Starring Elisha Cuthbert, Chad Michael Murray, Jared Padalecki, Paris Hilton
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
Distributed by Scream Factory
The somewhat auspicious debut of Dark Castle’s film slate with House on Haunted Hill (1999) suggested horror fans were in for a spate of William Castle remakes and stories heavily inspired by classic horror of the 1930s-1950s, a theme the company did maintain until their fifth film, House of Wax (2005). A remake-in-name-only, the film actually feels like it owes more to director David Schmoeller’s Tourist Trap (1979) than either of the previous two “wax museum” pictures. But what does any of that matter when you can “watch Paris die”?, as the marketing gleefully focused heavily on audiences’ desire to see then-hot reality star Paris Hilton get offed in gruesome fashion. That novelty aside, this is a halfway good feature with outstanding production design, set construction, and nasty kills hampered by forgettable characters and plenty of bad acting.
A carload of friends heading to a football game in Louisiana is derailed when a night spent camping is interrupted by a weirdo in a truck followed by a suddenly-broken car the next morning. Carly (Elisha Cuthbert) and her boyfriend, Wade (Jared Padalecki), decide to stay behind and find new parts for the vehicle while everyone else takes off for the game. In the nearby town of Ambrose they find… no one; it appears deserted. But entering a church the two find a funeral taking place and one upset citizen, Bo (Brian Van Holt), gives them some grief for interrupting the ceremony, though he quickly apologizes and offers some assistance.
Carly and Wade decide to kill some time exploring the town, specifically the “House of Wax” building that is clearly the crown jewel here. Bo returns and says he has the parts at his house up the road, but after arriving there Bo’s disfigured formerly-conjoined twin brother, Vincent, springs into action and knocks Wade unconscious leaving Carly to fend for herself. Their friends, including Carly’s brother Nick (Chad Michael Murray), eventually make their way to the town, too, and it isn’t long before the House of Wax begins to acquire new figures for exhibition.
I can’t say enough good stuff about the production design, from the bespoke little town of Ambrose to the Art Deco design work and the titular House of Wax, everything here looks incredible on screen – also thanks to cinematographer Stephen F. Windon’s choice lighting. This is another strong similarity to Tourist Trap, which had its own creepy homemade town run by one man and featuring a menagerie of mannequins – though in this case the wax figures are actual people turned into display pieces. There is an impressive sense of verisimilitude at work, with Bo and Vincent having rigged up the entire town with “citizens” performing repeated functions making it seem as though life exists here outside of the two brothers. The production built this entire town and some of my favorite moments in the film are exploring with Carly and Wade, or Nick and his buddy, as they walk through this intricate nightmare.
The violence is nasty, too. Fingertips get snipped. Lips get ripped. Tendons get sliced. But the worst of it comes to those that Vincent molds into a new piece for the wax museum – scalped, stripped of all hair, and scalded alive by molten wax the people who are entombed in that malleable mixture are still very much alive when set out on the museum floor. The level of decay shown by the FX team is extra impressive, with the newer recruits looking much gooier beneath that soft wax exterior. Oh, and then there’s Hilton’s much-hyped death which is incredibly brutal and, given her car wreck-ish celebrity of the time, did feel wholly satisfying. I wouldn’t call it “one of the most iconic in all of cinema” as Hilton does in her interview included here but, yea, it’s nasty.
Here’s where the film loses me: the cast. I think Van Holt does the best work here while the rest are varying degrees of forgettable. Cuthbert has some agency but she’s not terribly charismatic on screen. Padalecki is good but… let’s just say he doesn’t get much to do. Murray is the Bad Boy and it’s a tired character. Everyone else is wallpaper. Bo and Vincent (both played by the same actor) easily deliver the best work. I know it’s just a dumb big studio “dead teenager movie” (as Roger Ebert put it) but it would have been nice to have some interest in wanting these people to survive.
Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release features a new 2K scan from an interpositive, suggesting some level of improvement over Warner Bros’ previous edition. The 1.85:1 1080p image is certainly proficient, offering a filmic image with good color density, reasonably dark black levels, and a fine level of detail within the frame. Nothing stands out as being problematic though this also isn’t a visual feast for the eyes.
I had forgotten this soundtrack is all about heavy metal and there are some killer tracks represented on the English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track. Outside of that source music it’s a standard horror movie score, with plenty of stingers and screaming and off-screen footsteps, all of which sound faithfully reproduced here. Subtitles are available in English.
- NEW 2K RESTORATION FROM AN INTERPOSITIVE
- NEW Die, My Darling – an interview with actress Paris Hilton
- NEW The Tale of Blake and Paige – an interview with actor Robert Ri’chard
- NEW Organ Grinder – an interview with composer John Ottman
- NEW To Me, They Live and Breathe – an interview with makeup effects artist Jason Baird
- B-Roll and Bloopers Video Cast Commentary
- From Location: Joel Silver Reveals the House of Wax
- Wax On: The Design of House of Wax
- The House Built on Wax: The Visual Effects of House of Wax
- Alternate Opening: Jennifer Killed
- Gag Reel
- Vintage interviews with cast and crew from the electronic press kit
- Vintage featurette
- Theatrical Trailer
- Optional English subtitles for the main feature
While House of Wax certainly delivers what it promises the film only half works for me because I’m more invested in the aesthetics than the actors. Still, for a big budget studio effort it’s certainly watchable and there’s enough cool stuff peppered throughout that it’s never a bore.