Thursday, October 28, 2010

Waxworks: Season 2 Episode 16

Originally aired 1/8/62
Starring Oscar Homolka, Martin Kosleck, Antoinette Bower.
Written by Robert Bloch, based on his short story.
Directed by Herschel Daugherty.

When a young lady is murdered under peculiar circumstances, the police are drawn to the wax museum of Pierre Jacquelin (Homolka). Could the killer be a wax figure brought to life by sorcery or just a jealous suitor?

JS: I'm a sucker for wax museum movies, so I was anticipating a slam-dunk Thriller classic in "Waxworks." I wish I could say my disappointment was merely from having set my expectations too high, but aside from a few excellent visual bits, this episode was more lifeless than most of Jacquelin's figures.

PE: Nice opening, slow middle, great final shot. I think that sums it up.

JS: Well said. On the bright side, or I guess I should say on the moody, shadowy side, the shots in the waxworks are beautifully lit, creepy, and effective. Unfortunately we then cut to brightly lit, boring morgue and police station stages, where it feels like we spend the bulk of the episode.

PE: So let me get this straight (SPOILER ALERT): Homolka dresses up like his wax dummies when he needs to kill. Why does he bother disguising himself? To fool the victim? Illogical. And if he can bring his wax wife to life, why not the rest of the dummies? Let them do his killing for him.

JS: Funny how in "The Weird Tailor" the manikin looked too fake, and here, certain wax figures looked too real. When the Sergeant is interrogating Annette (which was a pretty amusing banter leading up to their 'date'), don't you think he'd investigate the figure that looked a little too real more closely? It's been awhile since they've made an appearance in an episode, so I had forgotten about the investigatory techniques of Thriller Police Squad.

PE: On the plus side, Kosleck, Homolka, and Bower are all solid. Bower's a beauty to contend with in the final voting of Miss Thriller.

JS: Sorry Pete, Bower won't even make the preliminary ballot (unless we take into consideration the final shot - and note that in the menu screen they flip the image, so as not to ruin any surprises in the episode). The girl who gets the hatchet (June Kenney) stands a better chance of making the Thriller babe list.

PE: Not one of the better Bloch adaptations. Surprising too, as it's got all the elements: the creepy waxworks, some gen-u-wine genre stars (Homolka, Kosleck, and Ron Ely), and the requisite Thriller shadows. But then there's a deadly snail's pace, the constant return to police headquarters, and that "I know it wasn't you, Jaquelin, for there is the bench with all your disguises" reveal, complete with... the bench with all the disguises shot. Jaquelin can dress up like a wax dummy, murder a cop, and change back into a mild-mannered curator in the time it takes to forge a Robertson Moffat masterpiece.

JS: On top of all that, what should have been a straight-up crime show filled with horrific imagery has a supernatural twist shoehorned in that frankly makes no sense whatsoever.

PE: The police in this episode have a high tolerance for their colleagues' murders. Lt. Bailey (Booth Colman, who has a certain way with the beautiful women) is cold on a slab and his partners, Sgt. Dane (Alan Baxter) and Lt. Hudson (a wooden Ely), don't seem to notice. There was a full house in the morgue so maybe they hadn't gotten the memo yet. Hudson is more intent on chatting up Annette (Bower) than finding the killer. Then, at the climax, when Hudson buys the farm, Dane shows very little interest.

JS: I did laugh when Detective Tarzan (Ely) busts down the door, saying, "It's been ten years since I played football, but let's see what I remember." And I still remember Booth Colman from the Planet of the Apes TV show. Hey, how about it - are you up for An Ape A Day blog when we're done here? (I'm selling the TV when we're done here. -PE)

PE: "Waxworks" originally appeared in the January 1939 issue of Weird Tales. When Bloch wrote his teleplay for Thriller, he jettisoned most of the elements of the original story, save the waxworks itself and the fiery climax. In the WT version, a Frenchman named Bertrand becomes obsessed with the wax figure of Salome in a Chamber of Horrors. He notices that the head of John the Baptist on Salome's silver tray is constantly changing. When he confronts the proprietor, he learns that Salome is actually the man's wife, an executed murderess, and the crazed waxman is offing his lovestruck customers (not much future for his business, I'm afraid). The two men have a tussle and Salome is burned to a bubbling puddle, revealing the skeleton underneath. When Bloch incorporated "Waxworks" into his screenplay for The House That Dripped Blood in 1971, he returned to the original storyline. Just as in "The Weird Tailor," his main protagonist is played by Peter Cushing.



