HOUSE OF WAX. (1953) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.

HOUSE OF WAX. (1953) DIRECTED BY ANDRÉ DE TOTH. BASED ON A SHORT STORY BY CHARLES S. BELDEN AND THE 1933 FILM, MYSTERY AT THE WAX MUSEUM.

STARRING VINCENT PRICE, CAROLYN JONES, PHYLLIS KIRK, PAUL CAVANAGH, DABBS GREER AND CHARLES BUCHINSKY, AKA CHARLES BRONSON.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

(WRITTEN IN 2016, IN PRE-PANDEMIC TIMES!)

This film is a fantastic horror classic starring legendary horror maestro Vincent Price. I had the great pleasure of watching it recently on the big screen at Dublin’s Lighthouse Cinema. The film was in 3-D and I’ve honestly never been happier to sit in the dark for ninety or so minutes wearing a pair of ridiculous oversized glasses that cut into my poor little ears and nose.

Vincent Price is superb as always as Professor Henry Jarrod, who spends his days lovingly crafting wax sculptures whom he thinks of almost as his children, he loves them so much. He specialises in aesthetically-pleasing historical figures and considers his Marie Antoinette to be the pièce de resistance of his magnificent collection. And rightly so, if you ask me. She’s a proper little corker.

His business partner Matthew Burke is more concerned with the figures on their balance-sheets than with the stunning figures moulded by Jarrod, however. He wants Jarrod to sculpt more sensational pieces that could form the basis of a Chambers Of Horrors-style exhibition and bring more paying customers into their premises. Jarrod is naturally repulsed by the idea and refuses point-blank.

I don’t personally see anything wrong with the idea of a Chamber of Horrors. We have one here in Dublin in our little wax museum with Hannibal Lecter in it and Buffalo Bill from SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, as well as Dracula (modelled on Christopher Lee in the Hammer films) in his coffin and Freddie Krueger from the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET movies.

I’d love to see a Jack the Ripper waxwork set against a Victorian backdrop, or any other famous serial murderers either from real life or from films; Dr. Crippen, say, or John Christie, the Rillington Place murderer, Burke and Hare, the infamous body-snatchers, or even- thinking outside the box here!- Countess Elizabeth Bathory of Hungary. She supposedly retained her legendary youth by bathing in the blood of virgins, whom she obviously had to murder first. Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in London probably features some of these lads.

People love a good scare, and they’re more than willing to pay for it if it’s good enough. That’s why we buy horror DVDs and books and true-life crime magazines, and why we go to a Chamber of Horrors or, in the old days, to a travelling freak exhibition or for a ride on the ghost train at a funfair. Although I’m on Vincent Price’s character’s side overall, I kind of see where Matthew Burke is coming from too, wanting to make a few bucks out of a horror show.

Burke is even more desperate for money than Jarrod realises, however. He sets fire to the museum, nearly killing poor Jarrod in the process. Jarrod survives, but he is horrifically disfigured from trying to save his precious creations.

The scene where the wax figures are melting in the terrific heat from the fire is so powerful that it’s one I’ve remembered from my childhood. It’s, quite simply, unforgettable. Unforgettable and so very sad. Those poor wax figures…! They didn’t deserve that horribly gruesome end.

Fear not, gentle readers. The Wax Museum rises again, under the direction of Jarrod once more, but it is a Jarrod with crippled hands who is unable to sculpt the way he used to. His deaf-mute assistant, Igor, played by a young and deliciously muscular Charles Bronson, does the work for him now, following his employer’s instructions, of course.

The Wax Museum, oddly enough, has a new feature, one that is welcomed with positively blood-thirsty glee by the punters of early twentieth century New York. It now features a Chamber Of Horrors, something Jarrod always maintained he wanted no truck with. The juicy crimes and sensational recent events that the public crave can now be seen here, recreated painstakingly in waxen sculptures.

