House of Wax (2005)

House of Wax (2005): United States – directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

Rated R by the MPAA – contains language, sexual content, momentary wax nudity, violence, blood

The 2005 remake of House of Wax is a singular brand of generic film.  It was made, and exists, only to be seen briefly when released and then forgotten.  No effort was made, and most likely not intended, to ensure the film would stand the test of time.  The film does everything it needs to do to cover all its bases, with the aim of a quick, short, and hopefully profitable run at the box office (though the $30-$40 million budget would belie any intention of a quick turnaround).

All this being said, House of Wax isn’t actually a terrible horror movie.  It is a terrible film, but not actually a terrible horror movie.  There are some major problems with the film, but it does a number of things perfectly adequately and actually manages to roll a story up into a neat but shallow package without resorting to too many cheap tricks.  And it does feature Paris Hilton, in a role crafted to take advantage of her image in 2005.

The setup is remarkably unoriginal.  Six friends are on their way to a place, get waylaid, and then murdered.  The six friends include Carly Jones (Elisha Cuthbert) and her brother, an ex-con named Nick (Chad Michael Murray).  Nick’s pal Dalton (Jon Abrahams) accompanies them, sporting a video camera in an attempt to capture any potential hot action featuring the two women.  The second woman is Paige Edwards (Hilton), and she doesn’t mind heating things up with her boyfriend Blake (Robert Ri’chard).  Rounding out the group is Carly’s boyfriend Wade (Jared Padalecki), who is consistently worried about Nick’s dark past.

The destination is a college football game somewhere.  Getting there involves driving across random countrysides, where they get lost and end up camping for a night.  A creepy truck approaches, they get scared, but it turns out okay.  The next day one of the cars is mysteriously broken, necessitating a trip to a nearby town.  Predictably, part of the group heads toward town while the rest intends to continue their trip to the game.  The town, naturally, is full of evil and creepiness; a strange mechanic at the gas station, a funeral, and a lonely wax museum.

Many of the characters eventually die, and there are numerous parallels between the good guys and the bad guy(s).  These themes are, no doubt, intended to be clever and witty.  Surprisingly, they don’t fail all that badly.  The movie is certainly trying to do a lot of things.  Blake is African American, “proving” that the movie is progressive.  Carly even manages to end up in a tank-top, a prerequisite for any horror movie heroine, despite the fact that she doesn’t start by wearing it.  And then there’s the necessary setup to ensure that cell phones will only work at prescribed moments.

Some of the movie’s marketing included t-shirts saying something along the lines of “Watch Paris Die,” making no secret of her eventual death.  Public perception of her at the time was none-too-kindly, and she proved a good sport by playing along.  There are even numerous references to her infamous sex tape.  Her death is the most original of the bunch; not too brutal, but rather violent and gory.  In 2005, I imagine this is exactly what everyone wanted to see.  The problem is that, in a cast of mostly unknown actors, she stands out as being particularly bad.  She even has trouble looking terrified as she runs from the killer wearing nothing but skimpy red lingerie.

There are some positive things in House of Wax.  Some of the wax museum is rather interesting, and the machine used to convert people to wax is sufficiently creepy and industrial.  The finale (which is the same as in the 1953 original) is suitably impressive, with what looks like an entire mansion crafted from meltable wax.  The overall atmosphere isn’t too terrible, and this alone is a compliment for a horror movie.

The thing is, I simply can’t muster up much hate for House of Wax.  It’s not a good movie; some elements are downright awful, some of the direction is unnecessary and superfluous, causing it to run out to a ridiculous 113 minutes.  In spite of all this, it’s not a dreadful horror movie, even though it’s not particularly violent or shocking or exploitative.  As a rule, it is far too long to be worth wasting time on, but it might be suitable for a laid back, time-wasting, low-expectations movie party.

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