  1. I'd say you two guys are jaded because of the criticism of this episode because I liked it alot. My favorite part was the morgue attendant taking his sandwich out of one of the refrigerator body drawers. Now that's hardboiled!

  2. That was a great Robert Bloch bit, to be sure. But one cadaver sandwich does not a 4-Karloffer make.

  3. Too slow paced for my liking -- the standard lead-in, with some nice dialogue, but lacking cleverness in the execution. Bertroux steps in and is dispatched rather quickly, when he may have been someone we could have followed a little closer, instead of the amorous cops. That reveal of the disguises and the ending still didn't add up -- was the witch calling her the waxworks to life or was it ol' Homolka, somehow able to transition back and forth and have the strength to do all this evil deeds?
    That was a great ending shot, though. More memorable than the previous 44 minutes, which is something.
    Also, you made a minor mistake -- Booth Coleman's Lt. Bailey ends up solving the crime and wasn't the one to be stamped with the license plate. An interview with Coleman appears in the most recent Filmfax magazine, where he called it "a rehash of all those wax museum film vehicles..."
    Six Karloffs of wax.

  4. Thanks for the correction, Rockfish. Truthfully, all those cops blended together after awhile. Thank god Ely was eight feet tall. I'd have mixed him up with the French cop!

  5. There's a weird moment in my commentary track with Ron Borst where I talk about Bloch's obsession with Jack the Ripper; a few seconds later, I repeat a variation of this observation, unsure of a few facts I stated with certainty just before. Is Gerani having a mini-brain seizure in the Image recording room, one might wonder? In truth, we did one of our very rare re-takes (I mentioned there was a chance that Antoinette Bower might be contributing to our project, a hope that didn't pan out, so everyone thought that comment should be cut -- everyone was right!). We then picked up after my first Bloch/Ripper statement, and I began talking about this subject again, leading back into the commentary proper. Unfortunately, the editor left BOTH statements intact, one right on top of the other! And since the whole thing played smoothly, without the suggestion of an edit... well, there you have it. Mr. G goes bonkers before our very ears, even as a patient Ron Borst tries to "humor" him. What the hell. At least I got to thank old pal RB for inspiring me to become a film/TV historian before the session ended.

    As for "Waxworks" itself... Some impressive moments and an excellent finale, but a disappointment overall, given the talent involved and the potentially evocative subject matter. Even so, this was one of the episodes that MCA-TV recommended be shown "right away" to help get the '70s syndicated THRILLER off to a solid horrific start.

  6. I feel almost giddy that one of the "thriller Elite" was disappointed in this as well. Almost makes up for you guys liking "Pigeons from Hell." Almost!
    As for "Waxworks" being one of those "put 'em up front" episodes, I can certainly see that. It's got the few shocks and that finale may have left viewers thinking they'd seen something more effective than the episode actually was.

  7. Let me wax enthusiastic.....

    Yes, the police station scenes are bland and sluggish (did we really have to watch Antointette Bower sign ALL THREE of her statements, even under the manly gaze of Tarzan?), and Booth Coleman is a very dull kind of guy. Yes, Oscar H. dressing up to do the killings is goofy; a better choice would have been for Oscar and the "murderer witch" herself to bring them to life and control them.

    But, in the final analysis, I don't really give a !#*$% about these things, since the episode is so cool. No episode has more of that great claustrophobic "chamber-drama" feel than this one; the Wax Museum set is a combination of industrial warehouse and carnival fun-house, and creeps me out just THINKING about it. I love that sequence with Martin Kosleck pounding on the metal doors in the middle of the night, while the camera "drops in" on each of the displays. The brick walls and doorways, the illuminated "Waxworks" sign in the stairwell--it's a masterpiece of simple but effective design and lighting.