The Chamber Of Horrors even carries, strangely enough, a waxwork likeness of Jarrod’s former business partner, Matthew Burke, who apparently committed suicide, or did he…? Was Burke actually murdered by a mysterious cloaked and disfigured man who then made his death look like a suicide…? I’ll never tell.

And I certainly won’t tell you that Burke’s gold-digging fianceé, Cathy (played by Carolyn Jones, once wed to television producer Aaron Spelling and who starred as Morticia Addams in the original black-and-white television series of THE ADDAMS FAMILY), was murdered soon afterwards and then her body disappeared from the morgue.

Tsk, tsk. If I tell you that, then I might as well tell you that Cathy’s friend, Sue Allen, who herself has been pursued by the same cloaked and disfigured man we mentioned earlier, visits the Wax Museum and is deeply disturbed to observe that Jarrod’s Joan Of Arc bears more than a passing resemblance to her dead friend, Cathy…

This film is great fun. The sets and costumes are all spot-on and Charles Bronson is terrific- and dangerously sexy- as Jarrod’s new right-hand-man, Igor. You might recognise the stiff-upper-lipped Paul Cavanagh, who plays art critic and Egyptologist Sidney Wallace, as having acted in three of the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes films, made between 1939 and 1945.

Also, you’ll surely know the actor portraying the energetic sergeant Jim Shane from having also played the Reverend Alden in LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE for years in the 1970s. He and Dr. Baker were the mainstays of the town of Walnut Creek, along with storekeeper Nels Oleson and upstanding local citizen, Charles ‘Pa’ Ingalls.

A great musical score by David Buttolph adds to the creepy atmosphere and Vincent Price was born to play the creator of the Wax Museum who is driven insane by the unfortunate circumstances in which he finds himself.

The film got bad reviews at the time, but for the life of me I don’t know why. It’s a much better film than the original early talkie on which it’s based, MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM from 1933. This movie features some excellent screaming from Fay Wray of KING KONG fame, but sadly not much else. I didn’t like it half as much as the 1953 re-make, and that’s the truth.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

DEATH WISH. (1974) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

death wish

DEATH WISH. (1974) BASED ON THE NOVEL ‘DEATH WISH’ BY BRIAN GARFIELD. DIRECTED AND CO-PRODUCED BY MICHAEL WINNER. MUSIC BY HERBIE HANCOCK. STARRING CHARLES BRONSON, HOPE LANGE, KATHLEEN TOLAN, VINCENT GARDENIA, STEVEN KEATS, STUART MARGOLIN, WILLIAM REDFIELD AND JEFF GOLDBLUM.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Big-shot company engineer-architect Paul Kersey is a very unlucky man. Every time he steps outta his New York/Manhattan apartment, he gets mugged by some jive-talking ‘Seventies cats with the Afros and everything who say things like, give us the money, honey and who think they’re cool just ’cause they’ve got flick-knives. Let me tell you cool cats, any asshole can carry a flick-knife. It doesn’t make you remotely special. Think about it.

Anyway, let’s start at the beginning of this, one of Charles Bronson’s biggest ever films, to which I believe there were many sequels made. He plays a family man, the above-mentioned Paul Kersey who, at the start of the film, is enjoying a sexy beach holiday with the wife he still loves, Joanna, even though they’ve been married for years and years and years. It’s sweet that they’re still hot for each other after all this time and still enjoy some nice cosy old-people sex.

They have a nice big apartment thanks to Paul’s nice comfortable well-paid job and a grown-up married daughter called Carol whom they both adore. One fateful day, when Paul is at work and Carol’s husband Jack is presumably at work also in his own place of business, something terrible happens to Joanna and Carol.

They are followed home from the grocery store by three scumbags, a trio of disgusting anti-social losers who gain access to the Kersey family apartment by pretending to be the grocery delivery boy. In a truly horrific home invasion scene, they rape Carol and beat her mother to death in front of her eyes.

