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A Trip Through the Hollywood Wax Museum’s Chamber of Horrors

It is often said that the majority of people living in New York City never bother to go to the top of the Empire State Building; apparently, local inhabitants are not as fascinated by tourist attractions as much as tourists are. I don’t know how true this is, in general, but in my case I had never been inside the Hollywood Wax Museum’s Chamber of Hororrs  until I finally made a pilgrimage this week.

In some ways, the most striking figures are the ones seen outside the Hollywood Wax Museum, which lure in the customers. There is a very impressive head of King Kong bursting out through the wall above the exit door, near the stand that sells souvenirs. And there is a nice display of characters from THE WIZARD OF OZ, which you pass on your way inside.

We’re off to see the Wizard.

The figure of the Tin Woodsman is spot-on. Dorothy does not resemble Judy Garland very closely, but the Wicked Witch of the West is a wonderful green hag.

Once you get inside, the Hollywood Wax Museum is fairly extensive. You could hurry through in five or ten minutes, but if you take a leisurely tour and stop to examine the figures, you could find yourself spending a half hour inside.

The Hollywood Wax Museum’s first room contains a ship (complete with running water) manned by both Russell Crowe and Johnny Depp (as Captain Jack Sparrow). Get too close up for a look at the figures, and you may find yourself on the receiving end of a blast from its cannons (a flash of light, some loud noise, and a puff of smoke). This is actually one of the highlights of the museum but for a reason that does not become clear until the end of the tour.

There are numerous displays from fantasy films and science fiction movies and shows, including Linda Carter as WONDER WOMAN, Leonard Nimoy as Spock and William Shatner as Kirk in STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KAHN, and STAR WARS.

The Star Wars display mixes in A NEW HOPE and EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.

This display reveals one small weakness of the Hollywood Wax Museum: the mis-identification of where the figures come from. The imitation black clapboard on the floor of this particular exhibit identifies the film as STAR WARS, 1977, directed by George Lucas. You don’t have to be a Lucasoid to see the Yoda figure from THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, directed by Irvin Kirshner, and of course Princess Leia’s hairdo more resembles her appearance in that 1980 sequel (note the abscence of those ridiculous hair-buns over her ears).

For fright fans there is a “Chamber of Horrors” (there is a detour for the faint-hearted who wish to circumvent this section). This section includes everything from the classics to contemporary: Alien, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Regan Teresa MacNeil from THE EXORCIST, The Phantom of the Opera as played by Lon Chaney in the 1925 silent film (but with music from the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical playing in the background), and Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster.

Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein Monster

Overall, the Chamber has a dark and spooky feel; the settings for the wax figures are nicely done, and the  figures seen are some of the best and most accurate likenesses of the actors portrayed (a stand-out being the one of Vincent Price as Henry Jarrod in the 1953 version of HOUSE OF WAX).

Vincent Price as Henry Jarrod in House of Wax

There are also a few mechanical scares (a couple of moving figures and some pressurized air to startle you), so the Chamber of Horrors acts almost like a mini-haunted house attraction, rather than just a museum of wax sculptures.

As for the rest of the museum, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. I’ve only been to a few wax museums in my life, but they seem to share many of the same strengths and weaknesses: some of the figures and exhibits are amazingly accurate recreations, while others bear only a passing resemblance to their source; also, you find yourself questioning the inclusion/omission of certain characters and stars. (I recall my parents’ dismay, decades ago, that the more famous Movieland Wax Museum in Buena Park had a figure of Nancy Sinatra but not of her more famous, and far more successful father, Frank.)

In the case of the Hollywood Wax Museum, this problem is somewhat exacerbated by the inclusion of multiple figures of the same actor in different roles (Tom Hanks in both FORREST GUMP and CASTAWAY; Russell Crowe from both GLADIATOR and MASTER AND COMMANDER, THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD).

There is an amusing display of Arnold Schwarzenegger in a series of roles, starting as Conan the Barbarian and ending as governor of California; but a separate display from TERMINATOR 2 does not resemble the actor much at all. There is a sleek Spider-Man, an ominous Batman (Michael Keaton version, perched near the ceiling), and a nice set of figures of Tim Burton’s PLANET OF THE APES (the apes looking more life-like than the human).

Strangely, the Rock (seen as the Scorpion King) is standing right next to Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft, but there is nothing to identify the character, as if he wandered into the display by mistake. By far the weakest display is for TITANIC: the DiCaprio sculpture more resembles Kurt Russell and standing in for Kate Winslett is what seems to be a generic female figure.

But the highlight of the museum comes at the very the end. Remember that cannon that fired upon you from the pirate ship at the beginning? Well, as you approach the exit, you pass through a submarine setting, with figures of Sean Connery from HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER and Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington in CRIMSON TIDE.

On the wall is a monitor with a target display on the screen and a red button underneath. Take a moment to look, and you’ll see that the monitor is displaying the ship you passed previously. Wait for the next unsuspecting tourist to pass by — and then ‘PUSH THE BUTTON, MAX!”

That’s right: the tables have turned, and now you can fire the cannon at the hapless victims pausing to admire the wax sculptures of Johnny Depp and Russell Crowe. You may find yourself not wanting to leave, but try to fire only a few shots and give the next person in line a chance.

The Hollywood Wax Museum is open 365 days a year, from 10:00am to midnight. The address is 6767 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood, CA 9028. You can find more information on their official webpage.

Photographs copyright 2004 and 2005 by Steve Biodrowski and Lisa Twombly