    My favorite cast introduction of them all, each a beautifully rendered duo-portrait (Karloff must have done his intro in 2 takes, since we clearly see the axe cut from take #1 on the fantastically rendered door painting).

    Kosleck, an oft-maligned actor, turns in a finely-shaded and deft performance. And--call me nutty---I think the highlight of the show may be the interrogation scene with Homolka and Coleman; anyone seriously interested in the craft of a true actor should study this scene (not for Coleman...); Oscar Homolka is simply brilliant, right down to the way he twirls that cigarette in his fingers. Then there's his final scene, where it's clear he's going off the deep end; gone is the charming, witty and urbane showman---he now seems mildly unhinged and VERY dangerous. Fabulous acting by Mr. H, another true THRILLER showcase! (BTW, wasn't that Homolka as the bearded figure in the box? I think it was. Another freaky and disturbing image).

    The discovery of the ashen, corpse-like Antoinette Bower strapped by her neck to the wall is shocking; I'm surprised it was even allowed on TV. The grand finale of this show is a real standout; you can carp at it all you want, but whoever would have dreamed of the final 2 minutes of a weekly TV show in 1962 showing a step-by-step meltdown of a beautiful woman's wax face with a gaping, screaming skull beneath? C'mon, all ye fans of TV horror! Get a grip! (though I wish they had used one of Thriller's better prop skulls; this one looked a tad artifical, with the deep lines, etc).

    This is one show where I find myself BLOWING PAST its weak elements; it's just too damned good!

    NINE waxy-build-up Karloff heads!

    (But why was Oscar wearing John Newland's corduroy coat from "Portrait"?; must be an artsy-guy thing).


    (So was that Homolka himself as the bearded dummy driving the car? I think it was...).

  8. I disagee. Allan Warren is right to place this among the best Thriller episodes. It may not have have the sustained tension of THE NEW EXHIBIT (TZ's fourth season episode with Martin Balsam) but a strong cast keeps the narrative rolling along till the terrific conclusion.

  9. The marvellous opening and the photography are it's chief assets, as the plot is so full of holes that it's hard to believe that a professional writer actually wrote this. Jason Wingreen's 'Portrait without a Face' seems utterly plausible next to this one. Back to 'The Muystery of the Wax Museum' for me.

  10. Says Warren:

    "Bloch's twisting story line, with its red herrings and false starts, is a splendid exercise in misdirection, and that, coupled with the waxworks theme (a perrenial in horror films), works to episode's advantage. 'Waxworks' is THRILLER as its best."

    I couldn't agree more!

    Ostentatious direction and stellar transcription of the eerie look the series sustained in its best installments, and a perfect compliment to one of Bloch's most perfectly realized screenplays.

    To each his own.

  11. I enjoy this one quite a bit, for Homolka, the way it's shot, your general wax museum creepiness, and especially the urban night scenes which sometimes put me in mind of Val Lewton. These are enough for me to forgive the plot problems. Hell, I simply enjoy it.

    As to the oft-mentioned "Pigeons"; I look forward to the day when you boys revisit it, after it's no longer the high expectation juggernaut. You'll see! You'll see!

  12. Just to clarify: I consider this to be an enjoyable (indeed, seminal) episode of THRILLER that should have been drop-dead brilliant, given the talent involved. That talent includes the writer-director team of "The Grim Reaper." So I suppose my use of the word "disappointment" is relative.

    Don't worry, Larry; they WILL come to appreciate "Pigeons" in time. We just need to be patient, and ultimately charitable. I'm certainly up for the latter, especially after viewing P & J's deftly-conceived Ursula Andress photo feature.

  13. Hey!
    If youse guys can find us that rare unaired version of "Pigeons From Hell" that featured Ursula Andress and Elizabeth Montgomery in the lost travelers' roles, I'm up for a re-evaluation.

