“Wax Museums” is an interesting and small sub-genre of horror films that may have started with this one, 1933’s Mystery of the Wax Museum, even though it’s more of a mystery film than horror. (Duh, look at the title.)
The film begins with a series of extremely impressive scenes, including a massive wax museum set burning to the ground, a densely populated New Year’s Eve street party and the theft of a corpse from the city morgue. The sets are beautiful and there are some mind-blowing camera moves and set-ups.
However, following this trio of killer scenes, the film settles into its more traditional “mystery.” Although billed third, Glenda Farrell seemingly takes on the lead role as a tough talking investigative reporter who sniffs out that something might be afoot at the creepy wax museum. Her performance is an interesting combination of humorous and grating, especially compared with the realistic performances of Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray.
Eventually, the film ramps up the mystery and spookiness, becoming interesting again and ending on a thrilling, fast-paced note in a German Expressionist-tinged laboratory.
It’s also worth noting that, according to the American Film Institute’s Catalog of Feature Films, Mystery of the Wax Museum was the last feature film to use Technicolor’s two-strip process. The colors are muddy and muted, amping up the film’s uneasy flair.
Lastly, director Michael Curtiz would later direct a more beloved film, Casablanca.