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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » House of Wax (2005) (HD DVD)
House of Wax (2005) (HD DVD)
Warner Bros. // R // September 12, 2006 // Region 0
List Price: $28.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted October 28, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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I know, I know... It's a remake of a gen-you-wine horror classic. It stars a clean-scrubbed cast of twentysomethings yanked out of the WB's primetime line-up. Hell, stupid, spoiled whore Paris Hilton even snagged a lead role...and you've probably already mashed the 'back' button on your web browser. House of Wax may be a glossy, disposable Hollywood-slasher, but it's one of the most watchable of 'em since Scream kickstarted the whole teen-horror thing nearly a decade ago. Standing out as one of the better recent teen-horror flicks is kind of like being second runner-up for employee of the month at Arby's, but my taste is lousy enough that I kinda dug it anyway.

More of a retread of the Texas Chainsaw redux than Vincent Price's 1953 flick, there's kind of a plot somewhere in this remake-in-name-only. Wild-'n-crazy kids get stranded in creepy Leeziana town. Said creepy Leeziana town has a house made entirely of wax. After a 45 minute introduction to our attractive young cast, they get butchered one by one until you're down to the two top-billed actors on the poster, building up to a final showdown in the titular house. And I mean "titular" 'cause of the title, not because Elisha Cuthbert spends so much the movie jiggling in a dingy wifebeater. If it sounds generic, well...yeah, it is, down to the misunderstood, soon-to-be-redeemed brother with four-day stubble, the mystery of the deserted town that dreaded sundown, and the laconic masked murderer and his twisted family who gut someone every eight minutes. Still, you don't plunk down twenty bucks on House of Wax seeking out rich characterization or...Victorian costume drama or whatever. Think Joel Silver producing a tits-less early '80s slasher with a $40 million budget and you're in the ballpark.

Take a peek at the flipside of the HD DVD case and you'll spot an "R" banner near the bottom. It's not remotely as unflinchingly brutal as Hostel or Haute Tension, but after a couple waves of bloodless PG-13 horror, it's kinda nice to see a mainstream flick as bloody and depraved as House of Wax. One of the leads in the movie gets a big chunk of a finger snipped off with a pair of pliers. Creepy crawlies pour out of an exploded wax head. A pole plows through another character's skull, and the camera lingers as her lifeless corpse s-l-o-w-l-y inches down the metal rod, spewing crimson all the way. Still-breathing victims are encased in wax, a head's lopped off, and the movie sports one of the better (if briefest) neck-stabbings this side of The Burning. Yeah, it still boils down to dumb people doing dumb things 'cause that's what the dumb and overly long story tells 'em to do, but if you can suffer through the barely tolerable first 45 minutes, there are some solid jump scares and a few cacklingly violent kills. 'Sokay.

Video: The sun's out for almost every frame of House of Wax's first 45 minutes, and whenever it's beaming with light, this 1.85:1 high def presentation looks about as good as any other fairly recent theatrical release on HD DVD. The image is sharp and detailed enough that if you get really bored during the overextended character intros, you could stop and count each and every pore on the cast's Neutrogena-d mugs. When dusk kicks in and as the slashees skulk around dark, rusty boneyards and candlelit wax-dungeons, the visuals start to look flat and drab. It doesn't seem as if House of Wax's film stock is really meant to be used under low light, a limitation that's especially noticeable when Paris Hilton's character first bolts into the '80s-metal-video factory. It starts off lifeless and flat, but a light's flipped on mid-shot, and suddenly it looks like I'm spinning a first-rate HD DVD again. I'm pretty sure this is just the way the movie was shot; House of Wax looked much the same when it was making the rounds on HBO's high-definition channel a few months back, and even its less impressive moments are still a considerable step up from standard definition.

Audio: The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 soundtrack is blander than usual. Most horror flicks with multichannel mixes cram creepy sounds into every speaker, heightening the tension of the stalk-'n-slash sequences with jarring discrete effects. The rear channels roar to life during the gooey, fiery finale, but up to that point, almost everything's anchored in the front speakers. There's so little action in the first 45 minutes that there really aren't even that many of the genre's trademark booming stings in the score. Dynamic range is pretty healthy, with the subwoofer kicking in sporadically and really belching out a persistent low-frequency rumble during the climax, and none of the shouts or screams are marred by any clipping or distortion. The sound design is kinda subdued, but the mix itself is decent enough. There are also dubs in French and Spanish along with the usual selection of subtitles.

Supplements: Nothin' new on HD DVD. Its handful of extras have all been lifted from the Halloween '05 DVD, beginning with a wasted half hour of Elisha Cuthbert, Paris Hilton, Chad Michael Murray, and Jared Padalecki yammering over outtakes and behind-the-scenes snippets. It's kind of like that Aerie Tuesdays shit during commercial breaks on The CW, only much, much, much longer. The film's admittedly impressive production design gets highlighted in a couple of featurettes, the second of which focuses largely on the sloshy, goopy special effects in the climax. The other extras include a 90 second promotional bit with Joel Silver, an alternate intro with an extra Red Shirt kill, a gag reel, and a standard definition theatrical trailer.

Conclusion: As vapid neo-slasher flicks go, you could do a lot worse than House of Wax, which is kind of a hybrid of the bloodless PG-13 teen-thrillers from a few years back and the hyperviolent horror that guys like Eli Roth and Neil Marshall are banging out today. There's enough of the red stuff splattered around to keep a gorehound like me grinning for a good bit of its second half, and it's worth a rental if only to see Paris Hilton die a prolonged, vicious death. Doesn't really hold up all that well a second time, tho', so...Rent It.

Standard image disclaimer: the pictures scattered around this review were lifted from the official movie site and don't necessarily reflect the appearance of this HD DVD.
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