  14. I've just re-watched this one and my earlier comments were a mite too harsh and needed qualifications.

    My feeling and line of thinking is along the lines of others above, that had the final reveal of the plot been that it was the waxworks that had come to life and had Homolka been allowed to express some subtle but almost barely suppressed neurotic jealousy as all the cops kept on hitting on his woman, the whole episode would have had more integrity.

    It's almost structured in a mini segments akin to 'the Cheaters'; each murder is suggested in a sequence that involves the victim, sometimes clunkingly as with the inital one, with "oh, you forgot to draw the club foot of the murderer", "What club foot?", "the one the audience will see dragging along in a couple of minutes to get you", ok, ok, that's not the actual dialogue but does make a point.

    There is the initial girl victim (why doesn't the killer just get rid of the incriminating sketch?), the first cop, Ron Ely's cop, the French cop, and finally the chief of detectives. The Bloch's maguffin mystery passing between them.

    The red herrings just don't play fair with the audience.

    And as cops are knocked off, there is jarringly very little anger or sadness over their demises.

    On the positive side, even the brightly lit indoor scenes only help to accentuate the darker ones and work to the episode's benefit. Thankfully, there is very little to bore in this episode, romances being cut short.

    As it is, it's the deliciously macabre spirit of the piece, it's sinisterly evocative and low-key music, and the directorial flair, plus Homolka's marvellous performance that keep faith with Thriller's more beloved ghoulish side.

    Two Karloff heads out of four.

  15. A nicely creepy episode, with a good performance by Oscar Homolka, a well-plotted script (except maybe for the killer's motivation) and an understated score by Morton Stevens. The storyline kept me guessing (is it supernatural or just a character who would like us to think it is?) and the final shot was satisfyingly grisly. Unlike in the otherwise excellent episode THE WEIRD TAILOR, I didn't see any perceptible movement of the frightening waxwork figures here, and this helped sustain the mood. WAXWORKS would certainly be in my top ten of episodes watched so far, way ahead of WELL OF DOOM or even THE TERROR IN TEAKWOOD. Three out of four Karloff heads.

  16. It's about time the Thriller crew lit up a candle!

    I loved Mystery of the Wax Museum and House of Wax, so I was pretty geared up to see the Thriller take on the old Wax Museum horror tale.

    The prologue was very effective. Even though you know what's coming, the dim lighting, selective camera shots, and sparse soundtrack work perfectly in tandem to light the wick of horror on this week's Thriller candle.

    Anyone who has seen the two classic was movies immediately knows that the episode will climax with a showdown with Pierre. Despite that major plot reveal, I could still sit back and enjoy Waxworks.

    Oscar Homolka has the right amount of "weird old man from the old country" in his performance. Antoinette Bower is stunningly beautiful and not too shabby with her performance. Unfortunately, as with other Thriller episodes, the weird and creepy part is offset with the meat and potatoes coppers, but with a twist...a frog copper! The actors playing the Yank coppers are as to be expected...tough guys who ain't particularly bright. I loved that the one cop didn't seem to care that his partner was just killed, as much as he was interested in getting a date.

    I enjoyed the scenes with Jacquelin were done in the same spirit as those with Lionel Atwill and Vincent Price. The script was disorienting enough that I couldn't figure out exactly what type of evil ol' Jacque was doing.

    The role Annette played in the traveling wax museum of death was also hard to pin down. Looking back, my confusion was in part because the script didn't make a whole lotta sense.

    As other reviewers have noted, the middle section does drag a bit, but the museum scenes have that great creepy quality about them and the ending just melts your face.

    Three Karloff wax heads for Waxworks.

  17. OK guys, let's get real. Considering the award this site was nominated for in 2010, where's the love for Rondo Hatton? He stood stark still throughout several shots, and then didn't even get a screen credit. How far The Creeper had fallen...

    Homolka is HOMOLKA!! His closeups in the interrogation scene are right up there with his line reading in Mr. Sardonicus, "When my master says, 'Krull, do this thing.' I do the thing, whatever it may be." The guy was incomparable.


