Warner Bros. // 2005 // 113 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // October 25th, 2005
You've got to hand it to Joel Silver's production company, Dark Castle: although they may churn out only passable fright flicks, at least they're hard-R grizzle machines instead of these PG-13 insults (ala the remake of John Carpenter's seminal classic The Fog) we've been handed lately. So far the company has produced one really good horror flick (Thir13en Ghosts), one mediocre one (Ghost Ship), and two duds (Gothika and House on Haunted Hill). Now comes a Warner Brothers remake of the 1952 Vincent Price chiller House of Wax, aptly titled House of Wax, care of Warner Home Entertainment.
On a road trip to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for a college football game, six teens find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere (sound familiar?) when their car breaks down after a night of camping in the woods. Carly Jones (Elisha Cuthbert, The Girl Next Door), her boyfriend Wade (Jared Padalecki, Flight of the Phoenix), Carly's delinquent brother Nick (Chad Michael Murray, TV's One Tree Hill), her best friend (socialite and all-around annoyance Paris Hiton), and a few other folks best noted as "fresh meat" find themselves wandering through a deserted town punctuated by a huge wax museum made entirely of (drum roll, please) wax. It's inside that Carly and her friends discover the secrets behind the seemingly desolate town, as well as the terrors that lie beneath the House of Wax!
I've seen some stupid movie characters in my life, but none quite so feebly ignorant as the teenagers (well, at least they're technically supposed to be teens) in Warner's new-to-DVD House of Wax. My favorite moment: one of our young protagonists heads into a stranger's eerie house to use the washroom. The stranger, seemingly amiable and friendly, points him in the direction of the commode and heads upstairs to change. Now, with all that in place, our hero has one of two options: 1) quickly use the washroom and head back to his waiting girlfriend in the car or 2) watch carefully as the stranger heads upstairs, then poke around every available room for so long that we know something bad will eventually happen to him. Please, be my guest and take a wild guess at which decision our hero chooses.
House of Wax is filled with so many moments of sheer idiocy that it could have been subtitled House of Wax: Dumb and Rubber. When the main villain is shot twice with a crossbow -- and the main heroes are standing over the body with a baseball bat, no less -- does anyone make sure he/she is really dead? Or course not, for the sole reason that the villain wouldn't be able to show up later in the film for the requisite "final battle" sequence. And I just adore how in this post-modern Scream era we still get characters whom utter those three famous (and fatal) words: "Let's split up" (care of screenwriters boneheaded Chad and Carey W. Hayes). House of Wax plays like a greatest hits of horror's dumbest mistakes.
And yet, I liked House of Wax for its goofy charm, amazingly detailed production design and moments of waxy gore. Certainly this isn't going down as one of the best horror films of all time (it plays like a variation of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), though it is quite enjoyable when the first half finally ticks away. In fact, the initial forty-five minutes of the film feels like padding to introduce characters we couldn't care less about. Once we're past the introductions and onto the House of Wax, anything goes.
Much has been made of the fact that hotel heiress Hilton co-stars. I'll stick up for Miss Hilton and say that she's no better nor worse than most young actresses in a role like this. However, I'll also state that A) there are far too many "sex video" in-jokes (natch) about Hilton's infamous homemade porn tape and B) I don't feel the need to ever watch Hilton in another film again. The rest of the cast features able-bodied actors who do what is required of their respective roles, and little else. Cute but bland Cuthbert spends most of the movie with blood on her lips and a baseball bat in hand while attractive but bland Murray gives the camera about two dozen bad boy pouts. On par with most "dead teenager" flicks, the young stars are about as interchangeable as Paris Hilton's boyfriends/sex partners/ex-fiancés. Only Brian Van Holt (a standout in such films as S.W.A.T. and Black Hawk Down) makes an impression as a gas station attendant who may be hiding a few dirty, waxy secrets. Director Jaume Collet-Serra (helming his first feature film) doesn't inject much freshness into the story or pacing, though at least he keeps the blood and paraffin flowing at a steady rate.
The big draw to a movie titled House of Wax is (duh) the wax, and in that respect the film doesn't disappoint. It's no secret that the House of Wax's grotesque mannequins are dead bodies wrapped in the folds of the hardened substance (this was the same premise in the '50s version); if you're looking for wax melting off the decomposed faces of the dead, you've come to the right movie. I've been to many a wax museum in my time and they still manage to creep me out; there's just something unsettling about walking through rooms filled with realistic looking people while old time music plays in the background. House of Wax was produced by Joel Silver, who also brought us Lethal Weapon and The Matrix. In other words, you know you'll be getting top-notch special effects and sets, and the final sequence is certainly some kind of movie-making marvel.
I'm partial to the original version of House of Wax, but I had more fun than expected with this diverting if unneeded remake. The characters aren't as memorable but the special effects are heads and shoulders (and arms, and spleens, and livers) above the previous version. Grab yourself a box of popcorn and enjoy the gooey, messy show.
House of Wax is presented in a very excellent looking 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. I have to give kudos all around to Warner for their work on this transfer: colors are bright and solid while the black levels (of which there are many) are dark and even. Warner has always been a great company for quality DVD transfers, and this newly released edition of House of Wax is no exception.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English, French, and Spanish. Much like the video portions of this disc, the 5.1 audio mix is fantastic. There are a lot of moments where surround sounds and directional effects kick in; unfortunately, there are also a lot of moments where non-distinctive rock music blares as well. Personally I'd rather listen to composer John Ottman's atmospheric score, but that's just the crazy kind of cat I am. Also included on this disc are English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
House of Wax was not the monster hit Warner Brothers was hoping for. Nonetheless, this DVD edition of the film includes a fine assortment of extra features. "B-Roll and Bloopers Video Commentary" is a split screen of behind-the-scenes footage and four cast members (Murray, Cuthbert, Hilton, and Padelacki) commenting on what they're watching. This isn't all that interesting since the footage they are watching isn't the actual movie, just bloopers and outtakes. It's for die hard Hilton fans only.
Three featurettes are included: "From Location: Joel Silver Reveals House of Wax," "Wax On: The Design of House of Wax," and "The House Built On Wax: The Visual Effects of House Of Wax." Sadly, none of them are worth much of your time. The bulk of them are just promotional spots for the film, though the visual effects featurette does give viewers a nice peek behind the curtain at how they achieved the look of the wax house and its wax patrons (many meetings transpired because "nobody knew what melting wax should look like"). The Joel Silver feature is silly and worthless; don't waste your time unless you want to watch Silver sit in a chair and talk to the screen.
Finally there is a gag reel of everyone messing up their lines, a rather impressive alternate opening ("Jennifer Killed"), and an anamorphic theatrical trailer for the film.
House of Wax is a fun ride, and little else. It won't stay with you very long after the credits roll, but I can almost guarantee horror buffs a lively few hours of blood and guts. As usual, Warner Brothers has released a better-than-average DVD version of an only average horror movie.
House of Wax isn't perfect, but if you go in with an open mind it can me a sticky good time.
Review content copyright © 2005 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* B-Roll and Bloopers Video Commentary
* "From Location: Joel Silver Reveals House of Wax" Featurette
* "Wax On: The Design of House of Wax" Featurette
* "The House Built On Wax: The Visual Effects of House Of Wax" Featurette
* Alternate Opening: "Jennifer Killed"
* Gag Reel
* Theatrical Trailer
* Official Site