House of Wax ’05 (DVD)

Starring Elisha Cuthbert, Chad Michael Murray, Jared Padalecki, Brian Van Holt, Paris Hilton, Robert Ri’chard

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

Bet you didn’t expect a comparatively standard slasher throwback like Wax to deliver on an unexpected amount of incest innuendo. Huh, didja? Brother ‘n sisterly love taken to an uncomfortable level. Oh yeah. Whether it was intentional or not, it’s strange to behold. Undeniable after repeat viewings, yes. Most likely lost on its young stars? You wouldn’t know it from their comments throughout this disc’s extras since they don’t extend much beyond the physical exertions they faced during the ambitious and practical effects-heavy principal photography process. Oh well, maybe if we catch up with them some time – or, better yet, writers Chad and Carey Hayes – and get ’em drunk they’ll tell us. For now, let’s just accept it as one more addition to the plethora of existing nasty bits that come disguised as Dark Castle’s third, and thoroughly watchable, teen-catering remake.

The puzzling chemistry in question that’s making Vincent Price do a somber version of the Thriller dance in his grave arises between Elisha Cuthbert’s Carly and Chad Michael Murray’s Nick, a brother and sister team heading out with a group of friends en route to a football game. She has brought her new boyfriend Wade. Nick’s got his best friend, Dalton, to pal around with. Also along for the ride is Blake (Ri’chard) and his waifish video vixen Paige (Hilton) who may or may not be preggers. A busted fan belt sets the group back on their journey and, one after the other, draws them into a nearby town “not on any map” that serves as a haven to twin brothers Bo and Vincent (Van Holt and…Van Holt). One nurtures a fatal wax fetish, the other a penchant for channeling Bill Paxton during his True Lies glory days. Carly and Nick’s encounter with these two good ol’ ghouls ultimately comes down to a savage sibling scuffle during a knock-out, “only in a Joel Silver movie” fiery finale.

This is a far leap from Andrew De Toth’s classy Vince Price vehicle House of Wax which astounded audiences in 1953 with its 3-D technology (yes, they had 3-D before Shark Boy and Lava Girl) and a freaky lookin’ Charles Bronson – the only similarities between the ’53 and ’05 films being that they have lots of fire, lots of dead folk and a killer in a wax guise. The Wax of a new generation comes to the party smelling like a leaky six-pack of beer, blasting a soundtrack with the latest rock stars and carrying a pop culture princess in tow – so suffice to say, Collet-Serra’s film is an already dated affair. Strip Wax of the sundry of CG and practical visual effects and top drawer production design and you’ve got a shamelessly anemic premise. But it’s one that elicits enough nostalgia for those who proudly welcome films like Tourist Trap or Madman to sit on their DVD shelves.

Tolerate the unnecessarily sluggish first quarter and be rewarded with super-glued lips, Cuthbert digit dicing, a Hilton strip tease, some serious face exfoliation and an all-embracing mean temperament that sets Wax apart from its soft, pussy-whipped teen horror predecessors. Cuthbert and company do their best – yes, that’s including Paris – with the material at hand which often finds them exchanging big chunks of dialogue via cell phone and, for the boys, plenty of scowling time. Van Holt proves to be a decent heavy, if not a very memorable one. He’s just one more crazed country rock star while his deformed counterpart looks like a knife-wielding Davey Havok from AFI.

There’s plenty to discover beneath the lifelike works of Van Holt’s Vincent in this picture; the same can be said about Warner Bros. special edition depending on where your interest lies. It doesn’t dig deep enough for my tastes, however. While I would’ve liked a producer/director commentary here, Collet-Serra and Silver seemingly bowed out of an opportunity to step into a recording studio, as did the cast, but you will find Hilton, Cuthbert, Padalecki and Murray sitting in a posh hotel room providing their thoughts during the B-Roll and Blooper Cast Commentary (26m 27s), a snoozer of an extra feature where the highlight is Hilton warning Cuthbert not to give out their real addresses during their Wax discussion. Cuthbert also wore platforms to compete with Padalecki’s height. What a cutie she is. Wax On: The Design of House of Wax (7m 23s) is the first of two technical features. Graham Walker’s production design is the focus and you can’t help but marvel at the pure ambition that went into turning a lush, verdant field into a small town. Just for the film. That’s Joel Silver for ya. Walker also used a lot of wax and peanut butter where you least expect it during the production. But what I want to hear more about is the reported fire that burned a number of sets to the ground and delayed filming. That’s nowhere to be found though. CG effects secrets are discuss in The House Built on Wax (10m 8s) and there’s a Gag Reel (3m 15s) which regurgitates some of the scenes talked about in the cast commentary.

The disc also includes the theatrical trailer and a funny From Location: Joel Silver Reveals House of Wax (1m 27s) clip (I’m guessing this was sent out to theater owners), but the good stuff lies within the Jennifer Killed (1m 37s), an alternate opening that goes for the throat and is far more direct than the final cut’s disturbing and adroit introduction.

The Movie:

3 out of 5

Overall package:

2 1/2 out of 5

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Jon Condit

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