Waxworks (film)

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Waxworks, German release poster, 1924.jpg
Original German release poster
Directed by Paul Leni
Leo Birinsky
Produced by Alexander Kwartiroff
Leo Birinsky
Written by Henrik Galeen
Starring Emil Jannings
Conrad Veidt
Werner Krauss
William Dieterle
Cinematography Helmar Lerski
Neptune-Film A.G.
Distributed by UFA
Release date
  • 13 November 1924 (1924-11-13)
Running time
63 minutes (Original cut)
84 minutes (Restored cut)
Country Weimar Republic
Language Silent film
German intertitles

Waxworks (German: Das Wachsfigurenkabinett) is a 1924 German silent fantasy-horror film directed by Paul Leni. The film is about a writer who accepts a job from a waxworks proprietor to write a series of stories about the exhibits of Caliph of Baghdad (Emil Jannings), Ivan the Terrible (Conrad Veidt) and Jack the Ripper (Werner Krauss) in order to boost business.

Although Waxworks is often credited as a horror film, it is an anthology film that goes through several genres including a fantasy adventure, a historical film, and a horror film through its various episodes. This film would be director Paul Leni's last film made in Germany before he went on to make The Cat and the Canary (1927) in the United States.


A young nameless poet (Dieterle) enters a wax museum where the proprietor works in the company of his daughter. The proprietor hires the poet to write a back-story for his wax models of Harun al-Rashid (Jannings), Ivan the Terrible (Veidt), and Jack the Ripper (Krauss) in order to draw an audience to the museum. With the daughter by his side, the poet notices that the arm of Harun al-Rashid is missing and writes a story incorporating the missing arm.

Harun al-Rashid[edit]

The poet sees himself in his story as a pie baker, Assad, where he lives with his wife directly by the walls of the palace where Harun Al-Rashid lives. Smoke from the Assads' bakery covers the front of the palace, where Al-Rashid loses a game of chess, leading him to want the head of the baker. He sends his Grand Vizier to find the man, Assad, but in doing so, he finds Assad's wife with whom he is enchanted. After being captivated by her beauty and also captivating her with his status among the royals, he returns to tell Al-Rashid that he does not have the baker's head but rather something better - his wife. Al-Rashid then resolves to go out that night, incognito, and visit the beauty. When he steals away from his castle, the ruler witnesses an argument between the jealous Assad and Maimune, who both seem dissatisfied with their poverty-laden life. Assad then says he will rob Al-Rashid's wishing ring to solve their problems.

While Al-Rashid visits the bakery that night, Assad robs the wishing ring off the wax figurine of Al-Rashid by slicing the arm of the figurine, and is spotted by his guards and is chased out of the palace. Meanwhile, Al-Rashid tries to impress Assad's wife. The returning Assad penetrates the locked house by force, while Maimune hides Al-Rashid in the baking-oven. The guards rush in to arrest Assad, but Assad's wife uses the wishing ring to make Al-Rashid "appear" as he secretly comes out of the oven. After this, they come to an agreement where Assad becomes the official baker for Al-Rashid. (40 minutes)

Ivan the Terrible[edit]

The second episode, treated in a slower and more somber vein, deals with the Czar of Russia, Ivan the Terrible, whom the poet describes as making 'cities into cemeteries'. The czar takes physical delight in watching his victims die, after poisoning them. Ivan's "Poison-Mixer" writes the name of the victim on an hour glass, and once they are poisoned, the glass is turned over, the man dying just as the last sand falls. The Poison-Mixer, who has taken pity on one of the victims, is singled out by Ivan as the next to be poisoned. But, unseen, the Poison-Mixer writes "ZAR IWAN" on the next hourglass. Ivan is supposed to attend the wedding of a nobleman's son; paranoid that he is being targeted, dresses the nobleman as himself, and drives the sleigh to the wedding. There, the nobleman is killed with an arrow, and his daughter and her bridegroom are in shock as Ivan takes over their festivities, eventually absconding with her and holding the groom in his torture chamber. On the wedding night, Ivan hears that he has been poisoned, and races to the torture chamber to reverse his fate by turning the hour-glass over; he does it again and again, and the final title says that Ivan 'became mad and turned the glass over and over til the end of his days.' (37 minutes)

Jack the Ripper[edit]

After the poet finishes the last two stories, he wakes up to find that the wax model of Jack the Ripper has come to life, but it is recognized instead to be Spring-heeled Jack. Spring-Heeled Jack stalks both the poet and the waxwork owner's daughter. The Poet and the girl flee but find that they can't escape Spring-Heeled Jack through the dark, twisted halls of the museum. As Jack draws close enough, multiple versions of him appear, and as his knife begins to slash, it provokes the poet to wake up to realize that the last experience was a dream. (6 minutes)



Although Leni is credited with full direction, Leo Birinski is said to have actually directed the actors. Leni was mostly responsible for the settings with the assistance of Fritz Maurischat.

The film's script by Henrik Galeen has a large cut by Leni, mainly the fourth tale in the story about Rinaldo Rinaldini, who was to be played by William Dieterle, a story based on the novel of the same name by Christian August Vulpius from 1798. Leni decided to substitute this for the short tale of Spring-Heeled Jack. The statue of Rinaldini is still viewable in the scene with the wax figures, as the character with the large black hat.

Live score[edit]

In 2013, vocalist Mike Patton (Mr. Bungle, Faith No More, Fantômas, Peeping Tom) and three percussionists: Matthias Bossi (Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, The Book of Knots, Skeleton Key, Fred Frith), Scott Amendola (Scott Amendola Trio, Nels Cline, Jeff Parker, Charlie Hunter), and William Winant (John Cage, Mr. Bungle, John Zorn, Lou Reed, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Jim O’Rourke) performed a live score for the silent film,[1] the performance of which was filmed.[2]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]