IN THE WAX MUSEUM
(1965), B/W, 92 minutes
Distributed by Trans-International Films
Presented by Young America Productions
Produced at Soundlab, Coral Gables, Fla.
Produced by K. Gordon Murray
Directed by Manuel San Fernando.
DVD-R comes packaged as shown in color DVD case, wrapped in plastic!
SAMSON IN THE WAX MUSEUM is a most exciting and unique artifact of 60’s pop culture, and certainly one of the strongest of the “Santo” films. Indeed, warts and all, we here at dvdrparty.com like it better than SAMSON VS THE VAMPIRE WOMEN, while acknowledging that film’s considerable seductive charms.
While S/VAMPIRE is terrific, with much to recommend it, it is essentially a straight-forward gothic horror tale (albeit with some incredulous science-age touches).
In contrast, S/WAX is a dark, even bleak cautionary fable, absurd and melodramatic in spades, and in the end a most fetching, if primitive, attempt at a psychological horror film. It obsesses on the dark side of humanity, and is equal parts nasty and insightful. Thanks to super-villain Dr. Karol, it drips with a most grim, snarling, and well-articulated philosophy of hate and evil.
From the first scene, in which a gang of tourists visit Dr. Karol’s creepy wax museum, we are treated to an illustration of society-as-monstermaker. Karol introduces us to a parade of life-like dummies, with an odd emphasis on history’s infamous (real and imagined) villains: Stalin, Guillotine, Mr. Hyde, Pancho Villa, Landru/Bluebeard, Frankenstein’s monster, the Werewolf and Quasimodo. But then we see Ghandi and… Gary Cooper as Will Kane from HIGH NOON (!). Huh? Only two good men, and one of them fictitious? Is there a message here?
Dr. Karol is a classic Grand Guignol archetype (at least as dubbed by velvet-throated Paul Nagel), the quintessential “gentleman-madman”. His frequent, memorable tirades against society are as endearing as they are loony.
Karol’s pal/victim, Professor Halpin (played well by Jose Luis Jimenez, also fine in SPIRITISM), has this great sci-fi TV set, with which he calls his colleague, the super strongman Samson. It has a wonderful tin-foil revolving antenna, a primitive 60’s sci-fi staple. Halpin’s TV set gets these great close-ups of Samson driving in his little white sports car. How? Who cares!
Titular hero Samson, in his glitter cape and shiny, bulging chest, can’t help but make one think, “If Liberace had married Charles Atlas…” In fact, Santo/Samson is one of pop culture’s crowning gay icons (along with the aforementioned stalwarts).
And in this film, Samson is dubbed like a bonafide cartoon macho man; his voice is much more subdued in S/VAMPIRE.
When Dr. Karol at one point exposes his acid-scarred chest, we realize its the closest thing to “gore” we’ve ever encountered in a Murray movie.
Dr. Karol’s icky-cool plaster cave-dungeon, and his menagerie of Dr. Moureau-ish test-tube man-imals, are lovingly cheesy, reminiscent of everything from FLASH GORDON to ISLAND OF LOST SOULS to SHE-DEMONS.
The plot stands still for some obligatory wrestling matches, but they are surely entertaining in their own way; it’s like getting sports and thriller in one giant wacko package! And we get to hear the (undubbed) Mexico City crowd clearly shouting for “Santo! Santo!”
Dr. Karol’s secret lab is ultra-cool, with some groovy, surrealistic electronic devices, as well as, oddly, a built-up model of the Renwal “Visible Man” plastic model kit, a 60’s hobby-boy staple, standing on a nearby lab table. Perhaps the mad doc forgets his elementary human anatomy from time to time… ?
Directly preceding all hell breaking loose, we hear two very strong, bitter and misanthropic speeches from Karol, both containing creepy references to men torturing men, references which seem perhaps a bit strong for naive, unwary 60’s TV-tots.
We finish with an exciting, if predictable, cliffhanger finale (fistfights, labs blowing up, damsels in distress, and the all-important unleashing of the dungeon-monsters, who attack their creator).
In a superb coda, super Samson hops in his little white sports car and waves at us, before driving off into the cryptic Mexican night. His gesture seems an assurance of safety, a comforting emblem of brotherhood.
In these dark times of hatred and terror, a movie like SAMSON IN THE WAX MUSEUM, with its clearly defined right and wrong, can be a source of nostalgic consolation, a journey to a simpler ethical time, where the heroes are mighty but human, and the villains are never “pure, unvarnished evil”…
* (updated 02-14-06) Thanks to a terrific new book we just received, “Ghouls, Gimmicks and Gold” by Kevin Heffernan, (2004, Duke University Press), we have been able to update the U.S. television release date for this Murray horror title to 1965. The appendices to this study of the horror film in America, circa 1955-1968, include complete listings of syndication feature film packages from many distributors, including American International Television, who subleased the K. Gordon Murray film catalog under the title THRILLERS FROM ANOTHER WORLD. It seems that 1965 was the watershed year for genre film sold to television, with a veritable flood of titles released by both domestic and foreign distribs.
* (effective 05-01-03) After a very brief window of availability, this long-sought K. Gordon Murray title is once again out of print, due to international copyright issues. Used video tapes of this title may be found on online video dealers and auction sites. Stay tuned for further developments!
* Santo, aka the “Silver Mask Man”, was of course a beloved and prolific Mexican wrestler, who also became a bonafide movie star, thanks to a dizzying array of fantastic genre movies he starred in for many years. For the real skinny on Santo, (and some super-rare Santo comic books!), visit Brian Moran’s Santo Street.
* Samson’s colleague, dubbed as “Professor Halpin”, is revealed to be “Professor Armando Galivan”, according to the letterhead Samson peruses.
* (06-28-04) an anonymous fan writes in:
“One thing missing from your review of this marvelous movie I’d like to note: this was surely one of the “leggiest” of the Mexican monster films. Skirts were starting to inch up in 1963, and the film’s director (or photographer) took full advantage of this. The camera kept finding ways to get pointed toward to the shapely legs of the actresses. This is especially evident in the sequence where Susan in walking down the museum stairs at night. This whole scene appears designed for no reason except for the camera to dwell on her gorgeous gams.”