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House of Wax

Warner Bros. // R // October 25, 2005
List Price: $28.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Scott Weinberg | posted October 16, 2005 | E-mail the Author
Combine a horror movie that the old gorehounds admire (1953's House of Wax), a modern remake that made a lot of money (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), and a forgotten old cult thriller that's just prefect to steal from (Tourist Trap) and you get this muddled concoction, a horror flick that's mercilessly dry and boring for 2/3rds of its running time ... and hopelessly loud, stupid, and gore-soaked for the final third. And it's got Paris Hilton in there, just to squash any sort of charity that a generally unenthused moviegoer might try to offer the flick.

Six college student idiots are traveling from Florida to Louisiana for a football game. They get lost, suffer a mechanical problem in one of their vehicles, and begin wandering around.

The two sentences you just read represent approximately one full hour of House of Wax's running time. Somehow mistaking a whole lot of aimless blather for actual gritty intensity and/or character development, first-time director Jaume Serra seems fully intent on boring you into a coma before unleashing a skimpy collection of nasty gore-bits. But since you don't ever care about any of the characters one bit, and the very concept of the movie is pretty much all things pedestrian, House of Wax feels like 75% yawn, 20% dripping gore, and 5% left over for the end credits.

Mr. Serra, along with the equally inexperienced screenwriters Carey and Chad Hayes, seems entirely content to let his film do nothing for the first two acts. The six main goofballs are not even remotely sympathetic, challenging, or interesting. They say stupid things before doing stupid things ... and then, all of a sudden we're introduced to a giant haunted house made entirely of wax. Yeah, wax.

Elisha Cuthbert is the most famous cast member, which means that (obviously) her character will live to see the end credits and that her agent will be demanding double the paycheck for House of Wax 2: Waxier. Paris Hilton, in a startling display of typecasting, plays a slutty whiner who exists only to deliver a particularly nasty death scene that audience members will adore ... if only because they really hate Paris Hilton. Acting-wise, she's similar to Pia Zadora, only with less natural talent. The four boys in the cast are as photogenic as they are one-note: the noble boyfriend, the rebellious bad boy, the goofy comic sidekick, and the black guy who doesn't even warrant an onscreen dispatch.

If I told you that the local wax house was populated by a pair of resoundingly homicidal maniacs, I doubt your response would be "Hey, TWO killers?! This movie must be good!" (Yeah, apparently our wax-happy murderers are brothers previously attached at the face, but long ago separated by an abusive surgeon father who blah blah...) But by the time House of Wax begins to pick up some steam and deliver the good, gory gristle ... you just won't care. As a hardcore horror freak, I was able to appreciate that House of Wax (finally) delivered a handful of unapologetically gruesome murder scenes, but the long, lingering looks at the severed limbs and blood geysers exist only because, well, there's nothing else worth watching. The flick somehow manages to build up a small semblance of moody grimness in its final scenes, but (darnit) it's all too little, too late.

The DVD

Video: Widescreen Anamorphic is the presentation, provided you buy the correct version and not the inevitably lame Fullscreen one. Picture quality is quite impressive throughout. Especially in the grim and grungy sequences, there's a sharpness and clarity that (briefly) make you forget how lame most of the movie is.

Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, in your choice of English, Spanish, or French. (Optional subtitles are available in the same languages.) Aural presentation is also a thumbs-up, although I suspect some of the gorehound audiophiles would have appreciated a DTS track on this shriek-laden waxfest.

Extras

First up is a 27-minute video commentary with cast members Elisha Cuthbert, Paris Hilton, Jared Padalecki, and Chad Michael Murray. The foursome giggle and babble over a bunch of b-roll material, on-set footage, and various outtakes. Nothing against the participants, but this featurette is about as substantial as a cotton candy buffet.

Wax On: The Design of House of Wax (7:23) is a standard behind-the-scenes featurette in which several crew members comment on the (admittedly rather impressive) production design and overall waxiness of the production process. It's not just the wax-house that was built, but an entire little town was constructed from scratch, too. (Seems like a lot of unnecessary effort for such a goofball horror flick, but hey.) A House Built On Wax: The Visual FX of House of Wax (10:09) gives you a close-up view with the activities involved in making an entire wax house ... melt. Never mind why you'd want to melt a house, but here's how these guys did it.

There's also a 3-minute gag reel, one deleted scene ("Alternate Open: Jennifer Killed"), a really stupid 90-second promo piece called From Location: Joel Silver Reveals House of Wax, and the flick's original theatrical trailer, which is actually quite good.

Final Thoughts

Hey, it's a horror remake, which means the fans will (at the very least) want to give it a rental to decide for themselves. Personally, I see this one as a few very strong moments mired in a helplessly inert story structure (and populated by keening idiots). When House of Wax finally gets down & dirty, there's some good, gooey fun to be had, but there's no way you should be expected to sit through so much tedium for just a handful of tricky terrors.

After a second visit with House of Wax, I had a few moments where I felt a little guilty and thought "Aw, it's not all that bad," but that's just a kindhearted horror freak who's trying to find a silver lining. But now that House of Wax has hit DVD, you can feel free to semi-speed through the non-stop chatter-fest and settle in for a third act full of goopy goodness.


(Portions reprinted from my original review of the movie at eFilmCritic.com.)
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