Film Review – Waxworks (1924)

Waxworks is a German horror-fantasy anthology film released in 1924 from the director of The Man Who Laughs Paul Leni, which was his last German made film before moving onto the United States and Hollywood.

The film boasts a very impressive cast, almost a who’s who of German expressionist cinema, with names such as Emil Jannings, Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt and William Dieterle, who is probably more known as an Oscar winning director of Hollywood films like 1939’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1937’s The Life of Emile Zola and The Story of Louis Pasteur in 1935.

The film opens at a carnival where a poet, played by Dieterle, accepts a job in its wax museum writing stories for the figures inside. The poet, taking a liking the the carnival owners daughter Eva (Olga Belajeff) begins to incorporate both of them into his stories.

The first story is for the figure of Harun al-Rashid, a former leader of what is now Iraq. This story begins with the poet and Eva as a baker and his wife who live close to al-Rashid, played brilliantly by Emil Jannings. Smoke from the bakers house causes al-Rashid to lose a game of chess and fly into a rage wanting his head, but soon spots the bakers wife, a great beauty from out of a window and starts to fall for her. He decides to sneak out of the palace to go and see the bakers wife but instead finds them arguing and the baker resolving the steal al-Rashid’s magic wishing ring to try and put a stop to their poverty. Not realising the real ruler is already in his house he sneaks into the palace and cuts off the arm of a wax dummy of al-Rashid and steals a fake ring, He flees back to his house and is hiding by his wife all while the ruler al-Rashid is still hiding in the same home.

The poets second story stars the ever amazing Conrad Veidt as Ivan the Terrible, who takes pleasure in poisoning people and then watching his victims die in front of him, he does this by instructing his poison maker to write the victims name on an hour glass and once turned over the victim dies as the last grain of sand falls. But the poison maker it seems has taken pity on the people that have been murdered and writes Ivan’s own name on the hourglass, who on hearing his fate becomes extremely paranoid, constantly turning the hourglass trying to prolong his life and turning himself mad in the process.

The poet now awakes to find the figure of Jack the Ripper (Werner Krauss) has come to life and begins to stalk the poet and Eva thought the museum but just as he catches up with them begging the hack and slash the poet wakes up again, realising this was only a dream, at only 6minutes long this segment is by far the shortest of the 3, there are at least 15minutes lost from this story.

A stunning Blu-ray transfer, probably the best i have ever seen silent film look, combined with instrumental score that I went with on the disc, and the marvellous acting especially from Jannings and Veidt, Waxworks is must see for any silent film lover out there, easy to follow and a good starting point for anyone looking to get into the genre.

★★★★1/2


Horror, Fantasy, Silent Film | Germany, 1924 | PG | Blu-Ray | 9th November 2020 (UK) | Eureka Entertainment | Dir.Leo Birinsky, Paul Leni | Emil Jannings, Conrad Veidt, Werner Krauss, Olga Belajeff

BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • Limited Edition O-Card slipcase [First Print Run of 2000 copies ONLY]
  • 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a new 2K restoration
  • Option of two newly created scores, by Ensemble Musikfabrik; and composer Richard Siedhoff
  • Audio commentary with Australian film and arts critic Adrian Martin
  • Paul Leni’s Rebus-Film Nr. 1-8 – Courtesy of Kino Lorber, these Leni-helmed cinematic crossword puzzles were originally screened in 1920s German cinemas as featurettes accompanying the main film. Each of these animated shorts was split into two parts—a clue and an answer—and presented before and after the visual presentation
  • In search of the original version of Paul Leni’s ​‘Das Wachsfigurenkabinett’​ – An interview with Julia Wallmüller (Deutsche Kinemathek) based on her presentation after the premiere of the restored film at Il Cinema Ritrovato festival in Bologna 2020
  • Kim Newman on Waxworks – An in-depth, on-camera interview with journalist, film critic, and fiction writer Kim Newman about the legacy of Waxworks
  • PLUS: A collector’s booklet featuring new essays by Philip Kemp and Richard Combs on the film’s history and significance; notes on the restoration process by the Deutsche Kinemathek; and rarely seen production photographs and promotional material

Available to order from: Eureka Store