November 13, 1924 - Waxworks

Waxworks (German: Das Wachsfigurenkabinett) is a 1924 German silent anthology film directed by Paul Leni. The film encompasses several genres, including a fantasy adventure, a historical film, and a horror film through its various episodes. Its stories are linked by a plot thread about a writer (William Dieterle) 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.

The film’s format may have influenced later horror anthologies such as the British Dead of Night (1945) and the Italian Black Sabbath (1963) by Mario Bava. Critic Troy Howarth mentions “Of all the later horror anthologies, it seems to have had the most direct effect on Amicus’ Torture Garden (1968), which reused the waxworks motif”. The film was also known as Three Wax Men. The 1924 silent film supposedly inspired a 1988 “remake” of sorts, Waxwork, but “any similarity between the two ends there.”

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. Leni died of blood poisoning on 2 September 1929 at age 44. Some references list German screenwriter/producer Leo Birinski as a co-director, co-producer and editor of the film.



A young nameless poet (Dieterle) enters a wax museum where the proprietor works in the company of his daughter Eva (Olga Belajeff). 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 his 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

The poet sees himself in his story as a pie baker, Assad, where he lives with his wife Maimune (played by Olga Belajeff) directly by the walls of the palace where Harun Al-Rashid lives. Smoke from Assad’s 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 – news about the baker’s 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 slips into the palace to steal the wishing ring from the finger of Al-Rashid by slicing his arm off (later it is revealed to be only a wax figurine). He is spotted by the palace guards and is chased to the rooftops where he escapes. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to him, the real Al-Rashid is in Assad’s house trying to impress his 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 for the attack at the palace, but Assad’s wife uses the wishing ring to wish that Al-Rashid spring forth unharmed, as he secretly comes out of the oven. She then wishes that Assad be named the official baker for Al-Rashid. Her wish is granted and the couple come under the caliph’s protection. (40 minutes)

Ivan the Terrible

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 (Eva) and her bridegroom (the poet) 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

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 waxworks 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)


Emil Jannings as Harun al-Rashid
Conrad Veidt as Ivan the Terrible
Werner Krauss as Jack the Ripper / Spring-Heeled Jack
William Dieterle as The Poet / Assad the Baker / A Russian noble (Boyar)
Olga Belajeff as Eva / Maimune / Boyar bride
Georg John
Ernst Legal