When Paragon Studios finds it’s movie stars under contract disappearing, all the tell tale signs point directly at Cameron Mitchell. For reasons all to obvious.
When the latest actor from the studio run by Berry Kroeger goes missing, detective Scott Brady heads to the Movieland Wax Museum to question Mitchell about his relationship with the missing film star and whatever else he can get out of the heavily scarred, one eyed Mitchell. With his eye patch firmly in place, Mitchell tells Brady of his injury shown to us via the flashback.
Paging Hershell Gordon Lewis the King of Gore.
It turns out that make up master Mitchell is having an affair with leading lady Anne Helm against the wishes of studio chief Kroeger. In a blatant act of attempted murder, Kroeger tosses a glass of wine into Mitchell’s face as he attempts to light a cigarette. His head bursts into flames while crashing through a window and diving into a pool to save himself. When he emerges from the pool the right side of his face is covered in bright red ketchup. It’s drive-in gore at it’s finest for a 1969 low budget effort starring two slumming fifties leading men.
Now we know why Mitchell is running around in this film with one of the worst make up jobs of the day. He’s more then a little unhinged. Not only is he creating wax figures, but he’s the culprit behind the kidnappings. Unlike Vincent Price in House of Wax, Mitchell has been keeping his actors in a form of suspended animation. They are on the floor for all the paying customers to see. Right alongside the likes of Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Bardot and Valentino. I believe I even spotted Woody Strode in full gladiator attire from Spartacus.
Mitchell continues to sidestep detective Brady and his clumsy partner played by John “Bud” Cardos. Cardos actually does double duty on this low budget thriller. Not only does he play a minor role but he served as production manager under the name Johnny Cardos. Eventually he’d move on to directing drive in fare of his own. Titles including Kingdom of the Spiders and The Dark. Apparently he even doubled Mitchell for this nightmare.
Eventually Mitchell plays his final cards when he uses go go dancer Victoria Carroll to lure Kroeger to his house of horrors. Keeping everyone on ice he brings in Anne Helm to finalize his reunion of Paragon’s stable of stars.
Nightmare in Wax is far from a top flight thriller in 1969. Hammer films had the Gothic titles locked up and Polanski had set a new high in chills with Rosemary’s Baby. Still there has always been an audience for guilty pleasures like these and this one is kind of fun in a rather warped way. Drive ins were still in vogue and films like this from director Bud Townsend offered just the right product for the weekend crowds and all night horror festivals.
Cameron Mitchell was far removed from the fifties films he headlined. He was often cast as the leading player in B films (Inside the Mafia)and co-starred with bigger names like Susan Hayward and Gary Cooper in the western Garden of Evil. Depending on one’s point of view, he’d still be falling to worse fodder then this with titles like The Toolbox Murders among others in his future.
The same can be sad of Scott Brady. Star of B’s (Destination Inner Space) with few roles in what might be called A budget productions. Having said that, both Brady and Mitchell never seemed to be out of work between film roles and the coming of television.
No House of Wax by a long shot but when you’re feeling like slumming for a guilty pleasure of movies, this might fit the bill.