      Not bad - Steven's musical score, episode players et al. Vincent Price cleaned up with a movie, House of Wax, later on with, would you believe . . . with Diana Rigg, of the original Avengers BBC series.

    2. Correction-Diana Rigg w/Price - Theater of Blood.

    3. Just watched the DVD of this episode, with commentary.

      For Bob Lindstrom:
      Rondo Hatton died in 1946, so I think we may safely assume that the guy in "Waxworks" isn't him.
      Who he is - I think I remember him as one of George Raft's sub-gangsters in "Some Like It Hot", among many other '60s appearances, many if not most uncredited.
      I think I'll go check IMDb, just in case.

    4. Back after a quick trip to IMDb:

      A British-born actor named Harry Wilson is credited as "Wax figure with knife" in the entry for "Waxworks".
      According to the brief bio in IMDb, Wilson was afflicted with acromegaly, as was Rondo Hatton.
      Unlike Hatton, Harry Wilson had a lengthy career in films and TV, mainly in uncredited bits (like the one in "Some Like It Hot"), from the '30s through the '60s.
      So there too.

    5. Harry Wilson played The Monster in Richard Cunha's 1958 FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER, and has another unbilled silent bit in "The Innocent Bystanders," in a pub scene opposite John Anderson.

  18. While watching this, i realized this was one I had seen as a child. It gave me chills then and still kind of did now. I was never bored, despite the slow pace, I was enjoying wondering who the murderer was. And I too love Wax Museum stories. You know there will be the bubbling cauldron of pink wax but I was otherwise never sure who was going to turn out to be hopelessly mad. I do think it might have been better if Bloch stuck to the original story.

    I'm amused at how poor Antoinette Bower had to carry the mantle of cliche French womanhood: Obsessed with romance and sex and catnip to men. Bower was an interesting choice -- she was ubiquitous on '60s television sets, and always seemed capable, mature and very cold. An odd but interesting choice to be irresistible to men.

    And yes, the final shot was great.

  19. I'm with Larry Rapchack on this one, which I just watched again (in a blizzard, thankfully snug and indoors), and as before, having watched it a few times before, Duh Waxworks just gets better with time. All the criticisms about the slow pace,--hey, it's a horror, not a western--rather ignore the splendid atmoshere that Mr. R praised so highly.

    Chamber horror, indeed. I love the morge (the second season Thrillers seem to feature a lot of them, as well as more animated figures that shouldn't be animated, but no matter). When Thriller was on a roll, as with this episode, it comes together in a manner uniquely Thrillerish. The Uni back lot city streets were used to excellent effect. I liked the Ely-Bower stroll down the street and the Chinese restaurant scene even as the dialogue was nothing to write home about.

    I've read they wanted Peter Lorre for Jacquelin, had to"settle" for Oscar Homolka. Much as I love Peter L., I think that at this point in his career, portly and phlegmatic (even as if line readings were still excellent) he might not have been up to the curator role that Mr. Homolka breathed such (smokey) life into. From an acting standpoint, he owns the episode, hands down.

    Honorable mention must go to Martin Kosleck, especially since while the actor was game, he didn't get much good dialogue. His death scene was the most poorly staged and stupdly foreshadowed in the episode by his firing exactly six bullets to open the door to Jaquelin's bedroom.

    More honors should be showered on director Herschel Daugherty, not a "big name" from feature films (as in not generally regarded as even a minor auteur, as Brahm, Florey and Ida Lupino were, as well as, from a TV standpoint, John Newland). Daugherty was regarded as a journeyman director, but I'd missed the credits and you told me The Waxworks was a Brahm, I'd believe it. Daugherty's handling of the material was masterful.

  20. Ron Ely seems like he's cast from the same mold of talentless-but-matinee-idol-looks actor that The Simpsons parodied with the Troy McClure character.

    1. Yes, and he was perfect for what they gave him. With more thought and better writing he might have taken the Next Big Step, post-Tarzan, to comedy, especially self-parody of the kind Adam West got into later on, but without the telegraphed deadpan that West often resorted, too, to the point of parody. Ron Ely was fine just by himself, doing his "distinctive presence" thing.