In the 1890’s in London Claude Dupree (John Carradine) is the owner of a small wax museum that specializes in the macabre. Among his favorite displays are Lizzie Borden, Marie Antoinette and Jack the Ripper. Dupree has had the business for decades and is now considering selling his creations. Amos Burns (Broderick Crawford) owns a wax museum in New York City and wants to buy Dupree’s wax figures for his museum. Dupree is now having second thoughts and wants one more night to think about it. He’s grown to think of his wax figures as his friends. He also cares for a deaf and mute hunchback, Karkov (Steven Marlo), who would have nowhere else to live if the museum closed. Burns acquiesces but is not happy about it.
Burns leaves Dupree and goes next door to the Clock and Horn Dance Hall for a drink. The owner is Tim Fowley (Louis Hayward) who employs a songbird named Laurie Mell (Shani Wallis). From Fowley Burns learns that he owns the building that houses the wax museum but that’s all he learns.
Later that night Dupree is awakened by a nightmare where the wax figures come alive and attack him. He goes downstairs to check on his waxworks. The wax statue of Jack the Ripper comes alive and stabs him. The next day Inspector Daniels (Maurice Evans) and Sergeant Michael Hawks (Mark Edwards) investigate the scene of the crime. It leaks out that Dupree was stabbed with the Ripper’s knife and everyone is talking that perhaps Jack the Ripper is back having not killed anyone for ten years. Daniels questions Dupree’s assistant Harry Flexner (Ray Milland). He also questions Burns and tries to question Karkov but with little results.
Dupree’s attorney, Southcott (Patric Knowles), shows up with Dupree’s niece Meg Collins (Nicole Shelby) and her guardian Julia Hawthorn (Elsa Lanchester). Julia insists that they continue running the museum, which is now packed with people wanting to see where the gruesome murder happened and to stare at the figure of Jack the Ripper. It means a nice brisk business for the museum. The police have limited suspects but when even they start being killed Sergeant Hawks has to double down on his investigation before he loses all his suspects.
“Terror in the Wax Museum” was released in 1973 and was directed by Georg Fenady. It is a horror mystery movie.
This movie was a nice surprise. Although not quite Hammer it did have a quasi-Hammer flavor but with an American twist. There were lots of established actors that were cast in some great characters. Lanchester played the annoying and overbearing guardian to a T. Carradine as the slightly nutty Dupree was also wonderful. Even Milland as the snooty self-impressed assistant was the kind of role he does so well. It is a “B” movie but a good one. It’s full of spooky atmosphere and quite a bit of suspense. There isn’t a lot of gore in it like in the onslaught of slasher films that hit the theaters in force in the seventies. It’s more of a sophisticated slasher film.
Many of the statues come alive during the dream sequences. Having actors pose for a long time in one position can be a problem. To solve it Producer Andrew Fenady hired members of the Laguna Beach Festival of the Arts. The Southern California festival includes a pageant where performers pose as people from famous paintings and artworks.
This film and “Arnold” 1973, which also takes place in a wax museum were made back to back and were both directed by Georg Fenady and produced by his brother Andrew J. Fenady. They also used some of the same actors and of course the same sets.