Since the film was to be shot in both Technicolor and 3D, great pains were taken to ensure that Vincent Price's makeup looked as convincing as possible. The result was a patchwork of hideous burns that shocked audiences-and nauseated a lot of Warner Bros. employees. "I was banished from the studio commissary," Price later recalled. "This cold shoulder treatment started when I walked [in there] for lunch for the first time and the girl at the register turned green and almost fainted. Then the patrons got up and headed for the door. It was a bad day for business."
It must have been easy for Vincent Price to act alarmed in the sequence in which his museum burns down. Right before the shoot, André De Toth's crew set three "spot fires" in strategic locations. Then the cameras started rolling and everything went downhill. The team quickly lost control of their fires, which merged into a massive inferno that put a hole in the sound stage roof and singed Price's eyebrows. But because the rapidly melting wax mannequins would've been very hard to replace, de Toth kept on filming-even as firemen arrived to help extinguish the flames.
Vincent Price liked to attend screenings of the film incognito. As the thespian once told biographer Joel Eisner, he'd regularly go out and see House of Wax during its run. Happily for Price, the requisite 3D glasses could usually conceal his identity in the back of a dimly lit theater. But one night, he decided to make his presence known. At a showing in New York City, Price quietly took a seat behind two teenagers. Right after a particularly frightening scene, he leaned forward and asked "Did you like it?" In Price's words, "They went right into orbit!"
Warner Brothers' restoration of "House of Wax" for a 3D Blu-ray release cost $300,000. The original negatives were unusable because of water damage and the "Warnerphonic" stereo soundtrack no longer exists.
This film was one of the first major pictures shot in 3D, and the director used some of the usual "tricks". In one scene, at the grand opening of the House of Wax, a sort of barker is enticing people to come in, and he actually breaks the "fourth wall", talking directly to the movie theatre audience. He is playing with a paddle-ball, hitting it toward the camera, as well as toward the people gathering around in front of the House of Wax. At one point, he is hitting the ball toward the movie audience. Looking directly at "us", he says, "Well, there's someone with a bag of popcorn. Close your mouth, it's the bag I'm aiming at, not your tonsils."
Phyllis Kirk tried to turn the film down. Since she was under contract with Warner Bros, Kirk had no choice but to appear in this picture. That didn't stop her from complaining about the gig. "I bitched and moaned and ... [said] that I wasn't interested in becoming the Fay Wray of my time," Kirk confessed. Another bone of contention was the 3D format, which she regarded as a "gimmick." But despite these reservations, Kirk decided that playing ball would be preferable to getting suspended. "And incidentally, I went on to have a lot of fun making House of Wax," she admitted.
Although Bela Lugosi did not appear in the film, he did help promote it. The film's world premiere was held at the Paramount Theater in Los Angeles on April 16, 1953. As a publicity stunt, Lugosi was invited to attend the big event. Clad in a vampire cape, he emerged from his limousine with a chain link leash, which was attached to an actor in an ape costume-a clear homage to Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952).
The first 3-D color movie ever to be produced by a major American studio. Filming took only 33 days, (from Monday, January 19th, 1953 to Saturday, February 21st, 1953), for its release on Wednesday, April 9th, 1953.
The alcoholic sculptor was a heroin addict in the original version of the film, Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), but that had to be changed for the remake because the Production Code forbade any mention of drug addiction. (Ironically, a character played by Vincent Price had got away with confessing to drug addiction in Dragonwyck (1946), filmed in 1945, eight years before "House of Wax.")
According to the "Guinness Book of World Records", while this film is far from being the first 3-D film, nor the first in sound or color, it was the first 3-D film released with a stereophonic soundtrack. While the original stereo tracks are considered lost, it is believed that the "clamshell case" Warner Home Video DVD uses the original 4.0 sound mix; as opposed to the "snapper" case DVD and Blu-ray release which uses the 2.0 monaural mix-down.
When this film became one of the studios' biggest grossers of all time, Warner Brothers tried to replicate its success the following year with another 3-D horror movie, The Phantom of the Rue Morgue. But that film proved to be a box office dud, making less than 10% of what Wax had taken in, and the craze for 3-D movies was soon abandoned by main stream Hollywood.
This film had been a huge success for Warner Bros. In the mid-1960s, when television was going through a horror craze, Warner Bros. tried to create a "House of Wax" television series. The owner and employees would be played by Cesare Danova, Wilfred Hyde White and Mexican dwarf actor Jose Rene Ruiz (aka Tun Tun) who became amateur detectives who would solve bizarre crimes. The series would use sets originally designed for this film. The pilot episode featured Patrick O'Neal as a killer. The pilot was rejected as being too intense for network television at that time. The filmed pilot was padded out, a few gimmicks were added (a "fear flasher" and "horror horn"), and a 99-minute version was released to theaters in 1966 as "Chamber of Horrors" (1966).
The set of The 14th Street Music Hall, where an extensive scene featuring can-can dancers takes place, also appeared in another 1953 Warner picture: It was used as Deadwood City's Golden Garter saloon in the Doris Day/Howard Keel musical Calamity Jane.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
The scene where Paul Picerni is rescued from the guillotine by Frank Lovejoy seconds before the blade came down was filmed in one take, using a real guillotine blade. Picerni and director André De Toth got into a heated argument when Picerni, on advice from the film's stuntmen, refused to do the scene as too dangerous (a prop man was to hold up the blade off camera and tell the actors when he dropped it so they could yank Picerni away). De Toth threw him off the picture, but several days later, on orders from studio head Jack L. Warner, De Toth recalled him, and had the prop department modify the guillotine to make it less dangerous. After examining the guillotine, Picerni said he would do one take and no more, which is exactly what happened.