A far more well-known silent anthology than Unheimliche Geschichten (1919), this Paul Leni film (commonly known as Waxworks) has an entire different set of problems, but at the same time, still comes out a slightly better film.
With two stories comprising most of the hour and 23 minute film (each story an average of 38 minutes), the biggest issue with Das Wachsfigurenkabinett is that it’s tone isn’t that consistent. The first story is a bit of a light-hearted adventure, with jaunty sequences and music. The second was a much slower, almost somber, historical piece about Ivan the Terrible. And the last sequence was a mere six minutes or so, which is where most of this movie’s horror elements come from.
So an adventure/history/horror mix is certainly an interesting idea, and the framing story (a writer comes up with stories on some waxworks figures) is certainly decent, but how is the movie as a whole?
The first story, starring Emil Jannings (previously seen in the 1918 Die Augen der Mumie Ma) as a Caliph, was lot of fun, with some great looking set pieces and an enjoyable story. The second, with Conrad Veidt (from 1919’s Unheimliche Geschichten and 1920’s classic Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari) was certainly more in the vein of horror, but the story didn’t do much for me until the pay-off at the end. And the third sequence, with Jack the Ripper/Spring-heel Jack was just too short to really warrant strong opinions one way or the other.
For any anthology movie, I feel that there should be a base of three to four stories, and not counting the framing story, Waxwork had two, all things considered. And while one of them was pretty fun, and many sequences looked cool (along with a fight on top of a temple), this movie didn’t have what I really look for in anthology films.
Paul Leni, who later directed such titles as 1927’s The Cat and the Canary, 1928’s The Man Who Laughs and The Last Warning (perhaps one of my favorite silent horror films), did an okay job, but again, the tone didn’t really work for me. That said, this is still considered a classic for a reason, and providing that you’re able to locate the right print, if you’re a fan of silent flicks, this is still worth a watch (if for nothing else, the expressionist set pieces), but all-in-all, it falls a bit below average for me.