Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Terror in the Wax Museum (1973)

          Yet another low-budget horror flick from Bing Crosby Productions, Terror in the Wax Museeum feels like a schlocky TV movie instead of a theatrical feature—and come to think of it, the storytelling would have benefited by truncation to 74 minutes, the standard duration for telefilms of the era, because Terror in the Wax Mseuem grows quite wearisome by the 90-minute mark. Still, seeing as how the movie is a derivative would-be shocker featuring several stars from yesteryear, it’s not as if the premise of Terror in the Wax Museum creates high expectations. From start to finish, the movie never tries to be anything but comfort food for fans of old-timey horror flicks, hence not only the vintage actors but also the absence of onscreen gore, nudity, and vulgarity. In short, if you can get behind a thriller that’s about as exciting as an episode of Scooby-Doo (and just as forgettable), then you might be the right viewer for this one.
          The title alone should indicate the tired plot. Sometime around the dawn of the 20th century, anguished artiste Claude Dupree (John Carradine) operates a wax museum with a chamber of horrors until he dies under strange circumstances. Afterward, interested parties including a former partner (Ray Milland), an innocent niece (Nicole Shelby), and a prospective investor (Broderick Crawford) gravitate to the museum while Dupree’s estate is resolved. Complicating matters is the presence of a serial killer who may or may not have been involved in Dupree’s death. Also involved are a domineering governess (Elsa Lanchester) and, naturally, a hunchback (Steven Marlo).
          The plot slogs along from one silly interlude to another, so the allure stems not from narrative ingenuity or even the efficacy of the film’s jolts, but rather from the generalized horror-flick vibe. Conversations about death, dark locations, spooky music—apply all the usual signifiers artlessly, and you get something on the order of Terror in the Wax Museum. Are parts of the movie laughably bad, and are other parts stiflingly bland? Sure. But, let’s be honest, the same could be said about many of the studio-era entertainments this thing was designed to emulate.

Terror in the Wax Museum: FUNKY


Dan said...

Not one, but two Academy Award-winning Best Actors, Ray Milland and Broderick Crawford! Take heed, Daniel Day-Lewis and Leonardo DiCaprio! This could be you in 20 years!

Guy Callaway said...

Also, like a T.V.-bound product, it's way over-lit.
Another small issue: you can see the wax figures breathing...

Unknown said...

More likely than not, this was a made-for-TV movie.

BCP (with which Bing Crosby had nothing to do beyond cashing checks after about 1970) was doing most of its business with ABC, which owned Cinerama Releasing.

The names on the credits are mainly TV people, starting with the brothers Georg and Andrew Fenady, who produced and directed, and screenwriter Jameson Brewer, who had all worked on many TV projects in years past.
(Check the sidebar for this site's write-up of Arnold, made at the same time and by the same people, also for Cinerama Releasing.)

I saw this in its theatrical release in '73, at the State Lake Theatre in downtown Chicago (also owned by ABC, but that's probably a coincidence ...).
It was on a double bill with Doctor Death, Seeker Of Souls, also from Cinerama, but probably not earmarked for TV due to its gore.
Both Doctor Death and Terror ... were comparatively brief, which made for a quick Saturday afternoon playoff.

I note that you haven't written up Doctor Death here, which kind of surprises me, given a few aspects of its production; I suppose you'll be getting around to it eventually ...

By Peter Hanson said...

Definitely some murkiness about certain low-budget 70s movies vis-a-vis their intended exhibition platforms -- flicks intended for TV that ended up theatrical instead, and vice versa. I try not to get lost in the weeds on that sort of thing, especially since concrete data can be elusive, but as you note (and as demonstrated by the MPAA brand on the poster), Terror definitely slid through theaters.

FYI, my thoughts on "Doctor Death" were posted last year:


Perhaps you looked for the title on the list running along the right side of the front page. That functionality stopped working for several months last year, so I stopped repopulating the list. Nonetheless, anything on the site can be found with the search function in the upper left corner.