The Wax Museum Morgue is a staple setting of the pulp horror movie. Often these things are run by fanatical sculptors
who lost their skills at one point (either through disease or by accident), and had to turn to mad science
as a way of regaining their ability to express themselves artistically. Never mind the fact that someone has to die for every eerily lifelike statue they produce. Oh no. They're not ones to let little things like morality
stand in the way of their
genius. Besides, these people aren't just being given death, they're being granted immortality as well, being forever preserved at the moment in life when they were at their most perfect, their most beautiful. Surely there could be nothing evil or insane about that...
Methods of preserving a human corpse in a Wax Museum Morgue may vary, but the most classic method is to simply coat a still-living body with a thin layer of wax...never mind that this would probably result in severe scalding of the victim, and that the gasses released by decomposition would quickly render a person preserved in this way unsuitable for looking at
unless they were part of a horror exhibition. Some more thoughtful madmen may pre-kill their victims and embalm them before dipping them in wax. Or sometimes, the madman will use just plain old taxidermy to stuff his victims, but any human preserved this way will usually wind up looking a lot rougher (having leathery skin, huge stitches, etc.,) than if they had been preserved by any other method.
Sometimes a Wax Museum Morgue may appear in a fantasy/sci-fi setting, in which case the fanatical "artist
" will probably use some sort of magic petrification spell or Applied Phlebotinum
to preserve his/her victims.
If the method of preservation involves a large laboratory filled with open vats of wax or chemicals
, you can expect the villainous madman or his henchmen to wind up falling or tossing themselves into one of the vats
at the end of the story. (They rarely get made into statues, though. Probably because the last and only people to possess the skill — or the desire — to do such a thing are now dead.)
A form of Uncanny Valley
. Subtrope of Body in a Breadbox
and Dead Guy on Display
. Fetish Fuel
for some. Often related to Taken for Granite
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Anime and Manga
- Anime example: The New Cutey Honey OVAs had our heroine face the Jewel Princess, a Psycho Lesbian who turned the young women who caught her fancy into crystal statues to decorate her lair.
- Used in the Weiß Kreuz CD Drama "Tearless Dolls", in which one of many Mad Artists employs the replacing-the-blood-with-glycerine method to living victims. What makes it even creepier is that one of the girls used in the experiment is Omi's cousin and ex-girlfriend Ouka Sakaki, who was shot to death some time ago, and her grief-stricken and maddened father (and Omi's uncle) Reiji Takatori asked the artist to pretty much make her corpse into a human mannequin, apparently as a way to cope with the loss of the only of his children that he gave a damn for.
- Mr. 3 of One Piece is a Mad Artist whose Devil fruit ability is to generate nigh-infinite amounts of liquid wax from his hands that hardens very quickly and becomes harder than steel when it does so. Besides making weapons from it in combat, in his free time, he entraps victims in wax "in the name of art" and ostensibly keeps them for display purposes. He even has his partner, Miss Golden Week, paint them pretty colors. Of note, he has nearly done so to Nami, Vivi and Zoro at the same time.
- Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service uses plastination-without-consent as the main focus of one of their stories. It starts with a trip to the Body Worlds exhibit, hoping to meet lots of new
dead people clients to provide their services for...
- Kise Eiji from Psyren used his powers to create statues by merging people with cement or similar. From the looks on their faces, it was extremely painful.
- A nonlethal variant occurred in Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne. Chiaki's father, under a demon's influence, abducted several women, drugged them into a state of suspended animation, and posed them identically to the models in a real wax museum one floor above them. He intended to "complete" his collection with Chiaki and Jeanne, but the ensuing battle triggered a shock wave big enough to jolt the victims back to consciousness.
- A non-villainous example in Pokémon Special. After the five Dex Holders from the FRLG arc are Taken for Granite, their petrified bodies are taken by allies to the museum-ish area of the Battle Tower, put on display as to ensure they will be in place to be unpetrified by Jirachi's wishes.
- Lupin III (Red Jacket) had "Madame Prefers Them Hand-Dipped", which revolved around the mysterious Madame X, who wished to capture the Lupin gang, turn them into wax figures, and add them to her collection of encased celebrity corpses.