Carol never recovers from the shock and ends up being put in a sanatorium by her devastated husband and heartbroken father. Here, catatonic, drugged up to the eyeballs and no longer able to talk, she may well spend the rest of her days.

Jeff Goldblum (THE FLY, JURASSIC PARK, FRIENDS) in his debut film role plays one of the assailants. He has this brilliant, jerky manic quality about him, as if he’s just downed a bucket of amphetamines chased down by a gallon of Coca-Cola and Skittles in order to calm his ADHD or something. He’s all jittery, tense, edgy, nervy.

Already he’s memorable, someone you’d recognise anywhere and whom you know has the capability to one day be good, really good. Although, of course, one wonders what esteemed scientist Ian Malcolm would make of these highly dubious anti-social shenanigans, breaking and entering and referring to one’s John Thomas as a ‘paintbrush,’ as in, ‘I’m gonna paint her mouth...!’ Oh yes, jolly good show, lads, do please carry on.

The effect of the rape-murder on Paul Kersey is what matters here. He’s not a violent man to begin with. In fact, he’s referred to as a ‘bleeding heart liberal’ and he hasn’t touched a gun since his hunter father was accidentally shot dead by another hunter after being mistaken for a deer. Also, Paul was a conscientious objector or ‘conchie’ during the Korean War. He’s still a really good shot though.

After being gifted with a lovely gun by a grateful business acquaintance, Paul takes to carrying the gun around with him on the darkened streets of night-time New York. He uses it to pepper any would-be muggers full of lead, and trust me when I say that a lot of folks are lining up to mug Paul, and they’re all carrying flick-knives. Gun beats knife. That much I do know.

The body count climbs ever higher as Paul start to really get into his role as a self-styled vigilante on the streets of New York. He starts to go out at night deliberately looking for lowlife criminals to shoot, instead of waiting until they just happen along by chance. He’s like a walking one-man protest against crime in New York, which was really bad in real life during this period.

The press pick up on his actions and soon the newspapers, magazines (yes, they still had them back then!) and TV news bulletins are all full of talk of ‘The Vigilante,’ as he now becomes officially known. You can’t just take the law into your own hands, though. That would set a very bad precedent and would be disastrous for the police force.

I love NYPD Lt. Frank Ochoa, the hard-bitten New York detective tasked with getting ‘The Vigilante’ off the streets. In fact, he’s so world-weary, worldly-wise and hard-bitten that he makes Columbo and Kojak look like two girly sissies on their way to ballet class via the ribbon store and the candy kiosk. He’s brilliant.

The higher-ups don’t even need to have this mysterious lone gunman put behind bars or otherwise brought to justice or anything. They just need him to stop doing what he’s doing ’cause he’s setting a very bad example to the public who, like the Hatpin Granny, are all now becoming ‘have-a-go heroes’ themselves in the style of their idol, ‘The Vigilante.’

The rape-and-murder scene is by far the most effective and memorable in the film. The rest of the film is mostly just Charles Bronson shooting at black people. Although I love the film, before I ever saw it I always assumed the premise of it would be to have Charles Bronson track down and kill his wife’s murderer and his daughter’s rapists.

This never seems to occur to him, however, even though they’ve got a fairly big clue in the form of the grocery store where the Kersey ladies did their shopping. He takes his revenge on crimmo lowlifes and society’s drop-outs in general, but not specifically on the perpetrators of the one act from which he’s suffered so badly and which has cost him so dearly. Strange, that. Ah well. Charles Bronson is well fit and handsome in this and he looks great holding a shooter, even an imaginary one. I’ll take that.

Here’s some random stuff about the film which you might or might not know. I bloody well knew I recognised a young Sonia Manzano, who played Maria in SESAME STREET for a whopping forty-four years, on the checkout till in the supermarket early on in the movie. Score one for me, lol.

I did not, however, recognise Olympia Dukakis as a cop at the precinct. Also, Denzel Washington swears blind that he did not make his film debut here as an alley mugger, and I don’t see any reason in the world for him to lie about it.

