Of the six movies, I think that I dislike THE FROZEN GHOST the most. It really exasperated me the last time that I saw it (about fifteen months ago)--- I lost my patience with it and dismissed it as sloppy, shoddy, apathetic filmmaking from professionals who know better but obviously just didn't care.
Salina [KS] Journal, April 7, 1959
Stage hypnotist Alex Gregor “the Great” (Lon Chaney, Jr.) blames himself for the death of a heckler who he had tried to entrance on his top-rated radio program. Feeling guilty that he murdered the man by squinting and staring at him, Gregor breaks off his engagement with his performance partner Maura (a pregnant Evelyn Ankers, trying not to show) and quits his show. To help Gregor get back on his feet again, his business manager George Keene (Milburn Stone) arranges a job for him as a researcher and tour guide at Madame Monet’s wax museum. Valerie Monet (Tala Birell) has the hots for Gregor and is jealous of Maura; she’s also jealous of the attention that her assistant (and niece) Nina (Elena Verdugo) gets from the mopey, dopey Gregor. To make the romantic entanglements even more absurd, add in Rudi Polden (Martin Kosleck), a disgraced and de-licensed plastic surgeon who does all the sculpting at the wax museum and who is obsessed with Nina and resentful of Gregor.
More than likely, though, I would've overlooked the faults in basic story-telling because of the wax museum setting. Warner Bros.'s HOUSE OF WAX, a 3-D film starring Vincent Prince as the owner-operator of a sinister wax museum, had come out in April 1953 and had caused a bit of a sensation; presumably some of the SHOCK!-watchers in the late 1950s had seen and remembered HOUSE OF WAX, so maybe the eerie lure of haunted waxworks would've made up for the gaping plot deficiencies.
Wax museums are unsettling places, after all. They seem like an ideal setting for a horror movie because of all the not-alive-but-not-dead figures that populate them. Sigmund Freud wrote an interesting essay about this in 1919 called "The Uncanny," and it may be one of the things that he actually got right. Puppets, mannequins, waxworks figures, animatronic robots, ventriloquist dummies, hyper-realistic lifesize sculptures... there's something "not right" about these things that can be disturbing on a really deep psychological level, and a good horror movie can exploit that. Out of curiosity, I checked IMDb under the key word "wax museum" and came up with a bunch of titles: MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM, TERROR IN THE WAX MUSEUM, MIDNIGHT AT MADAME TUSSAUD'S, NIGHTMARE IN WAX, MIDNIGHT MANHUNT, the "Waxworks" segment of THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, CHARLIE CHAN AT THE WAX MUSEUM, DAS WACHSFIGURENKABINETT, and many others.
I've seen a lot of those films, and the "chamber of horrors" stuff done in them is often quite atmospheric, but unfortunately, Madame Monet's wax museum in THE FROZEN GHOST is not all that interesting or creepy. It would appear that Monet's house of wax features random (if not haphazard) tableaux from history (Attilla the Hun, Genghis Khan, Cleopatra, Marie Antoinette) and literature (Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Lady MacBeth), as well as scenes of very recent squalid local domestic homicides that Inspector Brant worked on. It's a less than impressive collection, and it is that kind of squandered opportunity for chills which underscores the general frustration that I feel with a number of elements in THE FROZEN GHOST...at the very least, they could have gotten the creepy wax museum part right, you know? Still, I hope that it was enough to spook SHOCK! viewers in 1958.
"It isn't often that Lon Chaney is given an opportunity to play a sympathetic part on the screen and to appear without the disguise of 'horror' makeup. This opportunity is given him in THE FROZEN GHOST, the Shock feature film presentation to be telecast on this channel [...] As a further change from custom, he gets the girl--- in this case, blonde and beautiful Evelyn Ankers [...] Harold Young directs an excellent cast in support of Mr. Chaney in this topnotch mystery thriller."
As I read this news release, I could only imagine the bubble-headed newsreaders on my local TV station in 2010 delivering this item and then engaging in light, pseudo-extemporaneous banter about THE FROZEN GHOST as the closing theme music began to roll and the weather forecaster pipes up with a quick reminder about tomorrow's outlook. Imagining such a scene amuses me far more than viewing the film itself does.
NEXT: " 'All Who Entered Are Doomed' was the curse of Ananka's tomb! Yet they dared enter to solve a terror-ridden secret 3000 years old. See Dick Foran in THE MUMMY'S HAND on SHOCK on this channel. You won't want to miss this exciting feature film. Tune in!"