- An odd case of this occurs with The Mighty Thor foe the Grey Gargoyle. Turned to a substance resembling stone, victims would usually return to normal after a certain amount of time. However, he discovered a way to arrest the process. He then established an identity for himself as a sculptor and began selling his victims as statues.
- In one Knights of the Dinner Table story, the Untouchable Trio (Plus One) find themselves in an underground maze full of remarkably lifelike 'statues' of various monsters. They eventually discover a medusa and realise that all of the statues are actually real monsters that have been petrified. After killing the medusa, they realise that they are now in the middle of a maze, surrounded by a menagerie of revived monsters...
- In All-Star Comics #38 an insane Wax Museum Guard who had earlier killed the Justice Society captures them and tries to turn them into wax figures. However, the Black Canary impersonates Lucrezia Borgia so the guard gets them out. He then falls into his own wax vat. This comic is also the Trope Namer for History's Crime Wave.
- The EC Comics story "Terror Ride!" (Tales from the Crypt #21) had a haunted boat ride at an Amusement Park of Doom where the gruesome displays of "wax figures" were, of course, made with real people.
- A Vault of Horror story, "Silver Threads Among the Mold!", goes with electroplating (probably inspired by the Dorothy Sayers story below).
- Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), House of Wax (1953) and Terror in the Wax Museum (1973) are probably the definitive movie examples of this trope. The 2005 remake of House of Wax bears little resemblance to the 1953 film which starred Vincent Price (which was, in fact, a remake of Mystery of the Wax Museum). Instead, it's a partial remake of a relatively obscure Chuck Connors horror called Tourist Trap (1978), even duplicating that film's main plot twist.
- Mystery Science Theater 3000 had a few examples:
- In the movie Hercules Unchained, the titular character finds himself under the spell of the Evil Queen Omphale, who keeps a staff of Egyptian priests on hand to preserve the bodies of her killed and discarded lovers. True to form, the evil Queen commits suicide at the end by tossing herself into the priests' vat of preserving chemicals.
- The movie Bloodlust featured a villain who liked to hunt humans as prey and who had his crack staff of henchmen preserve the bodies for display in an underground gallery. One of the hunter's henchmen winds up falling into a vat of chemicals and dying, but the hunter himself avoids that fate — he gets to be impaled, Christlike, in one of his gallery display niches.
- "Manos" The Hands of Fate involves some sort of evil god named Manos who wants lots of beautiful women put into comas and draped around his altar. Close enough.
- Happens to Peter Cushing in the horror omnibus The House that Dripped Blood.
- Another movie example: The temple where the snake-headed, snake-bodied Medusa lived in Clash of the Titans contained the statues of unfortunate heroes who were petrified by her glance. (This kind of petrification was not reversible.)
- The Roger Corman film A Bucket of Blood is about a down-on-his-luck artist who accidentally kills a cat, then preserves it and displays it as an original sculpture. Fame, fortune, and depravity soon follow.
- The 1965 Italian movie The Embalmer (Il mostro di Venezia) features a villain who drowns attractive women in the canals of Venice, embalms/taxidermizes the bodies and places them on display in his own creepy gallery.
- Several film versions of the Bluebeard legend show the room in which the preserved bodies of the titular character's wives are kept. For instance and in a modern twist, in the 1971 version starring Richard Burton, the unfortunate beauties are stashed in a large walk-in freezer.
- German thriller Anatomy has a very disturbing version of this. Ever seen the "Bodies" exhibition? Now imagine it with 1: the skins on, and the persons recognizable. 2: They were your friends. 3: They were still damn alive when the preparation process started. 4: you're next.
- In the 1988 film Waxwork a wax museum in a small town is supposedly opening soon and invites some teens to a private showing, seeing numerous displays about various historical figures such as Dracula, The Phantom of the Opera, a werewolf and the Marquis de Sade. It turns out the owner is a practitioner of the dark arts and each display is actually a pocket dimension with actual artifacts from the actual historical monsters. Whenever someone steps into the display, they are pulled into the world of the monster and killed. When all the displays have a sacrifice in them, the monsters will come back to life and go back out into the world.
- Box's gallery in Logan's Run is a variant of this, with ice replacing wax.
- The creature from Jeepers Creepers decorates its lair with the preserved bodies of its victims, attached to the ceiling no less.
