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The Mystery Of The Wax Museum (Blu-ray Review)

Warner Archive Collection continues to thrill and excite fans of class cinema and genre cinema throughout the year with beautiful restorations and affordable prices. For June, they are exciting both crowds at the same time with one single release in 1933’s The Mystery Of The Wax Museum. Another film from directing legend Michael Curtiz, it was previously available only in SD as a bonus feature on the Blu-ray release for the Vincent Price-starring House of Wax. Now, by itself it has been released with a brand new restoration (House Of Wax is getting a new release, too next month). It also features some brand new bonus material that includes an interview with the iconic Fay Wray’s daughter. Once thought to a be a film lost forever, it now has been brought up to wonderfully restored standards by by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and can delight collector’s of every corner. The film was released on May 12, and is available now using the paid Amazon Associate’s link following the review.

Film

Bodies are mysteriously disappearing all over town, and a new wax museum has just opened. Is there a connection? But of course! In this horror classic, Fay Wray (King Kong) stars as the intended next victim of a mad wax sculptor obsessed with her resemblance to one of his prior creations. Glenda Farrell plays a quintessential wisecracking newspaper reporter, and noted actor Lionel Atwill is the deranged artist who loses his studio to a fire set by his partner.

Once thought lost forever, The Mystery of the Wax Museum lives on through more than just the homages and remakes that have been made in its name. Yes, the Vincent Price starring classic The House of Wax was another take on this, so that would mean it connects all the way down to the Paris Hilton starring film from 2005. The ideas, imagery and macabre horror on display in the film would enlighten, open up and inspire more than just those for longer after its release.

The film itself bounces back and forth from being disturbingly serious and having the fun nature of a screwball comedy. The wax museum, seedy characters and more are quite well done and disturbing. But, the good guy/gal characters are all poppy and have the fast paced back and forth banter you’d find in one of those film that really make the era have a great identity. It never feels like it can’t handle a tone or spills heavier in one direction. Its well handled and feels quite natural.

Michael Curtiz, the legendary director, was so prolific and Hollywood was so different back then, that this is only one of SEVEN(!!!) films he directed that year. That’s astonishing. The man is quite possibly the finest director ever from that workman studio system from the early years of filmmaking. His work here is able to flourish with sets and highlight performers. Even the action is engaging and pretty intense with fires and fights. Curtiz is also able to film the monster in a way both horrific and also not forgetting to let him have some character and human traits.

One common thing among this film and its remake in House of Wax, is how they both utilized fad technologies of the time. While the latter is notable for stereophonic sound and 3-D, this original was using color as a selling point. The Technicolor two-color system was only around for a little bit, and this was the final film to implement it. The public (And critics) pretty much let the message out hat they preferred black and white back then. Granted, these results aren’t pretty or what we think of with Technicolor later on at all, but its interesting how it was rejected then. Heck, some of the reviews from then couldn’t not get away from it bugging them. When you see it though, it does take away from potential mood and stronger detail.

The Mystery of the Wax Museum is a real treat. And its a swift 76 minutes to boot. Fay Wray and “IN COLOR” are the selling points here, but honestly I came away most impressed with Glenda Farrell, who really have fun carrying this thing to the finish line. Unfortunately, it has a bit of cringey, dated resolution to some character stuff to literally end it on. But, the ride to get there is pretty good and fun to sink back into the charm of 1930s Hollywood.

Video

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: As noted in the featurette provided on this release, this 1080p HD master has been meticulously restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive from Jack Warner’s own nitrate print from 1933 and a more recently discovered French workprint. The results are pretty gorgeous and really reflect what could be similar to seeing it fresh upon release (Or possibly even better). Much of the damage and aging as been done away with, though a line here or there may remain. It has a distinct look thanks to the two color Technicolor process that was only around for a limited time. The look is pretty organic, with surprisingly good detail and as crisp a picture as it can be. There is a bit of a stylish softness to it that adds to the beauty as well.

Depth: Depth of field is above average and honestly pretty damn impressive given what we have here. There is a nice push back and varying separation levels that come through in interiors like the wax museum. Movements are smooth and cinematic with no issues regarding distortions happening around rapid movements.

Black Levels: Blacks are deep and dark, a little heavier in the grain. Detail retention is pretty strong, though some do get carried away in the shadows. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction:  This is a little bit of weird one to judge on. Its not really a looker and colors are a bit faded due to the limitations of the time. It comes on as a sort of post production coloring job to a black and white film. Greens and a peach-like color that comes in for the white probably stand out the best.

Flesh Tones:  Skin tones all carry a very similar peach/white complexion to them and are consistent from start to finish of the film. Facial details aren’t rampant, but things like stubble and wrinkles come through quite decently.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

Audio

Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics: The mono track here does show its age, but there’s a charm to it and its actually pretty well mixed and plenty alive when watching it. There is a good balance in the display of the sound design and it finds itself plenty loud and engaging throughout. If your expectations on watching a 1933 film are honest, you should be a little impressed.

Height: N/A

Low-Frequency Extension: N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are plenty clear and carry a analog hiss with them.

Extras

Audio Commentary

  • By Alan K. Rode
  • By Scott MacQueen, Head of Preservation at the UCLA Film & Television Archive

Documentary: Remembering Fay Wray (HD, 18:49) – A very nice interview with Wray’s daughter, Victoria Riskin who takes us on an anecdotal journey on her mother’s storied career, particularly focusing a little more on The Mystery of the Wax Museum and King Kong. In addition, we get a picture painted of the times with which Wray worked in and some insights to her personal life, marriage and parenting.

Featurette: Before and After Restoration: Comments by Scott MacQueen (HD, 7:11) – Scott MacQueen (Head of Preservation, UCLA Film & Television Archive) talks over sequences that we get to see different prints of and corrections and restorations applied to it.

Summary

The Mystery of the Wax Museum is a fun little mystery/horror/gumshoe film that features many of the traits you’d want from a film of its respective era. Warner Archive Collection has put together a masterful restoration by the UCLA Film & Television Archive of the film for this release, which is plenty impressive. They’ve even provided new and proper bonus materials for the Blu-ray. This Warner Archive Collection release is a film lovers must-have collector’s item, easily!

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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