Finally, I am never, ever going to New York because of all the muggings and the high crime rate in general. I don’t care if it’s years later and things have changed, I’m still not going and you can’t make me.

I’ll stay here in good old Ireland where we don’t have that level of crime. Here we just have junkies who’ll jab you with a syringe-full of HIV-infected blood on 0’Connell Street unless you hand over your smartphone and wallet pronto. What’s that they say? It’s better the devil you know…? I should say it is an’ all.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

 

SERGIO LEONE’S ‘ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST.’ (1968) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

west jill face

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. (1968) DIRECTED BY SERGIO LEONE.

STORY BY DARIO ARGENTO, BERNARDO BERTOLUCCI AND SERGIO LEONE. STARRING CLAUDIA CARDINALE, HENRY FONDA, JASON ROBARDS, CHARLES BRONSON AND GABRIELE FORZETTI.

MUSIC BY ENNIO MORRICONE.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘He not only plays. He can shoot too.’

‘Gonna be a beautiful town, Sweetwater.’

‘People like that have something inside. Something to do with death.’

‘Nothing matters now. Not the land, not the money, not the woman.’

‘How can you trust a man who wears both a belt and suspenders? Guy doesn’t even trust his own pants.’

‘He’s whittling on a piece of wood. I gotta feeling when he stops whittling, something’s gonna happen.’

Christ Almighty, I love cowboys. Hot sweaty cowboys in films like this one really do it for me. With their week’s growth of beard, tousled hair, cigarette-smoke-narrowed eyes and big fat holsters, they push all my buttons big-time.

I would not say no to being dragged by the hair into the nearest stable by a seasoned cowboy and shown the stuff that a real man is made of. Of course, they have a name for that type of thing nowadays (I believe it’s called being dragged by the hair into the nearest stable by a seasoned cowboy and shown the stuff that a real man is made of) but, oh wow, how glorious the Wild West must have been in some ways. You saw what you wanted and you just took it.

A woman, a homestead, a decent piece of horseflesh or a plate of beans. It was all the one to those dusty drifters, half-crazed with lust after many lonely nights on the trail of the lonesome pine, beating their meat in solitude to the music of the crickets.

Can this be the most magnificent Western, spaghetti or otherwise, ever made? God, yes. Set in the dying days of the old Wild West as we know it, it’s an epic battle between, not good and evil exactly but, shall we say, more a battle between bad-with-more-than-a-hint-of-good-thrown-in and evil, if you get me. Although of course everything seemed so black or white in the old days with not much in-between. No room for half-measures.

Claudia Cardinale, an absolute bombshell of a woman cast in the mould of Sophia Loren, Raquel Welch and Brigitte Bardot, plays Jill, a young woman who travels alone to the railroad town of Flagstone. Jill has hope in her heart. Jill is going to be looked after by a man from now on. No more nasty fending for herself in the cold cruel world. Nice work if you can get it, huh?

She’s expecting to be met off the train by Brett McBain, an older man with property whom she’s married the month before. After a lifetime of whoring in New Orleans, Jill is finally ready to settle down and embrace respectability.

But the entire McBain family, the father and his three children Maureen, Patrick and Timmy have been brutally slaughtered by the hired killer known locally as Frank. Frank works for crippled railroad mogul Mr. Morton.

Mr. Morton wants Brett McBain’s land, which is rich in water, a valuable commodity in such a dry, dusty desert town, but not only that. The railroad is expanding at a rate of knots and the McBain land is the ideal situation for a new station.

Mr. Morton wants Frank to scare the McBains’ away, but Frank is something of a hothead. No half-measures with Frank, see? A few well-placed gunshots and Jill’s lovely dream of married bliss goes up in smoke. Aw well, maybe respectability ain’t all it’s cracked up to be anyway, lol. Maybe Jill’s better off without it.