- Carry On Screaming, a horror-comedy, had this as the central plot, with a scientist entitled Dr. Watt having young women turned to mannequins. As he's lowering one into the vat that will bring about the transformation, this exchange occurs between his sister Vampyra and him:
Vampyra: Now, please...don't say that thing you always say at this juncture. It's in very bad taste.
Dr. Watt: What thing? What are you—(laughs)—oh, you mean "frying tonight"!
- Later on, when he's pulled into the vat, he goes down with those very words.
- The premise behind the Goosebumps short stories "How I Won My Bat" and "Broken Dolls."
- The White Witch's Castle in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, which contained the bodies of those she had Taken for Granite with her wand. (This petrification was reversible, though.)
- The prequel, The Magician's Nephew, has the Witch awakened from a cross between this and Sealed Evil in a Can.
- Robert W. Chambers' short story "The Mask", from The King in Yellow, in which an artist created a liquid that turned anything stuck into it into stone. He killed a lot of flowers and bugs. Then his wife fell in. This petrification was also reversible, but by the time anyone found out, the artist had shot himself.
- "The Abominable History of the Man With the Copper Fingers", by Dorothy L. Sayers, has sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey uncovering the truth about a jealous sculptor's surprisingly lifelike copper statue of his mistress (hint: electroplating is involved).
- An evil master vampire in Christopher Moore's Bloodsucking Fiends is also electroplated into a copper statue. He survives and eventually gets out.
- One of the Doctor Who novels, The Stone Rose, features this. Okay, Rose is turned into stone but the principle's the same with the freaky sculptor. Also used in its normal form in the original-series story Spearhead from Space.
- Also used in the Agent Provocateur comic book, but with sand statues.
- Humility Garden, a novel by Felicity Savage, has a magical version of this as the title character's job. Especially beautiful people are killed in a way that leaves a psychic imprint of them as a statue. This is a highly respected art form and carries political power.
- In Christopher Rice's novel Snow Garden, one of the characters is statue'd to death. The killer simply made a statue around him to kill him...
- In Coraline, the retired actresses who live downstairs have their dogs preserved after they die, dressing their remains in angel costumes and displaying them in the parlor. At one point, we see one of the ladies sewing the costume for a dog which is still alive, but has become old and sickly.
- Unusually for this trope, though, they're harmless, nice people, who just have an odd way of grieving.
- Medusa's shop of "garden statues" in Percy Jackson and the Olympians.
- In John Christopher's The Tripods series, the narrator Will is taken by his alien master to a museum that displays outstanding specimens of humanity. There he is sickened to see the corpse of his friend Eloise, preserved in a glass case. When Will last saw her, Eloise had been voted queen of the tournament and thus won the right to serve the Tripods. She went happily.
- Book 34 of the Shivers series by M.D. Spenser, Weirdo Waldo's Wax Museum, features this trope played straight. However, beyond the stereotypical wax displays usually used, the museum in question has multiple displays that demonstrate the history of man's cruelty. Including racial and religious persecution, wars, slavery, genocides, and the Holocaust. The families invited to the museum each represent a different stereotype: rich, poor, jock, nerd, religious, and redneck. Their host has done this to demonstrate their unwillingness to co-operate and constant bickering and judgement of one another.
- Roald Dahl's short story "The Landlady" (from Tales of the Unexpected) in which a businessman arrives to a creepy hotel.
- The short story "Evening Primrose" by John Collier explains that the Dark Men's victims are surgically altered into department store mannequins. This is implied to be the narrator's fate.
- The Fear Street Sagas novel Faces of Terror is a supernatural variation — the villain of the book uses his sculpting skills and black magic to create perfect wax replicas of people, and once the waxwork is finished, the "model" dies. If the waxwork is unfinished, the "model" ages a bit — and he's tormenting a woman who rejected him by making one unfinished figure after another...
- In Joan Hess's O Little Town of Maggody, the mannequin from the "Take Your Photo With Matt Montana" display in Mrs. Jim Bob's gift shop is removed during the night and replaced with a real corpse. Once it's discovered, this trope yields to Dead Guy on Display, as the body is fully visible through the shop's front window and a crowd of tourists gather to watch Arly and Sheriff Dorfer examine it.
