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