...Carolyn Jones in House of Wax (1953).
Yes, lovely reader, this past weekend StinkyLulu was able to realize a long-time dream: screening a campy movie at the Castro Theatre. 'Twas a pilgrimage of sorts, as the legend of "the Castro" as a space for gay male identity has long been, in Lulu's imagination, landmarked by the fact of the Castro Theatre's marquee. The footage of Castro pride days often showed hot homos shaking their groove things, but what's long appealed more to StinkyLulu has been the stories of the camptastic movies being screened for the flaming actressexuals just inside the theatre bearing that marquee... So when MrStinky asked: "Is there anything you've always wanted to do in San Francisco?" StinkyLulu meekly but honestly said: "See a movie at the Castro Theatre?" To which MrStinky (being just the sweetest sweetie ever) replied: "What's playing?!"
Turned out that the Castro Theatre was hosting a 3-D Film Series over the last week and the screening that fit best into the Stinkys schedule was the 1953 Vincent Price vehicle House of Wax. Even better, the Castro Theatre was screening these 3-D films in 35mm “Dual-interlock,” an arduous process, especially from a theatre management perspective. Basically, the "dual-interlock" projection system uses two projectors to simultaneously run two versions of the film, one filmed for the left eye and one for the right; further, this screening method requires an actual "silver" screen, special polarized glasses (not the typical red/blue, or anaglyphic ones), and an intermission to allow the projectionist to change the reels on both projectors at the same time. The end effect though? Just amazing. Even the opening credits were exciting. Crisp vivid picture with not even the slightest color degradation creating an often startling 3-D effect. (It's like a full-motion viewmaster.) The House of Wax's legendary paddle-ball & can-can scenes -- set pieces shamelessly exploiting the 3-D schtick -- are totally idiotic and absolutely thrilling. (The paddle-ball barker, especially, totally worked as a way to kick things back into gear after the reel-change/intermission.) But the best 3-D moments felt more fully integrated into the narrative. MrStinky actually screamed out loud a little when the hunky Igor character (Charles Buchinsky aka Charles Bronson) seemed to leap from the front row and right on to the screen. Lulu's favorite 3-Dness, though, came when the detectives wander through Price's studio past variously incomplete wax heads and faces, hung at different heights and depths. Talk about kuh-reepy. (YAY!!!)
And the cherry atop this 3-D cake? The simply brilliant actressing at the edges by a then-unknown Carolyn Jones. Jones (a Supporting Actress nominee perhaps best-known for tv's Morticia) here plays Kathy, a gold-digging bimbo with her sights set on an ambitious businessman. (Of course, Jones' Kathy has no idea that her boyfriend's new pile of cash came from misdeeds at the expense of Vincent Price's character; cue ominous music.) In a quick series of brief, generally hilarious scenes, Jones' Kathy chatters through reams of ponderous expository dialogue, all the while giving precise and captivating cues that this bimbo's as savvy as they come. Jones' Kathy punctuates her rat-a-tat ramblings with a knowing glance here, a lingering pause there, and an infectious, utterly-contrived chortle that tipples throughout. Both visually and vocally, Jones performs a giddy quick-step of a characterization, a performance of animated liveliness that serves the film in surprising and subtle ways. See, Kathy gets it real early on (collateral damage in film's revenge narrative) but she doesn't disappear. Rather, the film's gruesome conceit -- that the mad wax museum man kills people and covers them in wax for his museum -- pivots on Jones' Kathy being recognized, even in stillness, even encased in wax, even bewigged as Joan of Arc. Jones' performance of Kathy's vivid liveness haunts the wax museum as well as the remainder of the film, investing the cumbersome and plodding narrative with what emotional hook it has (beyond the spectacle of the scenario and the technology). Indeed, in what should have been a throwaway part in this throwaway film, Jones' contributes an expertly-crafted character performance and, though this film is said to have made Vincent Price a horror star, it's Carolyn Jones who steals the show.
So, what a treat: the utter fabulousness of the afternoon -- homo heritage, cinemania, sweet boyfriendness -- brought to exultant completion by some gorgeous actressing at the edges. Life can be real good. 'Specially at the Castro Theatre!