Live Action TV
- An episode of Friday The 13th: The Series had Micki and Johnny falling victim to a hillbilly family who preserved corpses by stuffing them. (They obviously hadn't had a lot of practice doing this, judging by the condition of their victims.)
- The Made-for-TV Movie KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park featured a version of this plot with mind-controlled teens disguised as animatronic robots.
- In the Doctor Who special "The Five Doctors", any Time Lord who claims Rassilon's prize of true immortality is turned into a still aware but immobile decoration on Rassilon's tomb.
- Likely a homage to this trope occurs in "Spearhead from Space" when government officials who've been replaced by Auton replicants are 'stored' under hypnosis at Madame Tussands.
- A similar example occurs in the Eleventh Doctor episode "The Crimson Horror" where a model town is filled with preserved bodies, kept in stasis for what the Big Bad of the Week believes is the coming apocalypse. The Doctor must rescue his companion Clara who has been subjected to the process but thankfully she gets better
- One CSI: Crime Scene Investigation episode had a killer stuffing the head of a woman and hanging it on the wall. He though she was an alien space lizard disguised as a human, though.
- The episode "Elegy" of The Twilight Zone involved three astronauts landing on an asteroid where the inhabitants appear to be frozen in scenes of idyllic 1950's life. Of course, the immortal robotic caretaker informs them that the asteroid is really an exclusive cemetery where the rich can eternally partake in their favourite activity after death. And by the way, what would they most like to be doing right now?
- One Get Smart episode had KAOS agents concealing the bodies of people they killed by coating them in wax and leaving them to suffocate while everyone who saw the bodies thought they were just dummies modeling the clothing sold at the fashion show they were using as a cover.
- Rizzoli & Isles found a body inside a statue that was accidentally broken. The killer had posed it to mimic an existing work of art and coated it with plaster.
- In "The Power Artists", an episode of The Saint, Simon Templar has to hide a corpse in plain sight by covering it in plaster of Paris and leaving it on display in a studio. Inevitably, the sculpture gets knocked over.
- One Dungeons & Dragons adventure module (available on the Wizards site) has an encounter where a prison guard of Bedlam House has been reduced to near-death and partially baked into a gargoyle statue. A player with more Genre Savvy-ness than ranks in Spot will notice the "statue's" moving eyes, assume that it is an actual gargoyle and swiftly kill an innocent.
- Rugal Bernstein of The King of Fighters dipped his opponents in metal after beating them and kept them as statues.
- Sander Cohen of BioShock has filled his part of the city with plaster "sculptures" that bleed when you hit them. In one shop you walk past a series of them lining the entrance hall and, if you use the weapon upgrade station in the basement, they're not there anymore when you leave. Then you start to notice that other statues aren't fully stationary anymore either...
- Also in Fort Frolic is Martin Finnegan, who has taken to posing victims before freezing them.
- In one wilderness area of Baldur's Gate there's a creepy guy who's tamed several basilisks to ensure that anyone walking by will become a permanent decoration in his "garden". Of course, when you start seeing statues everywhere it's a cue to prepare and cast Protection From Petrification on everyone before going further, so the encounter loses a lot of its effect.
- Are You Afraid of the Dark?: The Tale of Orpheo's Curse has a wax exhibit in Orpheo's theater. Your character realizes that they all look oddly like your friends.
- In Batman: Arkham City The Penguin has this in his museum. He has a member of the League of Assassins, Mr. Freeze and Scarface on display, bodies of cops and members of Joker's and Two Face's gangs, and exhibits ready for Bruce Wayne and Batman. Some of them, such as police fed to sharks and Harley's hyenas killed and stuffed, show how utterly sadistic he is.
- In Mystery Trackers: The Void a gold statue turned out to be the gold-plated corpse of missing horror novelist Kevin Sting.
- In Cursery: The Crooked Man and the Crooked Cat pouring acid on part of a copper statue outside the villain's house reveals a skeletal hand.
- Last Res0rt has Geisha - who wound up a contestant on the show for thirty-nine counts of murder. To be more precise, he's classed as an assassin-grade Gorgon and was caught with thirty-nine 'statues' of people he had kidnapped, tortured, and then murdered by turning them into stone. And those counts of murder only apply to the ones they could be people - the actual toll is likely far higher, considering that he only got caught because he stopped using 'untouchables'.
