Waxworks resembles the portmanteau-styled cross-historical fantasy of Fritz Langs Destiny (1921), which in turn was influenced by D.W. Griffiths epic Intolerance (1916). The frequent reviewing of Waxworks as a horror film (based on the brief final Jack the Ripper segment) has given the misleading impression that it is a horror film, although it is more of a fantasy.
The first two episodes work the best, being written with a nicely fabulist succinctness that in both cases work to provide charmingly ironic endings these are models of what all anthology stories should be. The Ivan the Terrible episode is crowned by a memorably hollow, haunted and genuinely mad performance from Conrad Veidt. The final image with him twisting the hourglass over and over, mimicking the gesture in the air with his hands in a vain attempt to turn back the poison it measures is wonderful. Nothing much emerges from the celebrated Jack the Ripper episode. Annoyingly, at least in the translation, this confuses Jack the Ripper with the very different legend of Spring-Heeled Jack. The sequence only lasts for two minutes, consisting of the heroine being stalked, and then abruptly ends.
The design work in the film is amazing Baghdad in the Caliph episode is presented as a series of labyrinthine streets that look like ants have burrowed through a Lego set; while the heros house is built like the interior of a weirdly claustrophobic clay oven that squats in the giant shadow of the Caliphs dome, its chimney snaking all the way around the outside of the minaret like a spiders leg. The Ivan the Terrible sequence builds on the formal imagery of the Russian Orthodox Church, turning its icons and costumery into at times bizarrely stylised effects. The Jack the Ripper episode gives the impression of being a remake of Caligari as directed by Rene Clair, all presented through a mind-bending array of distorted lens, shadow lighting effects and double-exposures.
Director Paul Leni emigrated to the US where he became a highly promising silent director, making the classic Old Dark House film The Cat and the Canary (1927), the Charlie Chan film The Chinese Parrot (1927), the lavish historical horror The Man Who Laughs (1928) and the Old Dark House thriller The Last Warning (1929). Alas, in 1929, Leni died of blood poisoning and the world was deprived of a potentially amazing director.
Full film available online here:-