sparked an explosion of similar 3D thrillers, including The Mad Magician (1954), also with Price.