- In The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury, the antagonist wants to add Riddick to her collection of frozen criminals.
- In Phineas and Ferb, Doofenshmirtz's petrification ray misfired and hit a live T-rex that had wound up in a museum. Said T-rex was mistaken for a statue, and probably stayed in the museum permanently.
- The Loonatics Unleashed episode "The Hunter" feature various famous Acmetropolis citizens become frozen statues for Otto's private gallery.
- Interestingly enough, there are real-life ways to embalm a body to give it a lifelike appearance. This usually involves replacing the blood of a cadaver with glycerine, thus preserving the cells and organs. (Argentine political icon Evita Peron was preserved in this way.) There are no records of any madmen using this particular method to kill people and create statues of them, however. The closest thing real-life may have to the "museum of real life bodies as art" is the Body Worlds Travelling Exhibition, which features corpses who were preserved with a process called plastination. The exhibition's developer and promoter, Gunther von Hagens — although he's never been accused of killing anybody — has been accused of using the bodies of prisoners, hospital patients, and others who could not have given him their consent to use their bodies in this way. (Certainly some of the children and fetuses featured in his exhibition could not have.) Reportedly, legal harassment over these and other issues was so great in von Hagens' native Germany that he vowed to take the exhibition out of the country permanently. At the time of this writing, it is now touring the United States and Canada.
- The embalming of Eva Peron involved more than just draining the blood and replacing it with glycerine, though this was done (or, to be more exact, a mixture of alcohol, glycerine and other preservative chemicals); the process, which took a year to complete, also involved replacing the corpse's water content with glycerin and ended up basically plasticizing Evita's body.
- Vladimir Lenin was also embalmed for long-term preservation and display. In contrast to Eva Peron, though, the Soviet government had to develop new embalming techniques to preserve the corpse, and in contrast to Evita, who only required occasional examination and touching-up until her final burial decades later, Lenin's body has to be regularly maintained (including chemical baths) and monitored to ensure that it remains in viewable condition.
- The so-called "Sleeping Beauty", Rosalia Lombardo, a little Italian girl who died of pneumonia in 1920, was embalmed by the noted Italian mortician Alfredo Salafia with a chemical cocktail composed of a mixture of formalin (to kill decay-causing bacteria), salicylic acid (to kill fungi), alcohol (to dry the body tissues), glycerin (to balance the alcohol and preserve the body's tissues), and zinc salts (to keep the body rigid). Lombardo's body, still superbly preserved, can be viewed to this day at the Capuchin catacombs in Palermo, Sicily.
- Trophy hunting, obviously.
- Honoré Fragonard was a French artist, veterinarian, and anatomist who created some rather disturbing displays in the late 1700s.
- Gunther von Hagens, inventor of the "plastination" process for preserving tissue samples and creator of the "Bodyworlds" exhibitions. He likes to play up the sinisterness in his public image, but the worst he's been accused of is that some of his materials may have come from Russian and Chinese executed convicts.
- Probably the closest Real Life has come to the shocking discovery of a Wax Museum Morgue happened when a film crew for The Six Million Dollar Man started rearranging the props in a Long Beach funhouse for a scene they were shooting. Turns out that what the funhouse's owner had believed to be a mannequin was actually a real cadaver: that of Elmer McCurdy, an Oklahoma outlaw shot in 1911. McCurdy's corpse had been embalmed and put on display in sideshows, haunted houses and, yes, wax museums for decades, passing from one owner to the next. Its status as the genuine article was eventually forgotten, until its arm broke off in a crew member's hand.
- A corpse left in anaerobic conditions, such as a sealed crypt or the bottom of a lake, will sometimes have its tissues transformed by Clostridia perfingens bacteria into a body-shaped mass of adipocere: a pale decompositional wax. It won't be pretty or resemble the original person very closely, but it's a case where Nature invokes this trope on its own.
- Supposely, the famous urban legend of "La Pascualita" in Chihuahua (Mexico). It says that a seamstress whose daughter Pascualita died when she was about to get married got to have said daughter's lifeless body transformed into the main mannequin of her store. Here is a video. Even if it's not true, you have to admit that said mannequin looks DAMN human-like.