Henry Fonda is superb as the baddie Frank. Dressed in black, chewing tobacco constantly- a disgusting habit!- and always looking to increase his own cut of every pie, he’s probably the most evil character Mister Goody Two-Shoes Nice Guy Henry Fonda (TWELVE ANGRY MEN, THE WRONG MAN) has ever played.

Frank’s cold, calculating and cruel. He talks about killing Jill, the rightful heir now to the entire McBain fortune and therefore an obstacle to Mr. Morton’s acquisition of the precious land, even while he’s making love to her in a scene that always makes me hold my breath.

Such is his personal magnetism that Jill doesn’t even care about what he’s threatening her with. All the women love a bad boy, and hired gun Frank is as bad as they come.

Jill’s so weak at the knees she can’t even stand up straight and take umbrage when he says, while expertly caressing her naked body: ‘You like to feel a man’s hands all over you. Even if they’re the hands of the man who killed your husband.’ Swoon, Jill, swoon, what else is there to do?

Jason Robards plays Cheyenne, a local bandit whom Frank attempts to frame for the wholesale slaughter of the McBain family. Cheyenne fancies Jill too and she likes him but I think that this is more of a friendship thing in that he never tries to force himself on her. When he barges in on her at the McBain homestead, however, she naturally assumes that that’s just what he’ll do. Check out what she says to him:

‘You can throw me across the table and amuse yourself with me, and you can even bring in your men. No woman ever died from that.’ (I don’t think that’s strictly true, is it?) ‘And afterwards all it’ll take is a jug of boiling water and I’ll be exactly the same as I was before. Just with another filthy memory.’ Feisty little thing, ain’t she?

I love it when Cheyenne tells Jill as he’s leaving her kitchen, having partaken of her hot, strong coffee: ‘You know, Jill, you remind me of my mother. She was the biggest whore in Alameda and the finest woman who ever lived. Whoever my father was, for an hour or for a month, he must have been a happy man.’

In his own way there, he considers that he’s paying her a compliment. However, the #me too and #time’s up people would have a fit at some of Cheyenne’s later words to the buxom Jill. Referring to the railway workers and station builders working away right outside her door:

‘You don’t know how good it makes a man feel to see a woman like you. Just to look at her. And if one of them should pat your behind, just make believe it’s nothing. They earned it…!’ You know what, for once, I ain’t sayin’ nuthin’…

I’ve left Charles Bronson till last because he’s the coolest character in the film by miles. He plays a Mysterious Stranger who comes into town on the train with a view to finding Frank and wreaking revenge on him for unknown crimes Frank has committed in the past.

The Man says very little, but what he says counts. ‘Inside the coats were three men. Inside the men were three bullets.’ He’s the f**king coolest cowboy to ever wear shoe leather and have a leathery complexion to match. (Although in that red undershirt, I thought he bore an uncanny resemblance to Ralph Waite who played Pa Walton in THE WALTONS…!)

The Man plays his silver harmonica with an eerie expertise and before long, without his lifting a finger really because that’s how freakin’ cool he is, Jill is head-over-heels in love with him, Cheyenne the bandit is his friend for life and the normally confident Frank is running scared. He doesn’t know who the Mysterious Stranger is but he knows that he’s frightened of him.

The showdown between Frank and The Man is one of the greatest in cinema. They just don’t make ’em like that no more. The first ten minutes of the film too, by the way, is fantastic beyond words.

It’s like a complete short film in itself, the three dirty sweaty cowboys in the long coats known as ‘dusters’ waiting for the train and the one person they’re waiting for is revealed to be suddenly on the other side of the tracks, eerily playing his harmonica…

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST is a fabulous film. With a knockout score by Ennio Morricone (I saw him perform live here in Dublin in 2015, by the way!) and the constant close-ups of craggy, unsmiling unshaven faces, it’s something that leaves a powerful impression behind it, unlike some other films which you may well forget the minute they’re over. This is one film you won’t forget in a hurry. This one, you’ll remember. It’s a killer of a film.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor